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Malone Questions Why Work Hasn't Started on Troubled School

Feb. 2, 2006 – No contracts for school maintenance repair projects have been submitted to Property and Procurement or the Solicitor General's office for review in the last three months, despite assurances by Noreen Michael in November that bid solicitations were being prepared.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said at an informal press conference Thursday in his office that no requests for proposals have gone out from the Education Department for companies to bid on mold mitigation and clean up projects at John H. Woodson Jr. High School on St. Croix, which has been closed since September.
At a press conference in November called to give an update on the status of school maintenance projects, Michael, who is the Education commissioner, said the department was developing requests for proposal to deal with the mold problems at Woodson. (See "Michael Says School Repairs Moving Along".)
"I actually tried to take a tour of Woodson last Friday," Malone said. "And it looks like no one has been on that property for months. There wasn't anyone around, the bushes were overgrown — the whole place looks like it's been condemned; and I was under the impression that repairs to the school have been ongoing for the last few months."
Malone said he decided to call the press conference after receiving calls from members of the St. Croix community about the status of the schools. He also said he heard rumors that the Elena Christian Junior High School — where Woodson students have been attending classes for the past five months — had closed Wednesday after a fight broke out in the parking lot.
According to a Source article, Woodson officials sent students home soon after the students arrived at Elena Christian Wednesday because teachers said the administration is not communicating with them about the status of repairs at their school (See "Woodson Teachers Want Answers, Refuse to Teach".)
When contacted Thursday afternoon, Cecelia Knowles, the St. Croix district's acting insular superintendent of schools, said she had not heard about a fight at Elena Christian. Knowles refused, however, to discuss anything about the repairs or RFPs, saying she had been misquoted by another media outlet and didn't feel like talking to the press. It was her second day on the job, having replaced former Superintendent Terrence Joseph, who retired Tuesday.
Malone said he is surprised Education hasn't started any of the phases of the three-phase plan, described by Michael in November, since the department was allowed to side-step the competitive bidding process when Gov. Charles W. Turnbull issued a declaration of public exigency for schools last October.
"This declaration basically gives the department carte blanche when picking companies to do these repairs," Malone said Thursday. "However, when I talked to representatives from the Solicitor General's office and Property and Procurement, they said they haven't seen any school maintenance contracts come up in the last three months."
Malone explained that once the Education Department receives a proposal from a company bidding on a project, they submit that proposal to Property and Procurement for evaluation. "After that, the Solicitor General has to review it, because he reviews all the contracts for the government before anything can happen," Malone said.
However, Safety Solution Concepts Inc., a company based in Connecticut, was selected to handle mold problems at Lew Muckle Elementary School on St. Croix without having to go through the bidding process, Malone said. He added that Milton Jacobs, the company's owner, said Safety Solution Concepts simply submitted a proposal to Education and was hired to do the work. "It's odd that Education chose not to send out an RFP for repairs at Lew Muckle, but is sending out RFPs for repairs at Woodson," Malone said.
Lew Muckle closed down last week after excessive mold was found in many of the school's classrooms. According to Malone, the school is scheduled to re-open for teachers on Feb. 5. However, there is no date set for when students can return.
Malone further stated he recently took a tour of Lew Muckle, and found that three of the modular classrooms at the school had mold "growing in the walls." Malone said the temporary classrooms have been used for students since the school was damaged by Hurricane Marilyn in 1995.
He said he spoke with Knowles and was told that the modular classrooms — which have been used for the sixth grade students — will not be used again when the school re-opens.
Attempts to obtain information from Education officials met with no results Thursday. Knowles refused to talk and Michael did not return phone calls.
Malone said he would be holding an emergency meeting of the Committee on Education, Youth and Culture in St. Croix on Feb. 8 to discuss the maintenance problems, along with teacher certification efforts and curriculum issues. "I also want to see if Education has made any progress toward getting the third-party fiduciary in place as yet," he said.
During the meeting, Malone added that Michael and Board of Education officials said Thursday that they would not be able to attend next week's meeting.
"It's as if no one cares about what's going on," Malone said. "And I'm tired of having to do all this if the commissioners, board members, and other officials are not going to make an effort to do their jobs."

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