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Senate Committee Looks at Boosting Vocational Facilities

Dec. 3, 2007 — A bill calling for the construction of a nationally recognized career and technical institute on St. Thomas spurred an in-depth discussion in the Senate Monday on the current state of vocational education in the territory, and how facilities in both districts can be expanded.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Alvin L. Williams, hinges on a public-private partnership between the V.I. government and Lincoln Educational Services, a national vocational and technical training program that offers courses in fields ranging from cosmetology to hospitality services.
Lincoln would invest $30 million in the territory, which would go toward building a 60,000-square-foot facility with dormitories for 200 students. In exchange, Lincoln would receive a $6 million annual subsidy from the local government, as well as Economic Development Commission tax benefits and a reduced lease on the 20 acres of land needed to build its St. Thomas campus. The $6 million contribution would allow the company to provide discounted tuition rates to V.I. students who qualify for the program, Lincoln officials said during Monday's meeting of the Committee on Education, Youth and Culture.
While several senators seemed amenable to the idea, many said they were concerned about providing an extra $6 million every year for a private company that will already — if the bill is approved — receive other benefits from the local government.
"I don't want to subsidize your capital investment," said Sen. Ronald E. Russell. "You're a private company. We're giving you the land, and I think that's good enough."
While Russell also campaigned for the proposed institute to be set up on St. Croix, Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson called for more funds to be handed out to the two facilities already set up within the territory: the Raphael O. Wheatley Skill Center on St. Thomas and the Career and Technical Institute on St. Croix.
"On St. Croix, we have been crying out for the appropriate funding needed to cover these operations," Nelson said. "The Career and Technical Center has three nationally certified programs — can we really afford to subsidize Lincoln at $6 million when we have institutes in both districts that are providing some of the same types of courses and are still crying out for the things they need? As good as it sounds, the cost of the proposal is the biggest issue right now."
Lincoln does not intend to compete with the existing programs within the territory, said Chief Executive Officer David Carney.
"To the contrary, our model would serve to augment and enhance your educational product," he said. "The model that we bring to you is designed to attract the post-secondary education students, that, for various reasons, do not fit into the conventional college or university setting … that need to develop and sharpen the skills that will help them to lead productive lives and contribute in a positive way to the community. Simultaneously, they will be prepared to compete for jobs anywhere in the world. They simply need the opportunity."
While other testifiers during Monday's meeting said they applaud the idea of a full-blown vocational institute, many echoed some of the senators' concerns, saying the government should also make additional contributions to build up the territory's existing vocational programs. Some, such as acting Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory, raised new issues, telling senators that the bill could be viewed as special-interest legislation.
"The criteria used to determine that Lincoln Educational Services is the best value for the Virgin Islands is unknown to the department," she said. "The absence of a request for proposals promotes the appearance of special legislation which excludes other possible viable institutions."
Frett-Gregory also noted the shortage of land on St. Thomas, and asked whether a feasibility study was conducted to assess the viability of setting up such a school in the territory.
In the end, senators voted to send the bill onto the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further approval. Before doing so, however, they amended the proposal to allow the governor to negotiate the details of whatever deal is struck with Lincoln Educational Services.
Voting in favor of the bill were Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Norman Jn Baptiste and Shawn-Michael Malone, while Sen. Louis P. Hill and Nelson voted against it.
Sen. Neville James was absent.
Earlier in Monday's meeting, senators pushed through a bill meant to stop any non-accredited college or university from setting up shop in the territory.
The second half of the hearing took an emotional turn, as representatives from three local businesses told senators that the Department of Education owes them money for maintenance and construction work performed up to 11 years ago. While Education officials say there is no documentation to back up some of the numbers presented by the companies, senators insisted that the department look at settling some of its debts. Hoping to solve the problem, the committee voted to send the issue to the Finance Committee for further scrutiny.
Shifting gears, Frett-Gregory responded to questions about the status of the department's federal funds, and whether the local government will be paid back in full for a $27 million loan given to Education a few years ago — after the department's fiscal year 2004 grant money was frozen by the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education has already agreed to pay back a total of about $16 million in consolidated and special-education grant funds, and could soon be handing over another $3.9 million, Frett-Gregory said. However, the department doesn't anticipate getting back the entire $27 million, she added.
Wrapping up the meeting, Frett-Gregory assured senators that the construction of the new track and field at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School is moving along, with the first phase of the project nearing completion. Still, the department is working to identify another $3.5 million needed to finish the second and third phases of the project, she said.
Present during Monday's meeting were Davis, Dowe, Jn Baptiste, Malone, Hill, Nelson, Russell and Williams.James was absent.
