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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 28, 2024


Education remains the number one priority of this administration. As a lifelong educator who has dedicated his life to the educational success of our young people, I would be remiss if I did not state upfront that I am truly disappointed with the circumstances that could lead to the possible loss of accreditation for three of our public high schools in the Territory. My dismay about this situation has been conveyed to all parties involved. However, the situation is not without hope, and I will leave no stone unturned and I will commit every resource to ensure that our schools remain accredited.
Through sunshine and through rain, we will not shrink from our responsibility to care for our children and our young people. We will continue to endeavor to give them the best education attainable, to love them, to care for them, and to nurture them in every good way. We are moving swiftly to correct the shortcomings in the four areas delineated by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
For example, with cooperation and support from the Legislature, we have provided additional funds for site-based management to empower our school principals to meet the individual needs of each school. In addition, principals will also be provided with increased authority to appoint substitute teachers from an expanded pool. The department will also increase the use of technology and video conferencing in the classroom to promote instruction and to address specific concerns identified by the Association. We are exploring changes in our compensation system to provide new incentives for improved teacher attendance, and we are introducing new technology to keep better track of student attendance.
We have appealed our case to the Association and we will work vigorously and diligently to protect our accredited status. Indeed, we must improve our schools to outstanding levels that go far beyond the criteria of the Middle States Association, for we who are committed to the educational process must set the highest standards for our children. We must prepare our young people to compete with other students anywhere and everywhere in the world. I reaffirm tonight the commitment of this administration to our children and to provide our students an excellent education.
This year I will personally visit each school in the Territory to learn and see first hand the needs of each. Moreover, I am announcing tonight the appointment of Dr. Manuel Justiz, the Dean of the University of Texas at Austin, College of Education, to serve as Assistant to the Governor for education affairs, including our efforts to retain our accreditation. Dr. Justiz previously served as the Director of the National Institute of Education and is nationally recognized for his work on education reform. Dr. Justiz will make the substantial resources of the University of Texas available to assist us in reforming the education system in the Territory. He has agreed to serve at no cost to the Government.
We must not, however, allow the crucial issue of accreditation to overshadow the many accomplishments of the Department of Education this year. Even though the teaching profession faces a national crisis in the recruitment of personnel, the department was able to successfully recruit 47 new teachers on St. Croix and 32 new teachers in the district of St. Thomas-St. John. It is particularly gratifying to note that 80% of those recruited are graduates of the University of the Virgin Islands. Recruitment continues to be an ongoing process, however, as there are still shortages in the areas of special education, foreign languages, mathematics, and science.
The department also faces shortages in the area of support staff, such as school lunch workers, laborers and other maintenance personnel. To address some of these personnel needs, the department has rehired some of the dedicated teachers and other staff who have retired from the system. This has helped tremendously to alleviate some of the critical personnel shortages.
In an effort to provide better training for educational professionals in the department, the Office of Special Education is sponsoring a Master's Degree program in school psychology through the University of the Virgin Islands. A technical assistance agreement has also been developed in coordination with the South East Regional Resource Center to provide professional development opportunities for principals, special education administrators, guidance counselors, hearing officers, secondary teachers and parents.
I am also very proud to report that successful negotiations between the Department and the American Federation of Teachers have led to two important contracts for salary increases in 2001. As a result, the starting salary for a beginning teacher now stands at $25,789. In addition, under these new contracts, approximately 10 to 15% of our teaching faculty will now be earning more than $60,000 annually. Finally, negotiations with the Educational Administrators' Association produced a contract settlement that increases the salaries of approximately 20% of our principals and other administrators to more than $80,000 a year. These long delayed raises will go far in improving morale in the department and rewarding those who are responsible for educating our youth – our most prized resource.
Last year, the Department of Education also received an Advanced Placement (AP) Grant that will fund accelerated classes at the high school level and the payment of testing fees for those students taking Advanced Placement exams in the Spring. The expansion of this important program was launched at a training session held at the University of the Virgin Islands campus on St. Croix for AP teachers, subject-area coordinators, and high school administrators. Additional AP classes have, as a result, been offered in the current school year. In conjunction with the Florida Virtual School and the Virgin Islands Board of Education, this administration has also launched an on-line virtual high school. This virtual high school will allow the Territory's students to take courses on-line and will provide us with many new opportunities for educating our children. These technology initiatives are just the beginning of a process that, over time, will dramatically improve the way in which we educate our youth in the Virgin Islands.
