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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 20, 2024


Editor's note: Following, in its entirety, is the Report on the Administrative Efficiency of the V.I. Department of Education prepared by the University of the Virgin Islands for the 24th Legislature of the Virgin Islands. The report is dated May 5, 2002.
Enabling law:
Act 6481, signed into law Nov. 20, 2001, directed the University of the Virgin Islands to "evaluate the administrative efficiency of the Virgin Islands Department of Education." This report responds to the requirements of Act 6481.
Evaluation team:
The administrative efficiency of the Virgin Islands Department of Education was examined and evaluated by academic personnel of the University of the Virgin Islands. Under the supervision of Senior Vice President and Provost Dr. LaVerne Ragster, Dr Anita Gordon Plaskett, professor of education, and Dr. Greg Braxton-Brown, professor of management, conducting the evaluation. The evaluation was conducted during January, February, March and April 2002.
Evaluation process:
Utilizing standard research protocols for document review; budgets, procedures, manuals, charts and other material provided by the Department of Education were examined and opinions formed. Interviews with Department of Education personnel were conducted using a structured question/response format. Both methods of inquiry sought to produce factual information, experiences and contextual opinions. The data gathered by document analysis was compared and contrasted with interview responses. Analysis of both sets of data produced the final evaluation.
The Department of Education is to be commended for making documents and personnel available. The commissioner and her entire organization willingly participated in the evaluation. The evaluators found their access to be complete, their subjects willing and personally commend Dr. [Ruby] Simmonds for her support and encouragement. The University of the Virgin Islands, under the leadership of Provost Ragster, used its professional and scholarly expertise to provide policy makers of the Virgin Islands with valuable information. This report is an example of the vision of Act 6333.
Key finding
The Department of Education operates with an acceptable level of administrative efficiency for decisions under its control. However, the organization of the Department of Education as mandated by executive order meeting the legal requirements of the Organic Act is not efficient. Additionally, mandates of the United States Department of Education have resulted in the Virgin Islands Department of Education creating a structure for legal and reporting purposes, which does not entirely exist operationally. This largely virtual structure does not function efficiently.
State educational agency / local educational agency
Most states have the equivalent of a politically appointed or elected commissioner of Education heading up a civil service-staffed State Educational Agency (SEA). Most heads of SEA’s work with a board to establish policy, receive and disburse funds and monitor and report on the quality of education in the state. Traditionally, Local Educational Agencies (LEA's), normally headed by a superintendent who reports to a politically elected or appointed board, accomplish the delivery of education.
The separation of SEA from LEA is a consistent organizational principle. This division ensures common standards for education and reporting of results while granting LEA's freedom to deliver education within standards.
This clearly defined SEA/LEA organization does not function in the Virgin Islands Department of Education. By organizational design, public instruction is a political department under the control of the executive branch and the governor’s political appointees. All other organizational structures within the department are subjugated to this central structure.
The Department of Education is efficient in its uses of funds as it operates in the required organization. Public instruction is not efficient as gauged by service to citizens of the United States Virgin Islands. The poor educational results achieved by composite rankings of public school students in the territory are not related to a wasteful administrative structure but rather to a fundamentally flawed administrative structure. In it simplest form, DOE has incredibly talented and dedicated professionals toiling in a system which cannot completely benefit from their efforts.
Stated organization of the Virgin Islands Department of Education
The Virgin Islands Department of Education is a State Education Agency (SEA) comprising the commissioner and the department. The territory has two Local Education Agencies (LEA's), each headed by an insular superintendent. The geographic districts comprise the island of St. Croix as one district and the islands of St. Thomas and St. John as the second district.
Section 11 of the Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands and Title 3, Chapter 7, Virgin Island Code place public education under the executive branch.
