Oct. 17, 2005 Monitors with criminal histories, convictions, or drug related problems are causing incidents within the public school system, according to Sen. Liston Davis.
At an Education, Culture, and Youth Committee meeting Monday, Davis added this is why he proposed a bill requiring individuals to undergo drug and psychological testing prior to being hired by the Education Department.
Davis also said the bill establishes a criminal check be administered to prevent employees convicted locally or on the mainland from being employed in local schools. Stating that the hiring process has become "flawed" in recent years, Davis said a school teacher, wanted in the states for being a sexual offender, was allowed to teach in the territory for an extended period of time.
A later background check performed on the teacher caused him to flee to the mainland where he was arrested, Davis said.
Davis also stated there have been incidents in both school districts where monitors have committed serious crimes but have still been allowed into the system.
"One individual, a convicted felon, was even the principle of one of our schools," Davis said.
Education Commissioner Noreen Michael said that currently, the school system does require a psychological test be given to those hired. However, Michael added that the test may only be given once the individual has been offered a position by the department.
Michael said a police check is required for prospective employees. However, she added that the Education Department has been limited by the crime information system used by the Police Department. Michael said this system does not allow her department to check on criminal records outside of the territory.
Elton Lewis, commissioner of the Virgin Islands Police Department, confirmed Michaels statements. Lewis said the Police Department would be in violation of national crime prevention regulations if the system were used to request criminal information from the mainland, or other countries.
Lewis said the department can, however, request information on a particular employee from the police department of their former place of residence without using the crime information system. Michael added it is difficult for her department to perform its job if they are "only given half of the story."
Michael further commented that drug testing for monitors can be legally viewed as discriminatory, because one group is being singled out. Michaels argued that the bill should stipulate all individuals within the school system be tested, as they also have to interact with students on a daily basis.
Judy Gomez, chairwoman for the Board of Education, also said the drug testing requirement should be changed to provide that employees must undergo tests throughout the course of their employment, as well as one prior to employment.
Since most senators also expressed concern about the level of training which monitors have to undergo prior to working at schools, Michael said she believes these individuals should be selected and trained by the police department.
When asked, Lewis said it was not the job of his department to hire individuals, but it would play an active role in the training and testing. To appease senators also concerned with the level of training given to police officers, Lewis added he is actively working on increasing his efforts in that area.
The bill was adopted by the committee, and passed onto the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration. Voting in favor of the legislation were Sens. Davis, Louis P. Hill, Shaun-Michael Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, and Usie R. Richards. Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville was opposed to the bill, and Sen. Roosevelt C. David was absent.
In other action, senators approved a bill increasing the amount of scholarship money given to valedictorians and salutatorians in schools with over 250 students.
While the V.I. Code currently states valedictorians will receive $1,000 annually when attending a four year college, the new bill provides these individuals will instead receive $25,000 annually when pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in a subject approved by the Education Board.
Salutatorians will also receive $25,000 annually, increasing the scholarship from the current $750 figure.
Also tied to the scholarship increase, however, is a stipulation introduced by Nelson, which requires the recipients of these scholarships to return to the territory after graduation for one calendar year. During this time, the individual must work with the Virgin Islands government in a position relative to their field of study.
While many senators initially approved of the bills intent, testimony given by Margarita Benjamin, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association raised some concerns about funding. Benjamin said the bill does not establish a funding source for the scholarships, and would, if passed, become an unfunded mandate for the Board of Education.
Nelson said the money would come from revenues from the operation of video lottery machines.
Senators were also concerned that the territorys valedictorians and salutatorians would already be receiving scholarships from the schools of their choice, and therefore would not need to apply for such a government scholarship.
Nelson said the difference with this scholarship is that it tied students to the territory, requiring them to return after graduation. Nelson added this would "recycle some of the territorys brain power," and would also contribute to the development of the Virgin Islands.
Nelson further countered senators who felt the bill did not address how the Board of Education would make sure students returned home after graduation.
Nelson said the bill provides the Board with the power to establish the necessary rules and regulations to take care of such concerns.
Sens. David, Davis, Malone, and Nelson approved the bill. Sens. Hill and Richards were opposed. Sen. Figueroa-Serville did not vote.
Also approved by senators Monday were resolutions to rename the Michael J. Kirwan Elementary School the "Gladys A. Abraham Elementary School" and to rename the Peace Corps Elementary School in honor of Yvonne E. Milliner Bowsky.
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