The Department of Education re-introduced last year the Gifted and Talented Program for grades 4 through 6 in schools throughout the Territory in order to better challenge and nurture the special talents of our young people. To help improve the basic skills of all of our children, the Office of Information and Technology started a program last year to insure that all 4th, 6th, and 8th grade classrooms will have special computers installed with reading and math skills software.
One of the major undertakings for the department in the past year has been the negotiation of a comprehensive compliance agreement with the U.S. Department of Education which covers all programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The Office of the Governor and a team of educators from the department have led this effort. We expect that the compliance agreement will be finalized by the end of next month.
The department made progress this past year in its efforts to upgrade our facilities and physical plants and to improve the teaching and learning environment. The media center at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School was refurbished and dedicated earlier this year. The new administration building and state-of-the-art media center at the St. Croix Central High School was also completed earlier this year. The Lockhart Elementary School, destroyed by Hurricane Marilyn, was rebuilt and dedicated last November. The rebuilding of the Peace Corps Elementary School has also been completed and will be dedicated early this year. Despite unforeseen delays, the rebuilding of the Bertha C. Boshulte Middle School is more than 75% complete, and the completed buildings are now being utilized. The renovation of the Charlotte Amal
ie High School Music Suite was also completed this past year, and students are now enjoying and learning in the new facility.
I am also pleased to report that the "No Child is Left Behind Act" signed by President Bush last week is landmark legislation which will provide significant new opportunities, as well as challenges, to improve the education of our children. The legislation completely reforms the existing programs of federal assistance and will make substantial increases in federal funding available for all of the schools in the nation, including the Virgin Islands.
Importantly, the new legislation includes significant new set-asides and discretionary funds for school improvements, teacher and principal training, library upgrades, and civic education. While these significant increases in federal funding will be dependent upon the submission of an approved education reform plan and improved student testing, the new legislation also authorizes the Secretary of Education to appoint a Special Coordinator for the Virgin Islands and the other "Outlying Areas" to assist in the development of these educational reforms. I pledge the full cooperation of this administration in working with Secretary of Education Rodney Paige and the U.S. Department of Education to take full advantage of these new opportunities to improve education in the Territory.
In celebrating the outstanding work done by teachers, two teachers were recognized as local Teachers of the Year. They are Mr. Earl Jones, a computer teacher at the Educational Complex in St. Croix, and Mrs. Tracey Thompson Johnson, the English chairperson at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School who is also the Virgin Islands' candidate for the National Teacher of the Year Competition. Will the two teachers please stand and be recognized for their outstanding achievements.
The University of the Virgin Islands continues to spearhead innovations in education by providing technical assistance, strengthening elementary and secondary schools, and enhancing the transition from school to university and from school to work. Last year saw the opening of the state-of-the-art Sports and Fitness Center on the St. Thomas Campus and the completion of the Virgin Islands Data Atlas by the Eastern Caribbean Center's Conservation Data Center. The Data Atlas will serve as a model for ecological assessment and evaluation of small tropical island ecosystems in the Virgin Islands and around the world. In addition, the UVI Small Business Development Center (SBDC) last year initiated a series of workshops to provide free training to all veterans in the Virgin Islands community. And the UVI Children, Youth, and Families-at-Risk Center at the Louis E. Brown Housing Community on St. Croix was opened last June.
With a clear focus on the future, the University initiated several capital projects last year as part of its ten year capital improvement master plan, including the new campus dining pavilion, the remote kitchen, and the Harvey Administration Building on the St. Thomas Campus. Legislative approval of the University's planned Research and Technology Park is critical to the continued development of the University and of our economy, particularly on the island of St. Croix. I strongly urge the 24th Legislature to act expeditiously on this important initiative. I must stress that we are in no position to lose potential investors and be left behind in the global economy because of legislative inaction.
