Feb. 26, 2009 – Senators expressed their frustration Thursday when the Legislature's Education, Youth and Culture Committee put top Education Department officials on the hot seat at its meeting at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall.
"We want our children to do better," Sen. Louis P. Hill said.
Hill made his remarks on the heels of an entreaty by Sen. Michael Thurland to Gov. John deJongh Jr. to fund travel for school sports teams.
Thurland and Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said that coaches have complained for years that trips are not funded. Thurland said that the trips are a necessary part of education because students have few other activities to do.
"We have to end this in this Legislature," Thurland said.
The lengthy meeting covered many topics, but at one point Sen. Wayne James suggested that perhaps the Education Department should be an authority not subject to "political whims."
Additionally, after quizzing Education officials, James suggested that getting rid of junior high school might be a good idea. He said that the students leave much smaller schools, cut their ties with their elementary school teachers and may not have support from home.
"That's truly a very difficult age," the Education Department's St. Thomas/St. John Superintendent Jeanette Smith-Barry said.
She said seventh graders enter junior high school ill prepared. Then, it takes them a while to settle in.
The third-party fiduciary that oversees spending of the Education Department's federal funds was a sore spot with Thurland.
"I'm looking to get rid of the third party. I want to get the federal government out of here and out of Buck Island," he said, presumably referring to Buck Island Reef National Monument on St. Croix.
Hill wanted to know how long Assistant Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory expected the third-party fiduciary to be in place. She couldn't answer that question, but said procurement was an issue that needed to be worked out before the third-party fiduciary departed.
Nelson was upset with Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry's plan to implement a website for each of the territory's schools. A former teacher, Nelson wanted to know when teachers were supposed to fit in the work required to keep the website current.
"It puts an additional burden on teachers without additional compensation," Nelson said.
Terry said that the teachers would do the work in the time after classes ended but before they were supposed to leave for the day. She said it wouldn't take much time.
Smith-Barry said she was unaware of the problem when Sen. Alvin Williams wanted to know why students at some schools had to ask their teachers for toilet paper before going to the restroom.
"We have to stop that immediately," Williams said.
In addition to Hill, Thurland, Nelson, and James, committee members Sen. Craig Barshinger and Sen. Nellie O'Reilly attended the meeting. Sen. Neville James was absent.
Non-committee senators who attended included Williams, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, Sen. Carlton Dowe and Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve.
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