SEA structure: The governor, by Executive Order 392-2000, has organized Department of Education (DOE) into a traditional line-authority hierarchical structure mandating the following positions in the SEA:
– Commissioner of Education
– Assistant Commissioner
– Deputy Commissioner for Fiscal and Administrative Services
– Deputy Commissioner for Curriculum and Instruction
– Subject Area Coordinator for Language Arts
– Subject Area Coordinator for Science
– Subject Area Coordinator for Social Studies
– Subject Area Coordinator for Humanities, Arts and Culture
– Subject Area Coordinator for Foreign Language
– Subject Area Coordinator for Bilingual Education
– Subject Area Coordinator for Vocational Education
– Subject Area Coordinator for School to Work
– Subject Area Coordinator for Primary Education
– Executive Assistant to the Commissioner
– Special Assistant to the Commissioner
– Administrative Assistant to the Commissioner
– Executive Secretary
– Manager of Youth Violence Prevention
– Capital Projects Manager
– Assistant Attorney General
– Administrative Assistant to the Assistant Commissioner
– Executive Secretary to the Assistant Commissioner
LEA structure: The governor, by Executive Order 392-2000, has organized Department of Education (DOE) into a traditional line authority hierarchical structure mandating the following positions in the LEA:
– Insular Superintendent for St. Croix
– Insular Superintendent for St. Thomas/St. John
– Deputy Superintendent for St. Croix
– Deputy Superintendent for St. Thomas/St. John
– Administrator of Plant Operations Maintenance for St. Croix
– Administrator of Plant Operations Maintenance for St. Thomas/St. John
In addition to establishing an organization for public education, the governor by Executive Order 392-2000 has mandated operational details including:
– Approval by the commissioner of policy decisions made by insular superintendents prior to implementation, including personnel and labor decisions.
– Establishing a Division of Human Resources and Labor Relations.
– Establishing a Division of Public Relations and Communications.
Board of Education
Virgin Islands Board of Education is an independent agency of the government of the Virgin Islands. It is a nine-member elected board created to receive federal funds. It is an advisory board placed in a position of giving advice. Its stated purposes include:
– To recommend the establishment of public schools, prescribe general regulations and orders, adopt curricula and courses of study, recommend laws and amendments, and recommend appropriations required for the operation of the public schools and the Department of Education.
– To provide for the proper administration of funds which may be appropriated by Congress and apportioned to the Virgin Islands for any and all educational purposes.
– To pres
cribe rules and regulations and establish criteria for the certification, selection and appointment of teachers.
– To administer loan and scholarship programs for students and teacher and approve grants.
– To promulgate rules and regulations for the operation of non-public schools within the territory.
Department of Education operated in Fiscal Year 2000 on a total budget of $148,188,425. Budget delimits included:
– $122,243,580 from V.I. general funds
– $25,944,845 from federal funds
– $2,795 budgeted position

Board of Education operated in FY 2000 on a total budget of $1,385,812. Budget delimits included:
– $1,381,420 from V.I. general funds
– $4,392 from federal funds
– 13 budgeted positions
Budget evaluation
These figures are taken from the governor's FY 2001 recommended budget. The appropriated and dispersed budget may be different than these numbers.
Total budget from all sources = $146,218,147.
– Of this, direct instruction = $99,233,087 (67.8 percent).
– Of this, school administration = $716,061 (0.489 percent).
– Therefore, direct instruction + administration = $99,949,148 (68.3 percent).
– All other expenses — $46,469,000 (31.6 percent).
– Of these, SEA expenses = $28,783,677 (19.6 percent).
– Of these, LEA expenses = $117,434,270 (81.4 percent).
– Number of students = 20,471.
– Expenditure per student = $13,965.
– Of this, LEA per student = $11,367.
– Of this, SEA per student = $2,737.
Structural dimensions of the Department of Education
The Virgin Islands Department of Education (DOE) is highly formalized. We judge formalization by the amount of written documentation including procedures, job descriptions, regulations, and policy manuals. These written documents describe behavior and activities.
DOE is specialized. We measure specialization as the degree to which organizational tasks are subdivided. In specialized organizations employees perform only a narrow range of activities. Specialization is sometimes called division of labor.
DOE strives for standardization. We measure standardization as the extent to which similar work activities are performed in a uniform manner. In highly standardized organizations work content is described in detail, so similar work is performed the same way across departments or locations.
DOE has a problem with hierarchy of authority. This measurement describes who reports to whom and the span of control for each manager. The vertical lines on an organization chart normally depict the hierarchy. Hierarchical authority is related to span of control — the number of employees reporting to a supervisor. DOE is one organization masquerading as three (one SEA and two LEA's). Featuring very tight span of control, an unnecessary hierarchy exists which overrides all other areas of organizational design. For all practical purposes, the LEA organizations do not exist.
DOE is highly centralized. Centralization contributes to the problems of hierarchy of authority. We measure centralization by authority to make a decision. Executive Order 392-2000 mandates an organizational structure and dictates centralized decision-making. We measure centralization by where decision-making authority is kept. The placement of DOE in the executive branch actually makes it centralized at the level of governor.
DOE is complex. Complexity refers to the number of activities or subsystems within the organization. We measure complexity along two dimensions — vertical and horizontal. Vertical complexity is the number of levels in the hierarchy. Horizontal complexity may be measured as either the number of job titles or departments existing laterally across the organization. The single organization masquerading as three contributes to a highly complex organization.