Health and Human Services
In order to meet the needs of the Territory's children, the Department of Human Services created two state-of-the-art Head Start Centers in Kingshill, St. Croix and in Frenchtown on St. Thomas. These new centers, which will contain new playground and other equipment, will allow us to increase the number of three-to-five-year olds getting a head start in their educational and social development. To address community concerns about quality day care services on St. John, the department plans to reinstate day care services to qualifying families on St. John through a private operator.
The department has also undertaken a new initiative, known as the Virgin Islands Children in Safe and Securing Surroundings (VI CISS) program, to ensure that all child care centers meet new federal health and safety standards for children up to five years of age. To that end, the department has embarked on an educational campaign to underscore the importance of quality child care in the Territory. The department has also continued to help parents by providing subsidies for child care services, by conducting parenting workshops, and by actively monitoring child care centers to ensure that children are in safe and secure surroundings.
The department's Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) Program, through collaboration with other public and private agencies, has continued to provide GED preparation and training, community work experience, and work adjustment services for welfare recipients. As a result of the success of this program, the number of recipients receiving Temporary Assistance was reduced last year from 1,288 to 737 – a 57% decrease.
At the same time, the department provided over $20 million in food stamp benefits for qualified individuals and families. The department will convert later this year from a paper-based system to an electronic system for the distribution of food stamp benefits. Under the new system, food stamp recipients will utilize a debit card, rather than coupons, to purchase food items.
In an attempt to ameliorate the living conditions of our senior citizens, the department has purchased passenger vans to transport seniors to and from senior centers. In response to the growing concern about the abuse of elderly residents, Human Services last year implemented training programs for social workers in the Adult Protective Units. In addition, the department initiated an independent living program for older individuals with disabilities. The department has also expanded its Meals On Wheels program to include more of our homeless seniors.
Renovations at the Herbert Grigg Home for the Aged on St. Croix were completed last year, and senior citizens have been relocated from the Richmond Center to the Anglican Parish Hall.
The Department of Human Services this year established a partnership with the Departments of Labor, Licensing and Consumer Affairs and Education to establish a Workforce Development Center on St. Croix. This center will provide "One Stop" social services from different V.I. agencies, and ease the plight of the unemployed and facilitate their return to the active workforce.
The Department of Health has addressed several new public health issues in the last year, including the nationwide threat of anthrax contamination and other forms of bioterrorism. The department developed a comprehensive bioterrorism response plan, in coordination with the Center for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, VITEMA, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the Virgin Islands Police Department and other government agencies. Emergency response committees were set up in each district; testing procedures for accepting suspicious specimens were established; public information hot lines were set up; drug stores in the Territory were requested to stockpile a 60-day supply of antibiotics; and local physicians were contacted and provided with the proper protocols for treating suspected anthrax contamination.
The threat of bioterrorism notwithstanding, AIDS remains the most serious public health problem of our generation. I am pleased to report that the STD/HIV/TB program administered by the Department of Health has received new funding and hired new medical staff trained in infectious diseases.
In addition to addressing these critical public health threats, the department continued to make progress this past year in its regular and ongoing programs. New computers and software were installed last year to upgrade service in the Medical
Assistance Program. Computerization of patient records and other pertinent health data has also been implemented.
The department's capital improvement projects are also moving forward, including roof repairs at the Charles Harwood Complex on St. Croix and renovation of the Eldra Schulterbrandt Complex on St. Thomas. Upon completion, long-term unit patients from the Michelle Motel will be relocated to this facility. Also slated for upgrading and renovation this year are the Morris F. deCastro Clinic on St. John and the north wing of the Knud Hansen Complex on St. Thomas. Building "H," which houses the Division of Vital Statistics at the Old Municipal Hospital, is now under renovation along with needed roof repairs. In addition, the Emergency Services last year acquired two new ambulances to better serve our residents throughout the Territory.
Using proceeds from the $21 million dollar Tobacco Settlement bond issue, work will soon begin on the construction of a new seven bed cardiac treatment unit at the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix and a state of the art cancer treatment center at the Roy Lester Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas. The establishment of these facilities, which are also being supported by generous contributions from the Partners For Health and the Charlotte Kimmelman Cancer Care Foundation, will enable many of our seriously ill patients to be treated at home rather than off-island.
