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TURNBULL: BUSES WILL ROLL FOR SCHOOL OPENING

Students returning to public schools on Sept. 11, the start of the 2000-2001 school year, will be provided with bus service at no cost through the end of the fiscal year, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said Friday.
Turnbull confirmed reports that monies have been identified to cover Education Department costs for school bus service until Oct. 1 on all three islands. In a midday broadcast on several radio stations, Turnbull said the monies are actually savings the department has realized from recent resignations and retirements of personnel.
"We have identified sufficient savings to continue free school busing when school begins on Sept. 11 through the end of the fiscal year," Turnbull said.
The governor said he has asked budget director Ira Mills to amend the FY 2001 budget to include a line-item appropriation within the Education budget that will guarantee free school busing and a year-round school maintenance program for public schools.
"This is what I mean by putting our children first, and this is what I intend to do if we are to prepare our children for the new century," Turnbull added.
Government House spokeswoman Rina Jacobs McBrowne said Friday that the administration does not expect significant opposition in the Legislature to the line-item amendment.
"The governor has been actively lobbying senators on this issue," she said.
On other education matters, the governor said his administration spent some $15 million on school repairs during the summer months. He said it represented an attempt to improve the learning environment for students.
"My fiscal year 2001 budget contains funds to provide step and starting salary increases for members of the American Federation of Teachers union," he said. Turnbull noted that the increases were necessary to combat severe teacher shortages caused by low salaries and a mass teacher exodus to mainland schools.
Turnbull did express renewed disappointment that local American Federation of Teachers members rejected the tentative wage agreement. "The membership should reconsider the agreement which is based on forgoing half of the owed retroactive wages in exchange for almost $9 million in salary increases," Turnbull noted.
He said while he understood the reluctance of teachers to give up the monies, "the larger picture is the dire financial crisis of the government." He emphasized his administration's position that forgiveness of some amount of the retroactive debt has to be part of any discussion about wage increases.
"This applies to every union negotiation in which we will be taking part," he said, noting that "the forgiveness or retroactive wages is part and parcel of every comprehensive recovery plan."
Turnbull used what has become a weekly broadcast address to also pay tribute to working men and women in observance of Labor Day on Monday.
"We remember and honor the life and legacy of labor pioneers such as D. Hamilton Jackson, Rothschild Francis and Earle B. Ottley. We owe to them and many others who are even now promoting labor's cause our gratitude for all that they have accomplished for working men and women of the V.I.," Turnbull said.
The territory joins the rest of the nation on Monday in celebration of Labor Day. Territorial government offices, federal offices, banks and schools are all closed for the holiday.

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