August 9, 2005 – Paring down a budget request of $36 million to $30 million, representatives from the University of the Virgin Islands won senators over Tuesday with their commitment to bettering the institution and their efforts to achieve more with less.
"In spite of reduced appropriation levels and not receiving an increased budget when other agencies were granted additional funds, the university continues to fulfill its mandate and mission in an environment of high levels of accountability," said Laverne E. Ragster, the president of UVI.
While this fiscal year's allotment of $26.7 million was never fully received, Ragster said, the university has been able to increase its enrollment, provide additional training for UVICELL staff, establish the Research and Technology Park on St. Croix and assist the Board of Education in meeting No Child Left Behind mandates by helping to create a bachelor of arts degree in Inclusive Early Childhood Education.
"In regards to the UVICELL program, through a Memorandum of Understanding with Homeland Security, the CELL units will manage and implement Homeland Security training for the territory," Ragster said.
"An appropriation of $30 million to match our fiscal year 2005-2006 budget request will enable us to accomplish these goals and more," Ragster said of the university's mission to provide higher education and improve the economic and cultural health of the territory. She added that an increase in teacher salaries is the most important issue for the university.
To support this concern, Ragster provided senators with documentation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools the organization responsible for granting university accreditation. In the document, the association claimed that while UVI has demonstrated its "resiliency and resourcefulness" in maintaining the school, a great challenge to the institution lies in the collection of money appropriated by the government.
"An unabated financial situation such as this will jeopardize the quality of the academic program," the document said. "Failure to find a means to increase faculty salaries could lead to problems in recruitment and retention of faculty."
Continuing with the practice of not adequately paying employees could ultimately result in a loss of accreditation for the university much like some of the territory's high schools. "Imagine the position I find myself in when speaking to faculty and staff, asking them to see the vision of the university's future, and there are no means of rewarding them for their hard work and efforts. We have pleaded, beseeched and undertaken some unorthodox methods all in an effort to mitigate the downward spiraling of employee morale as a direct result of not being able to implement salary adjustments in five years," Ragster said.
When asked by senators what plans have been formulated to step up teacher recruitment, Ragster stated that while the Caribbean is a beautiful place to live, many people on the mainland don't want to deal with the high cost of living in the V.I.
"Additionally, Homeland Security restrictions placed on visas have caused a small loss in our student population," Ragster said. "On both issues, we are doing what we can to fix the situation."
Ragster finished her testimony by telling senators about the university's new energy conservation plans the building of a wind turbine that will provide an alternative fuel source for the campus and cut down 70 percent of utility costs.
"We are very excited about this, and we ask you senators to approve the measure when the bill for our proposal comes through the Legislature," Ragster said.
Senators also took testimony on Tuesday from representatives from the Office of the Governor, whose request for $7.5 million raised some eyebrows and questions about personnel issues.
"Really, I think that this is too much money for this office," Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste said. "It appears that there is quite a bit of disparity in salary distribution. You have employees who are getting paid too much, employees not getting paid enough — we need to sit down together and fix this."
"There's too much fat in the government," Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said. "The salaries are too high for most of us That's why we need to re-instate the Wage Board, so that they can help to regulate the fluctuation of these salaries."
Present at Tuesday's hearings were Sens. Jn Baptiste, Nelson, Richards, Figueroa-Serville, Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg. Sen. Neville James was absent.
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