I am also pleased to report that the infant mortality rate in the Territory is steadily moving downward. The WIC program, which has received $562,582 in federal funding this year to serve 6,500 participants, has been an important factor in this reduction.
The administration has continued to work this past year to make homeownership more affordable and available to our residents. The Department of Housing, Parks and recreation and the Virgin Islands, and the Virgin Islands Finance Authority (VIHFA) last year received more than $1.5 million in federal housing grants and mortgage financing assistance to help low and middle income persons with their housing needs.
The Housing Finance Authority last year completed the construction of seven units at Concordia and thirty-three units at Mount Pleasant III on St. Croix and provided mortgage financing for eight Castle Burke homeowners. On St. Thomas, the authority completed infrastructure work and sold fifteen-quarter acre lots at Estate Nazareth and three-quarter acre lots at Fortuna. The Housing Department also plans to build 24 homes at Estate Nadir and Altona by the end of this year. Phase II of the Castle Burke single-family housing development is also well underway. This phase will provide an additional fifty units of low-to-moderate-income-housing units for the residents of St. Croix.
The department has also aggressively enforced its lease-to- homeownership program at Estate Adventure Hill, with forty-six of the eighty-four families at the home development becoming homeowners during the last year. In addition to building and selling houses, the department has continued to upgrade and improve its entire housing stock, by spending more than $1.5 million for installation of potable water systems and electrical upgrades.
The Housing Authority sold over ninety dwelling units last year to residents eligible for financing from the Homeownership Program. In addition, the Section 8 Program, which provides mortgage assistance to low income individuals, provided twenty-five families the opportunity to purchase their own homes.
Through the collaborative effort of the Twenty-Fourth Legislature and this administration, the ceiling rent formula for tenants of public housing was adjusted downward from 30 to 15 percent of income. The release of $1 million appropriated by the Legislature will compensate the Housing Authority for revenues that will be lost as a result of rent reductions this year.
Public Safety and Homeland Security:
Protecting the General Welfare

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 have forced us, as a nation and as a Territory, to focus on homeland security and, more importantly, the security that every citizen of the Territory has a right to expect and enjoy.
The Adjutant General of the Virgin Islands, Major General Cleve McBean, has been tapped to head our effort in providing homeland security. Following the President's call, members of the Virgin Islands National Guard were ordered to duty, providing security at the Territory's airports and standing ready to answer the call in defense of our nation. As a part of our homeland defense, VITEMA, focused considerable attention last year on technological hazards, with an emphasis on the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice provided VITEMA with training for a terrorist attack involving a hazardous materials component.
While I am pleased to report that Part One Crimes declined last year by one percent over the previous year's 15 percent reduction, we cannot relax our guard: we must increase our vigilance in these uncertain times and participate as a community in the fight against crime. One crime is one crime too many.
To better protect the safety of our citizens, I issued an executive order last September authorizing the Commissioner of Police to hire 30 retired police officers and to return them to duty. This will add immediate strength and experience to our force. At the same time, the Police Department has hired new recruits to further augment our manpower. These new recruits have already begun police training and will soon be on the streets protecting public safety.
The department has also introduced new crime prevention initiatives aimed at specific high crime areas, including the Community-Oriented-Policing (COPS) program, which has proved so effective in fighting crime nationwide. The department has also reorganized the Major Crimes Unit and provided additional resources to address the increase in the homicide rate.
In particular, I am deeply troubled by the recent acts of violence committed on our cruise ship visitors on St. Croix and stand determined to address and eliminate the incidences of crimes against them. I therefore established an Anti-Maritime Crime Task Force that developed a series of initiatives, including increased patrols of Sandy Point and Dorsch beaches, increased police presence in the towns of Christiansted and Frederiksted, partnerships with taxi associations to report crime; development of an anti-crime public service campaign, enhanced street lighting in Frederiksted and surrounding parks; and the establishment of a local anti-crime group. I urge my fellow Virgin Islanders to report to the Police whatever information they might come to possess which might help to bring these criminals to the bar of justice. Most specifically, I continue my call for your cooperation in the location and recovery of Police Corporal Wendell Williams.