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Dec. 3, 2007 -- A bill calling for the construction of a nationally recognized career and technical institute on St. Thomas spurred an in-depth discussion in the Senate Monday on the current state of vocational education in the territory, and how facilities in both districts can be expanded.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Alvin L. Williams, hinges on a public-private partnership between the V.I. government and Lincoln Educational Services, a national vocational and technical training program that offers courses in fields ranging from cosmetology to hospitality services.
Lincoln would invest $30 million in the territory, which would go toward building a 60,000-square-foot facility with dormitories for 200 students. In exchange, Lincoln would receive a $6 million annual subsidy from the local government, as well as Economic Development Commission tax benefits and a reduced lease on the 20 acres of land needed to build its St. Thomas campus. The $6 million contribution would allow the company to provide discounted tuition rates to V.I. students who qualify for the program, Lincoln officials said during Monday's meeting of the Committee on Education, Youth and Culture.
While several senators seemed amenable to the idea, many said they were concerned about providing an extra $6 million every year for a private company that will already -- if the bill is approved -- receive other benefits from the local government.
"I don't want to subsidize your capital investment," said Sen. Ronald E. Russell. "You're a private company. We're giving you the land, and I think that's good enough."
While Russell also campaigned for the proposed institute to be set up on St. Croix, Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson called for more funds to be handed out to the two facilities already set up within the territory: the Raphael O. Wheatley Skill Center on St. Thomas and the Career and Technical Institute on St. Croix.
"On St. Croix, we have been crying out for the appropriate funding needed to cover these operations," Nelson said. "The Career and Technical Center has three nationally certified programs -- can we really afford to subsidize Lincoln at $6 million when we have institutes in both districts that are providing some of the same types of courses and are still crying out for the things they need? As good as it sounds, the cost of the proposal is the biggest issue right now."
Lincoln does not intend to compete with the existing programs within the territory, said Chief Executive Officer David Carney.
"To the contrary, our model would serve to augment and enhance your educational product," he said. "The model that we bring to you is designed to attract the post-secondary education students, that, for various reasons, do not fit into the conventional college or university setting ... that need to develop and sharpen the skills that will help them to lead productive lives and contribute in a positive way to the community. Simultaneously, they will be prepared to compete for jobs anywhere in the world. They simply need the opportunity."
While other testifiers during Monday's meeting said they applaud the idea of a full-blown vocational institute, many echoed some of the senators' concerns, saying the government should also make additional contributions to build up the territory's existing vocational programs. Some, such as acting Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory, raised new issues, telling senators that the bill could be viewed as special-interest legislation.
"The criteria used to determine that Lincoln Educational Services is the best value for the Virgin Islands is unknown to the department," she said. "The absence of a request for proposals promotes the appearance of special legislation which excludes other possible viable institutions."
Frett-Gregory also noted the shortage of land on St. Thomas, and asked whether a feasibility study was conducted to assess the viability of setting up such a school in the territory.
In the end, senators voted to send the bill onto the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further approval. Before doing so, however, they amended the proposal to allow the governor to negotiate the details of whatever deal is struck with Lincoln Educational Services.
Voting in favor of the bill were Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Norman Jn Baptiste and Shawn-Michael Malone, while Sen. Louis P. Hill and Nelson voted against it.
Sen. Neville James was absent.
Earlier in Monday's meeting, senators pushed through a bill meant to stop any non-accredited college or university from setting up shop in the territory.
The second half of the hearing took an emotional turn, as representatives from three local businesses told senators that the Department of Education owes them money for maintenance and construction work performed up to 11 years ago. While Education officials say there is no documentation to back up some of the numbers presented by the companies, senators insisted that the department look at settling some of its debts. Hoping to solve the problem, the committee voted to send the issue to the Finance Committee for further scrutiny.
Shifting gears, Frett-Gregory responded to questions about the status of the department's federal funds, and whether the local government will be paid back in full for a $27 million loan given to Education a few years ago -- after the department's fiscal year 2004 grant money was frozen by the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education has already agreed to pay back a total of about $16 million in consolidated and special-education grant funds, and could soon be handing over another $3.9 million, Frett-Gregory said. However, the department doesn't anticipate getting back the entire $27 million, she added.
Wrapping up the meeting, Frett-Gregory assured senators that the construction of the new track and field at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School is moving along, with the first phase of the project nearing completion. Still, the department is working to identify another $3.5 million needed to finish the second and third phases of the project, she said.
Present during Monday's meeting were Davis, Dowe, Jn Baptiste, Malone, Hill, Nelson, Russell and Williams.James was absent.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.