July 8, 2005 – What some government officials see as an educational crisis, some community members see as a step in the right direction. Some Central High PTA members would like to see the federal government take over management of V.I. schools.
The V.I. Department of Education was ordered in a June 17 letter from the U.S. Department of Education to hire a third-party financial officer to oversee the spending of the federal grants it receives. (See "Feds Order Education Department to Hire Financial Overseer").
In the wake of the June 17 letter, members of the Central High PTA met with U.S. Department of Education officials Mark Robinson and Phil Maestri.
Lee Rohn, the PTA's legal counsel, said V.I. Education Department problems are the result of high officials of the department being "political appointees with no expertise or experience in education."
At that June 28 meeting were Rohn; Liz Combie, president of the PTA; Mary Moorhead, vice president of the PTA; and Anne Golden, a concerned parent and the PTA's legislative liaison. The meeting, according to interviews with Rohn and Golden on Friday, was different from the meeting federal officials had with V.I. government officials. No one was placing blame on the federal officials, and no one was asking them to walk away.
Rohn said the group told the federal officials that just adding a fiduciary agent would not solve the problem. She said the federal government needed to take over actual operation of the schools.
The discussion centered on "the abominable condition of education in the Virgin Islands," Rohn said.
"There is no budget for textbooks. There is no central inventory. Everything goes to St. Thomas, and then if it is left over, it comes to St. Croix," she said.
The group told the officials that the lack of a decent educational system was the reason for so much of the poverty and crime in the islands, Rohn said, and also the reason "so many young people were growing up with a feeling of hopelessness."
The years of neglect of the education system were "ruining the culture" of the Virgin Islands, she added.
In an e-mail sent after the meeting, Golden echoed what Rohn said. "The demise of our public education system did not just happen today. Years of poor leadership, political cronyism and wanton mismanagement have us on our knees today," Golden wrote. "The 'blame game' must come to an end, and all of us must take full responsibility for the benign neglect of our education system."
Golden agreed there was a textbook problem. She said she has taught two algebra classes at the high school, and students had no textbooks.
She said the federal officials told the group that they had no power beyond controlling federal grant money given to V.I. schools. Golden did say that control alone would have a major impact because the federal funds were about 30 percent of the education budget.
Golden maintains that the PTA has been at the forefront of the fight for a better education system. "It was the PTA, and not the Senate, that began this crusade for greater accountability and stewardship of federal funds," she wrote. "It was the PTA that petitioned the feds to use a local fiduciary like the St. Croix Foundation to manage our federal funds. It was our march on the governor's birthday party and testimony at Board of Education hearings objecting to arbitrary testing of our students that got the attention of the feds."
Rohn said the PTA plans to file a taxpayer's suit next week in Superior Court. She said she is in the final stages of preparing the complaint, which demands that the government provide an opportunity for V.I. youth to get an education.
Rohn, who is donating her services to the PTA, said she had more than 20 godchildren attending public schools.
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