A newly released report by the Office of the V.I. Inspector General criticized the actions of Education Commissioner Sharon McCollum in the days after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The report, made public late last week, focuses on the use of a generator given to a St. Thomas high school.
Investigators working in the office of IG Steven Van Beverhoudt produced a six-page report saying Mc Collum’s decision to move the generator from the campus of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School to her residence was inappropriate.
Prior to her appointment as Education Commissioner, McCollum was principal of Kean High. A statement included in the document said the probe began when a caller to a talk radio show said the generator was missing.
Authors of the report also criticized McCollum for not informing school administrators about the move that took place some time prior to Sept. 18.
“Based upon the results of the investigation, it is our conclusion that the Commissioner of Education acted inappropriately when she utilized the generator to energize her personal residence. While we cannot specifically determine whether or not the commissioner had the generator moved solely for this purpose, we believe that the commissioner should have used better judgement during the handling of this matter.”
The report also says administrators of Kean “should have been explicitly informed that the generator was moved in an effort to avoid any confusion.”
The device in question was brought to the high school campus in 2016 as an alternative power source for the high school aquaponics lab. The outdoor aquaponics lab was used to teach students aspects of science and agriculture as a combination fish farm and soil-free vegetable garden. School officials told IG investigators the lab was heavily damaged in the passage of Hurricane Irma on Sept. 6 and most of the fish had been killed.
Investigators said the generator was discovered to be missing after Kean High teachers were called back to the campus to clean up and do damage assessment as Hurricane Maria approached.
McCollum told IG staffers she had the generator moved from the school to her home in order to secure it. At the time, vandals were stealing equipment like generators from public facilities. But a different story emerged when an investigator questioned two other Education officials with McCollum out of the room.
“Commissioner was not in the room at the time when he inquired about the missing generator; however the Insular Superintendent of the St. Thomas/St. John District was present. When asked, the principal indicated that a generator would have been useful during the cleanup and preparation efforts at Kean High after the hurricanes. Furthermore, he stated that he did not recall any instances of vandalism or break-ins on the campus, other than instances in which copper wire was reported stolen from Kean High’s gym. However, these reports were made several weeks after school started at Kean High, on October 9th,” the report said.
Further details emerged during a continuing discussion with Mc Collum and an Education maintenance worker who visited the commissioner’s home after the storms.
The school principal was not on island at the time the device was taken off campus, the report said. An assistant principal left in charge told IG officials they had no knowledge of the generator’s whereabouts until January.
The Education Department’s facilities manager said the generator for the aquaponics lab was purchased by a private company and donated to the school. The IG’s report said the facilities manager was also unaware of the situation at Kean High.
It was during the campus cleanup and assessment that the lab teacher found the generator missing. That teacher also said the device was still in place during an earlier visit when he came to the campus after the storm and turned in his keys to the school’s maintenance manager.
The Source attempted to reach McCollum through Government House spokeswoman Sandra Goomansingh but, as of this writing, did not receive a reply.
Apparently, at least one school official who did know where the generator was. The assistant director of maintenance was identified by McCollum as the one responsible for transporting the device from the high school campus to her home and from her home to a warehouse set up at the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School around Jan. 21.
The commissioner agreed to sit for an interview with IG officials in order to clear up rumors that she had stolen a generator from Kean High for her personal use. McCollum said she did not try to conceal the generator once it was taken to her residence and did not hook it up to her home’s electrical system right away.
The move was done to protect equipment and to help the commissioner work from home where possible, she said. However, investigators said McCollum could not recall specific dates when the move took place or the date when she decided to use the device.
Further justification was offered when the commissioner said there were other devices and appliances moved around within the Education Department following the storms.
“She further stated that Education’s Headquarters served as the primary point of operations for Education’s hurricane recovery efforts. She had ice machines, washers, dryers, and a refrigerator moved, from other locations within Education, to the headquarters in order to support the staff. A bed was also placed in her office, where she slept on multiple occasions.
In conclusion the Inspector General’s report summary said McCollum could have done better. However they did not suggest any criminal wrongdoing.