July 16, 2004 – In presenting her budget request of $35.1 million before the Senate Finance Committee on Friday, University of the Virgin Islands President LaVerne Ragster said the money is necessary to accomplish the goals of the institution.
Ragster's request is nearly $8 million more than the $27.5 million proposed for UVI in the governor's fiscal year 2005 budget.
Ragster told the committee that the additional money would help:
– Train more students.
– Expand the university's workforce training capacity.
– Establish new degree programs.
– Strengthen UVI's teacher education, business, nursing and information technology programs.
– Enhance institutional capacity in its Development, Alumni Affairs and Public Relations Offices.
– Recruit and retain qualified faculty and staff.
– Maintain the university's physical plant.
– Serve the V.I. community more aggressively.
UVI faculty and staff salaries are "woefully non-competitive" with those of other universities of its class, Ragster said, adding that the increase in appropriation could allow for across-the-board raises.
"Each year that the V.I. government does not fully fund the university's budget request," Ragster said, "it exacerbates UVI's efforts to recruit and retain qualified professionals. It adversely affects employee morale and is a major reason cited by faculty for recent efforts to organizes a collective bargaining unit."
Earlier this year, UVI's chapter of the American Association of University Professors sought collective bargaining status. The matter is currently before the Public Employees Relations Board. (See "UVI Administration Fighting Faculty Unionization Bid".)
"Until the university can address these salary disparities, the quality of UVI's instructional programs will suffer, and employee turnover rates of 35 percent to 40 percent will continue," Ragster said.
On a positive note, Ragster told the lawmakers that UVI's student enrollment is up by 21 percent. She said 94 percent of this growth has come from working adults and students graduating from V.I. public high schools who are seeking associate, baccalaureate and master's degrees. She said the increased enrollment has produced 233 teachers, 100 nurses, 70 pre-med students and another 1,200 graduates with advanced professional and technical training.
But, she said, this growth has become a double-edged sword for the university. "On the positive side, the growth affirms the public's confidence in the high-quality programs offered by our dedicated faculty and staff," she said. "However, on the negative side, UVI has had to absorb this growth without any additional funding, causing additional stress on our institutional capacity."
Finance Committee members asked about the university's fund-raising campaign. Ragster said she spends "half my time" in fund-raising efforts, and so far this year UVI has raised $1.1 million.
The university has endowments totaling $16.9 million, she said, and the Reichhold Center for the Arts on the St. Thomas campus has an endowment of $10.7 million. There is $650,000 in UVI's scholarship account, she said.
Sen. Louis Hill asked Ragster for a status report on the university's Research and Technology Park authorized by the Legislature more than two years ago.
"I expect to see things being started at the end of the year, the beginning of 2005," Ragster said.
Sen. Ronald Russell said he accepts the increased budget request for the university, but UVI needs to show that the money will go toward development that will benefit the community.
Committee members attending the budget hearing were: Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the chair; and Sens. Roosevelt David, Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone, Luther Renee and Russell. Sen. Norman Jn Baptist was not present. Also attending the hearing were Sens.Carlton Dowe and Almando "Rocky" Liburd, who are not members of the committee.
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