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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, June 20, 2024
HomeNewsLocal governmentSenate Proposes $2.5 Million for School Construction and Maintenance

Senate Proposes $2.5 Million for School Construction and Maintenance

Senator Donna Frett-Gregory questions testifiers during the Budget, Appropriations, and Finance Committee. (Photo courtesy of the V.I. Legislature)

Senators Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Marise C. James, Angel L. Bolques, Jr, and Marvin A. Blyden worked collectively to propose legislation for the Department of Education during Tuesday’s Committee on Budget, Appropriation, and Finance.

Bill  No. 35-0050, an act amending and designating the existing provisions and adding the establishment of the Bureau of School Construction and Maintenance within the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDOE) for budgetary purposes, was presented to the Senate body.

As a former commissioner of the VIDOE, Frett-Gregory recalled spending the majority of her summers addressing school maintenance issues instead of preparing for the upcoming school year and having academics as the primary focus, which pushed her to create the bill.

The proposal would elevate the burden of juggling school maintenance and academics for the VIDOE commissioner; however, with the current construction of the new schools being built, Sen. Dwayne DeGraff inquired how this would impact the dynamics of this current legislation.

Dionne Wells-Hedrington, commissioner of the V.I. Department of Education, testified, “A concern for VIDE is whether the executive director will have the same sense of urgency when it comes to maintenance concerns that can impact schools’ day-to-day operations.”

The bill also amends changing the Education Maintenance Fund to the School Construction, Maintenance and Capital Fund; and making an appropriation of $2,500,000 from the Virgin Islands Education Initiative Fund to the School Construction, Maintenance and Capital Fund and for other related purposes.

“Currently, the bill speaks to utilizing 100 percent funding from any lease of properties previously used by schools; please understand that usually, schools are turned back over to DPP and used by other government agencies. This body and all future legislators must be committed to funding the needs of the Bureau in its entirety without taking the much-needed resources from our department,” Wells-Hedrington said.

“This legislation removes the responsibility of executing maintenance tasks from the leadership team. Having two individuals with governing power over the school facilities can be problematic if they aren’t operating collaboratively and cohesively. We know that every four years, the guards are subject to change. Therefore, this bill must be written to ensure that there is no subjectivity in terms of the intent of the Bureau and the importance of maintaining schools,” she said.

Wells-Hedrington stated that after reviewing the bill language with the department, they have accumulated a list of changes that she read into the record.

Bosede A. Bruce, commissioner of the V.I. Department of Finance, gave a brief testimony outlining the Virgin Islands Education Initiative Fund.

“My analysis supports that the Virgin Islands Education Initiative Fund can bear the two one-time appropriations of $2 million outlined in Section 6 and $5.5 million in Section 7. The fund should have approximately $3 million after all estimated revenues and estimated expenditures have been realized,” she said.

Bruce noted suggestive amendments to be made to the proposed legislation in her testimony. “I do want to point out that line 22 of page 9 states “Virgin Islands Initiative Fund” but should correctly state “Virgin Islands Education Initiative Fund.” Finally, the Bill Summary on page 10 does not include the appropriation of $2 million outlined in section 6,” she said.

Sen. Samuel Carrion inquired what the overall cost to fully maintain the school annually would be, to which Chaneel Callwood, VIDE architect, responded $15 million. The $15 million includes emergency, preventative, and routine maintenance.

Wells-Hedrington stated that over the past 10 years, there has been an appropriation of $2 million for maintenance over the opposed $15 million dollars that is recommended based on the footage of property.

Collaborative works of the Senate body provided several amendments to Bill No. 35-0050, which led to a unanimous vote of 7 yays from committee members, forwarding it to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory said, “It is important that we get to a place where we get to focus on instruction. Instruction should be the primary focus of our instructional leaders in the territory.”

Sens. Donna Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrion, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Ray Fonseca, Javan E. James Sr., Marise James and Milton Potter were present.

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