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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 13, 2024


With the public school year starting on Aug. 25, four schools on St. Croix have yet to see renovations or even regular summer maintenance.
Department of Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds was absent from Thursday’s Senate Education Committee meeting. In her place, Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs told committee chairman Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste that for various reasons contractors haven’t started work on Alexander Henderson, Charles Emanuel, Juanita Gardine or Pearl B. Larsen Elementary Schools.
Biggs said work at Henderson and Emanuel hadn’t begun because his department only received a description of it from the Department of Education on Wednesday. At Gardine and Larsen, he said, contractors had to stop working because they couldn’t post a $1 million performance bond, a government requirement for work amounting to more than $600,000.
That information incensed Baptiste, who was the only senator present at the meeting along with Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd. Baptiste said work on schools in the St. Thomas-St. John district was on schedule.
"Is the Department of Education doing something different in St. Thomas than St. Croix?" Baptiste asked Biggs, who replied, "Only Education can respond to that."
"That’s exactly why they're not here today," Baptiste said, taking a shot at the absent Simmonds.
On the eve of the meeting, Simmonds notified Baptiste that she would be absent because of negotiations with the American Federation of Teachers.
"As a mater of fact," she said in a release, "these negotiations have been on-going for the past couple of weeks. We were simply unable to attend today’s hearing.
"At this time, however, the negotiations must take precedence, particularly in light of the proximity to the beginning of the new school year and our severe staffing challenges."
Liburd asked Biggs how long it would take to complete work on the schools. Biggs answered that "I assume the revised scope of work can be completed before the start of school."
Liburd, however, didn’t sound convinced. "Summer maintenance awaits bids," he said. "Summer's almost over."
When Baptiste asked if the schools in question would be ready to receive students at the beginning of the year on Aug. 25, Biggs was optimistic.
"In my opinion, yes, I feel comfortable these schools will be substantially complete," he said."
Baptiste asked about the status of work on Elena Christian Junior High, a wing of which was severely damaged by Hurricane Lenny in November, forcing double class sessions. Biggs replied that the school is as ready as it was when students and teachers left in June.

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