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REVAMP OF EDUCATION GETS MIXED REVIEW

Feb. 5, 2002 – A proposal to transfer the management of the territory's public school system from the Education Department to a revamped Board of Education received a mixed response at a Senate hearing Monday.
The Public Education Reform Act of 2001, sponsored by Sens. Norman Jn Baptiste, David Jones and Almando "Rocky" Liburd, was the focus of a hearing in Frederiksted by the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Baptiste. In light of an array of problems in the public school system, including loss of accreditation for three of the territory's four public high schools, Baptiste said the current structure in education is not working.
The proposal, which Baptiste stressed was a "work in progress," would create a nine-member, publicly elected school board — with four members from St. Croix, four from St. Thomas and one from St. John — headed by a superintendent. Under the board would be an Office of Public Education that would implement board decisions. The board, meeting at least twice a month, would submit annual budget requests and prepare a yearly report.
Dr. Jorge Galiber, current Board of Education chair, said other semi-autonomous agencies have been successful. He cited the Port Authority, Water and Power Authority, the boards at the territory's two hospitals, the Government Employees Retirement System and the Housing Authority. These entities, he noted, are mostly beyond the political changes that come every two and four years.
In the current system, Galiber said, "Planning is difficult because of changes in political leadership."
While the Education Department has yet to take a position on the issue, Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds questioned the viability of a restructured board and said the comparison to the other entities was inappropriate. The Port Authority and WAPA, she said, are revenue-generating operations, whereas Education derives all of its $150 million-plus budget from the General Fund and federal grants.
Simmonds also asked whether a revamped board would be able to accomplish what she said the Education Department has struggled to do with for years, such as supply more equipment and materials and make parents more responsible.
"Will it increase the number of teachers?" she asked. "Will it increase teacher salaries?"
Because the changes proposed are so extensive, she said, the bill "needs careful deliberation."
The Education Committee will hold another hearing on the bill Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Senate chambers on St. Thomas.

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