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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, June 21, 2024


May 29, 2003 – A bill before the Senate Education and Youth Committee to eliminate the current six-year statute of limitations on recovery of college loans granted by the Board of Education was approved Thursday and reported out to the Rules Committee.
According to a Legislature release, school board member Terrence D. Joseph told the committee that 1,320 Virgin Islanders own nearly $2 million in college loans, some dating from 1970. But he said that more than $1.5 million is "uncollectable" because the loans, to 240 persons, were made prior to 1997 and the statue of limitations on collecting them has run out.
Another $416, 617.66 in loans made to 1,080 persons since 1997 is considered "collectable," Joseph said. But if the cut-off is not lifted this year, he said, the opportunity to collect as much as $74,306.56 of that amount from 49 persons will be lost.
Daniel said eliminating the statute of limitations would help in collecting the outstanding loans. However, the board's executive director, Evadney Hodge, acknowledged under questioning that the board has no one assigned to collect the money owed.
Sen. Carlton Dowe said additional time would not make any difference unless effort is made by the board to collect what's owed. Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste agreed, questioning the point of giving people more time not to pay.
If more old loans were repaid, more new loans could be made. Mavis Gilchrist, University of the Virgin Islands financial aid director, said UVI supports the bill as a means of enhancing the prospects for future students to obtain financial support for their college studies.
In September 1999, the school board reported some 1,700 delinquent student loans totaling $2,433,209. Testifying before the Senate Finance Committee then, Keith Richards, board chair at the time, said the board planned to take delinquent loan recipients to small claims court, update the list of delinquencies for publication, cross reference the list with government personnel records, and implement automatic payroll deductions to collect on loans where possible.
The issue of delinquent loans owed by prominent public officials was a topic of discussion two months ago at a school board meeting. The board on March 24 approved a request from Sen. Ronald Russell to obtain the delinquency list. The following day, Daniel said the list would be updated and checked for accuracy and then turned over to Russell "no later than April 21."
Russell, who prior to last November was the school board's legal counsel, chairs the Education and Youth Committee.
Funding an overriding concern
The main thrust of discussion on the other bill before the committee Thursday may become a familiar theme in legislative deliberations for the foreseeable future: not what can or should be done, but how to pay for it.
The committee took testimony on the proposal to institute a pilot after-school program for kindergarten through sixth grade in all of the public schools. In addition to raising financial concerns, according to the Legislature release, witnesses also said more study needs to go into the proposal before efforts are made to implement it.
Vickie Palmer, representing the federally funded V.I. PUSH after-school program, spoke in favor of the proposal but said it should be expanded to include the 7th and 8th grades. She also expressed concern that there isn't enough time to put the program into effect for the coming school year.
Tyrone Molyneaux, St. Croix teachers union president, said that before plans are mapped to introduce the program, an assessment of existing programs is needed to determine what needs "enhancing or eliminating."
Both Molyneaux and his St. Thomas-St. John counterpart, Vernelle De Lagarde, expressed concern that no funding had been identified for the program. De Lagarde suggested that if no funding can be found, more resources should be added to existing after-school programs.
Harry Daniel, Board of Education acting president, said "it is imperative that a funding source is identified." And Education Commissioner Noreen Michael expressed concern about any mandatory after-school program because local funding would be required.
The committee voted to hold the bill for further consideration.
Also at Thursday's committee meeting, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said he is having legislation drafted to toughen the penalties for school vandalism. His bill, according to a release from his office, would increase the minimum fine to $5,000 from the current $1,000 and the mandatory prison term to four years from the present two years.
Citing a "rash of break-ins that have been occurring in some of our public schools," Malone said his proposal also calls for posting the penalties "at the entrance of all the territory's public schools" and for the fines collected to "be deposited into the imprest fund of the school in which the vandalism occurred."
All committee members were present for Thursday's hearing — Sens. Baptiste, Roosevelt David, Louis Hill, Malone, Luther Renee, Raymond "Usie" Richards and Russell. Non-committee members present were Sens. Dowe and Celestino White.

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