DOE is professional. The level of formal education and training of employees measures professionalism. Professionalism is considered high when employees require long periods of training to be jobholders in the organization. Professionalism is generally measured as the average number of years of education of employees.
DOE needs to be examined by personnel configuration. Personnel configuration is measured by ratios such as administrative staff to total employees, clerical staff to total employees, or others. A configuration ratio is measured by dividing the number of employees in a function by the total number of organization employees. SEA/LEA, classroom teacher/total teacher, and administrative/teaching ratios are a start.
The existing organization has design and operational flaws in hierarchy of authority, centralization and complexity.
Discussion of the challenge
As a consequence of the reporting and organizational structure, the Virgin Islands Department of Education is a political entity whose focus and services are more closely related to the goals of political governance than education. The executive and managerial classes are largely political appointees with tightly regulated spans of control. Unnecessary centralization slows responsiveness and creates a situation where attention is paid to managing the centralized process rather than the process facilitating the transaction.
In essence, DOE is recreated with the election of each governor, and the lack of executive/managerial job stability creates a scenario where those who operate the department possess very different attentions and goals from those who deliver education. The results have been well documented in significant numbers of students performing poorly, labor strife, maintenance problems, shortages, withholding of federal funds and accreditation problems.
The commissioner's public statement that the Dec. 31, 2001, withdrawal of accreditation was a result of her not receiving a letter is actually a believable result under this organization. This scenario serves as a metaphor for DOE. DOE’s centralized structure deposits most power and decision making with the commissioner at the SEA. However, accreditation reviews and interactions are normally located in the LEA. The school is accredited, not the department, and the interaction normally goes between LEA and accrediting association.
The Virgin Islands structure largely makes the SEA and the LEA one in the same entity, so that the LEA has a direct reporting relationship to the SEA and very limited operating authority. This improper structure creates situations where authority and responsibility are located in different places. In the accreditation case, the LEA's addressed the accrediting association's concerns but the SEA never reported the responsiveness to the accrediting agency. The result is a perfect example of how the organization interferes with the delivery of services.
A legitimate duty of an SEA is the receiving and disbursement of federal monies. Federal monies tend to be the most restricted money an education department receives. Unlike other grants, federal grants come with modest allocations for administrative overhead. DOE estimates these allocations to total approximately $1 million. However, OMB retains these monies, rather than passing them to DOE for the purpose for which they are granted. This practice hampers DOE in its administration of federal money.
In many ways, the organization structure of DOE mirrors the governmental structure of the Virgin Islands. Power is concentrated in a political structure. Employment is used to maintain power. Operational authority is severely limited, and political connections can be more important than professional competency.
If the government of the Virgin Islands desires real change in the efficiency and educational achievements of its citizens, a possible solution is to transform DOE from a political branch of government to an independent educational organization. This choice would be consistent with the majority of states.
In order to receive increased benefits from the considerable investment in public education, LEA's must become functional and cease to be part of the government&#
39;s political structure. Power, authority and responsibility being devolved from SEA to LEA must achieve local control under territory guidelines.
If change is to occur, the legislative and executive branches will need to work together to revise laws and practices. Simply put, for education to be efficient and effective, it must cease to be part of the political spoils system.
1. That the two insular school districts of the territory become independent school districts governed by a locally elected or appointed school board. The school board should comprise five to seven community members who are responsible for the hiring and supervision of the district superintendent of schools.
2. That the Department of Education continue to be part of the executive branch with a commissioner appointed by the governor. The insular school districts will not directly report to DOE. Devolution will remove from the SEA all components better situated at the LEA. (LEA's will be semi-autonomous government agencies similar to the approach taken to the territory’s two hospitals.)
3. That an evaluation of the existing Education Board and its policy-making authority be conducted; and that the board's full authority and responsibility become operational.
4. That the Department of Education be reconceptualized to be a fully functioning SEA, a policy-making body charged with creating the conditions for quality education in the territory and for receiving and disbursing federal funds.
5. That the two insular school districts be reconceptualized as independent school districts for the management and delivery of public instruction.
6. That a request be made by the governor to Manuel J. Justiz, dean of the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin, to appoint a team to recommend steps necessary to accomplish these recommendations.
Appendix A – Analysis of interviews conducted
In January 2002, the commissioner of Education, the UVI provost and senior vice president, the DOE director of human resources, and representatives of the evaluation team met to determine topics for which data beneficial to this evaluation could be elicited. An interview guide was developed, persons were selected for interview, and a timeline was agreed upon.