I am tremendously outraged by the continuing high rate of child abuse, rape and domestic violence in the Territory. As a community, we must do every thing within our collective power to rid ourselves of this social cancer. This is not a government problem, but a community-wide problem. It is a problem that we cannot ignore and that we must confront together. I support stiffer penalties for those who would prey on defenseless women and children. But, in the end all three branches of government must work together to stop this scourge.
This past year, the Attorney General of the Virgin Islands developed, in conjunction with the Commissioner of Police and the United States Attorney, a new crime fighting initiative called "Project Exile." It has proven effective in reducing criminal activities in specific crime areas and in removing illegal guns from the community.
The capacity to fight crime and protect the public safety also depends in large part on an adequately staffed and equipped police force. I am pleased to report that we are continuing to make improvements in this area. In addition to the renovation of depar
tmental facilities and the acquisition of new police vehicles, we were successful in persuading Congress, for the second year in a row, to earmark a special appropriation of $1.25 million to purchase the latest crime fighting technology to support our dedicated officers.
Once criminals are apprehended, they must be vigorously prosecuted. I am pleased to report that the Department of Justice continues to boast a 90 percent conviction rate for all crimes. The department has also been successful in seizing illegal weapons in the Territory, as well as the assets of convicted drug dealers, the proceeds of which are returned to the department to support the fight against crime.
This year, the Virgin Islands Fire Service made great strides in upgrading its facilities, acquiring new equipment, and training its manpower to meet the demands of the agency and the community. The Estate Cotton Valley, Estate Grove Place and Estate Richmond fire stations were renovated, and repairs to the Frederiksted and Charlotte Amalie Fire Stations are 85 percent completed. The Fire Service purchased approximately one half million dollars worth of new firefighting vehicles, equipment and supplies. Firefighters were trained in Hazardous Materials, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Arson and Prevention and Computer skills. In an effort to address personnel shortages, sixteen new firefighters were hired and trained Territory-wide.
The Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Justice have worked hard this year to identify and prosecute those who commit fraud, waste and abuse within the government. A hotline has been established for the public to report suspected fraud, waste and abuse in the Government. An advertising campaign was initiated this past fall to encourage citizen involvement. Under this administration, the Office of the V.I. Inspector General's has taken significant steps in not only ensuring that government agencies operate in an effective and efficient manner, but also investigate and take action against individuals who commit fraud, waste, or abuse of limited government resources.
Labor Relations: Fulfilling Our Obligations
In the past year, the Office of Collective Bargaining has worked hard to rectify a number of serious and long-standing labor disputes. The vast majority of these disputes resulted from years of impulsive spending, poor financial planning, and collective bargaining agreements with public sector unions that exceeded the government's ability to pay. I have said from the beginning of this administration our hard- working, government employees were entitled to their negotiated salary increases. However, I could not and would not commit this government to pay what we could not afford or sustain.
As a result of our economic turnaround and increased tax collections, I made a major policy decision to finally place government employees on their proper salary schedules in accordance with their most current collective bargaining agreements. In addition, I supported increasing the minimum government salary from $10,000 to $15,000 – the first increase in the minimum living wage for government employees in more than ten years.
Approximately thirteen public- sector contracts, affecting over 4,200 Virgin Islands government employees and retirees, have been finally implemented. All of these contracts were negotiated under previous administrations and were either partially implemented, or not implemented at all. I am pleased to report that, with an unprecedented display of hard work and cooperation from the various government departments – particularly the Office of Collective Bargaining, the Department of Finance, the Division of Personnel and the Office of Management and Budget – the salary increases were implemented by the October 18, 2001 deadline I set.
I also directed the Office of Collective Bargaining to continue negotiating successor collective bargaining agreements for bargaining units that had expired contracts, in order of my established priorities.
I am pleased to report that, as a result of this directive, the office was successful in negotiating new salary schedules for nurses, ranging from $35,000 to $78,000, and Assistant Attorneys General ranging from $50,000 to $84,000, effective October 1, 2001. The office also reached agreement on a $5.1 million increase for the Police Benevolent Association through Fiscal Year 2004 and a $19.5 million increase for the American Federation of Teachers for Fiscal Years 2001 and 2002.
