83.9 F
Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, July 17, 2024


With about two weeks to go before public school resumes in the territory, administration officials don’t know where or if they will find $5.4 million to pay for busing students in the coming year.
Speaking at a twice-postponed press conference on Friday, Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds said she spent most of Wednesday huddled with Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and Office of Management and Budget director Ira Mills looking for ways to come up with the money. The start of school has been pushed back two weeks, to Sept. 11.
If her newly proposed fee of 50 cents per bus ride for both elementary and secondary students is implemented, Simmonds said, it is projected to generate only $1.8 million, leaving $3.6 million still to be identified by the department.
"Any fee that we would charge that would be affordable can’t pay for the cost of busing in the territory," she said, adding that she realizes the prospect of no buses will be a "hardship" for many parents. "I cannot speculate on what the outcome will be," she said.
Efforts are being made to change or consolidate bus routes to reduce costs, Simmonds said. She also said none of the federal funding available to the department "can be used for transportation" of students.
Sen. Roosevelt David recently said that the $5.4 million could be covered by using $14 million in funds left over from the administration’s $300 million bond issue of last year. But Simmonds discounted that idea, saying she had been advised that the money is earmarked for covering one government payroll period before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.
Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, meanwhile, has requested that Senate President Vargrave Richards call a "fact-finding" hearing on the busing issue 10 days before the start of school. "I have identified more than sufficient funds to address the financial aspect of this problem," she wrote in a letter to Richards on Friday. "By failing to meet, we are contributing to the problem."
At the press conference Friday, Simmonds also defended her department’s purchase of a $23,000 Ford Explorer for her use as commissioner. She reiterated what she had said when the vehicle acquisition was first reported in the media: that when she started the job 19 months ago, she was assigned a vehicle that had mechanical problems and was unsafe; and that the new sport utility vehicle was purchased with federal funding available for "administrative purposes."
She said that, as other commissioners, senators and judges drive government-owned vehicles, it was appropriate for her to acquire the SUV. "That is not Ruby Simmonds’ personal vehicle," she said.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.