During the next three months, the interviews were conducted, the responses were transcribed, the data were analyzed, and in this writing the findings were reported.
Ten thematic topics were explored in each interview. Some areas of questioning were designed to establish an understanding of the interviewees' knowledge, while other questions were designed to elicit responses in five general areas of inquiry:
1 Advantages and disadvantages of a centralized vs. a decentralized structure.
2. Belief in effectiveness of current structure.
3. Belief in effectiveness of current structure for distribution of funds/services.
4. Perceived impact of separation of the districts by water.
5. Perceived value of subject area coordinators.
6. Board of Education's role.
Advantages and disadvantages of a centralized vs. a decentralized structure
Respondents are so familiar with the existing structure that expanded possibilities from other centralized or decentralized structures did not emerge. The belief by the community that the commissioner is responsible for all aspects was cited as a reason that any other structure would not be different. Consistent with this belief was the opinion that a decentralized structure would only function with a strong leader. Yet, the desire to move accountability and authority closer to the student was identified, as were concerns about duplication.
Respondents understand the current structure to be one of duplication but not of effectiveness. Frequently cited were the three curriculum offices and the lack of boundaries and distinctions among them. Numerous communication and organization antidotes were offered. Slowness of process, lack of decision-making authority and mixing of roles were identified.
Perhaps one respondent best summed it up by saying: "Decentralization forces employees to work efficiently at their levels. Schools, district offices and local agencies have the responsibility for day-to-day operations of the district. This causes accountability [that] the state agency can monitor."
Belief in effectiveness of current structure
Respondents hold little belief in the effectiveness of the current structure. Lack of consistency and politics were identified, as was the desire for change but the impossible situation of wanting change without experiencing any. The lack of authority of the superintendent, the strange reporting relations of SEA officials, lack of understanding of roles and responsibilities, and poor communication contributed to diminished belief in effectiveness.
Perhaps the best summation is one respondent's summary: "This structure isn't effective, because the superintendent should be running the district. All components should be under his/her purview, and the next level should be the commissioner, not heads of various divisions."
Belief in effectiveness of current structure for distribution of funds/services
Those employed in SEA positions believe that the current structure is effective for distribution of funds/services, while those employed in LEA positions believe it is ineffective. This same split shows up when asking about decentralization: SEA personnel believe it will not work, while LEA personnel believe it is the only way. All agree that the process is lengthy and requires too many steps.
An LEA employee said: "There is too much bureaucracy. You have to go too far from the request to the provider. Students end up at the bottom of the pyramid instead of the top."
Perceived impact of separation of the districts by water
Separation by water is perceived as a major problem for respondents on St. Croix and as a costly nuisance for employees on St. Thomas. Technology was frequently mentioned as one method to solve the problem, but unreliable technology and lack of training minimizes that solution. One Crucian, clearly exasperated said: "This is a major problem. It adds a whole new layer to your budget. Accountability is a problem. Who is minding the store?"
Perceived value of subject area coordinators
Respondents expressed a belief in the value of subject area coordinators but a lack of value in those who presently hold the positions. This clear split usually appears as a wish list of services that could be provided, with statements of waste of resources and lack of understanding of responsibilities by incumbents. This is the most emotive topic we explored. The hostility is best expressed by these comments: "It's a personnel issue. They are not functioning, and the community has a negative outlook on the process. There is little accountability for what they do. We've lost a great deal of resources due to coordinators who do not produce."
One of many suggestions offered: "There needs to be a strong site-based management plan to determine students' and teachers' needs. Then the coordinators will have a clear idea of what to do. Some positions can be eliminated to free up more money that can be given to the schools. If you review the number of teachers in the classroom, you'll find that we employ more people outside of the classroom than in."
Regardless of whether a respondent believed in the value of area coordinators or wanted them eliminate, a universal belief of the lack of effective use of the position exists. Area coordinators are described as inaccessible and at times having no idea what they are to do. Lack of trust, lack of coordination, lack of value, lack, lack, lack was cited consistently.
Board of Education's role
Respondents see the board's role as confused. A belief exists that the board does not have the power that it needs and does not use the power that it has. The lack of tren
ds in responses on the role of the board suggests that DOE personnel simply do not see the board as a key component. Various references to power struggles, communication issues, policy disconnect, and confusion support the previous statement. It is accurate to say that respondents simply lacked the factual base on the board's legal responsibility, its operation and its accomplishments. Many felt the board was not doing its job but was unclear on what the job was.

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