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Grant for School Surveillance Cameras Sparks Debate

Aug. 3, 2004 – A lot of numbers were thrown about between senators and witnesses at the public hearing on the status of education held in Frederiksted on Monday.
However, one $350,000 figure seemed to nag at Sen. Ronald Russell, who chairs the Education and Youth Committee, and at Sen. Usie Richards, a member of the committee.
This was the amount of a federal grant for school security that they heard that Education Commissioner Noreen Michael was putting in jeopardy.
Michael did not mention it in her hour-long presentation before the committee, but it was the first thing Russell asked her about afterward.
According to Russell, officials of the Law Enforcement Planning Commission had written a grant proposal for the $350,000 in funding to install video cameras in areas of the high schools with a high incidence of vandalism.
The only thing holding up the grant, according to what Russell heard, was Michael refusing to sign off on it. He said the grant had been sent to her office, returned unsigned, and sent back again to her office as the deadline for submitting it neared.
In the first round of questioning, Russell and Richards repeatedly asked her about this.
Michael said that she could not sign off on the grant because it called for the Education Department to hire people to monitor the videos, and there was no money to hire those people.
In the second round of questioning, the two senators were back again with more questions about the grant. Russell said he had learned during a break that the grant had been rewritten so it would not require Education to hire new personnel. It specified, he said, that personnel from John H. Woodson Junior High School, which already has cameras in place (and, according to Russell, has a system "that works very well"), would monitor the new cameras also.
This time Michael responded that it was not necessary for the Education commissioner to sign off on the application. The senators appeared incredulous that the head of the department would not have to sign off on a grant application to put cameras in the schools.
Michael, however, maintained that this was the case. "I don't know how I can be any clearer on this," she said. "I did not hold up what was happening."
She did have positive news concerning school security, however. Russell had indicated that in light of the fatal shooting of a student at the end of the 2003-04 school year on the Education Complex campus, this was an issue of extreme importance to the people on St. Croix.
Michael said money had become available to hire 10 more school monitors as of the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1. There will be five hired for each school district, she said.

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