Thus far, we have negotiated successor collective bargaining agreements with eight different bargaining units. I pledge that this administration will continue to work hard, as resources permit, to negotiate successor agreements with all affected bargaining units.
Government Operations:
Improving the Efficiency of Government
For the third consecutive year, the Office of the Governor lived within its means and ended the fiscal year with a positive budget balance. The office was able to meet its obligations by imposing fiscal restraints on overtime and by reducing personnel.
One of the major accomplishments of the office was the implementation of a plan to reduce significantly the debt which the central government owed to the V.I. Water and Power Authority for providing water and electrical power. A task force led by my Chief of Staff, Mrs. Juel Molloy, reached an agreement last August on a schedule to pay the government's past due obligations of $26.5 million, after deducting WAPA's indebtedness to the government for water plant assets acquired several years ago.
Payments made by the central government up to August 23 brought the pre-May 31, 2001 seven-year old utility bill delinquencies for the central government to zero. A recent reporting requirement revealed certain discrepancies and the need for further reconciliation with WAPA on both the water and electrical accounts. Checks will be issued to WAPA next week on all central government accounts which have been reconciled through December 31, 2001. The issuance of those checks will bring all central government accounts up to date this fiscal year, allowing WAPA to continue its fiscal recovery, upgrade its infrastructure, and hopefully result in improved delivery of utility services.
Plans are also ongoing to host the 2002 annual Conference of Lieutenant Governors in June of this year on the island of St. Croix. The conference will provide St. Croix and the Territory with national publicity and a much needed economic boost. Representatives from at least 35 states and 3 territories are expected to attend.
The Division of Personnel has developed a new Human Resource Information System that will revolutionize the way the division does business. The Electronic Personnel Action Approval System or "ePASS," will eliminate paperwork and greatly reduce the time needed to appoint individuals to positions.
The Department of Property and Procurement is proceeding to acquire several parcels of property needed for the construction of a new public cemetery on St. Thomas. When finalized, the twenty-odd acres of property will provide burial space on St. Thomas for years to come. The department also developed new policies to require competitive procurement on a government-wide basis. Legislation to reform the existing procurement policy has been completed and will be submitted to the Legislature shortly.
The Department of Licensing & Consumer Affairs has recently completed its Website and enhanced its e-mail capabilities, allowing for the instant processing of on-line licensing applications. With this technological advancement, the Virgin Islands are now among the top 30% of government entities in the United States in the use of on-line licensing technology.
The year 2002 is one of many notable anniversaries. A few days ago on January 5th we celebrated the centennial of Miss Aline Kean, who has contributed so much to our cultural heritage. On February 5th, we will be celebrating the centennial of the birth of former governor Mo
rris F. DeCastro, a native son who contributed greatly to the political and economic advancement of the Territory. Fifty years ago, the Virgin Islands Carnival in St. Thomas and the Crucian Christmas Fiesta in St. Croix were established to showcase our cultural heritage, creativity and friendliness.
Eighty-five years ago this year, "The Stars and Stripes" was triumphantly raised on these historic grounds, thus making us Americans and bringing democracy and a commitment to the pursuit of freedom, happiness and justice for these beautiful and blessed islands. In succeeding years, each generation has worked and sacrificed to achieve greater self-determination. Since that time, our sons and daughters have joined with their counterparts from across the nation in far away places and at home to safeguard our way of life. We must all be prepared to do our part for we must remember the timeworn statement that the price of freedom is never free.
We remember in our hearts and prayers those in harm's way tonight who are fighting in defense of freedom and world peace.
My fellow Virgin Islanders: In three short years we have turned the economy around and painstakingly laid the foundation for future economic growth. Our work, however, is still incomplete and there will be setbacks and disappointments along the way. But we are clearly headed in the right direction and we will not look back.
History will record that when the night was dark and the rains set in, others ran for the dugout, but we stepped up to the plate, and against all odds, scored. We have fought the good fight, but as you know, we have not finished the race.
To paraphrase the words of the great poet Robert Frost, we have promises to keep and miles to go and things to do before we sleep.
May God bless this august body and this notable gathering. May God bless the United States Virgin Islands. May God bless America and her friends around the world. May God bless us all. Thank you and goodnight.

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