Aug. 5, 2003 – The Board of Education is trying a strategy employed by the territory's tax collectors and librarians with some success in recent years: an amnesty period for surrendering what you owe without having to pay interest, penalties or fines.
In this case, what's owed is not tax money or borrowed books but borrowed money — student loans, to be precise, some of them dating from as far back as 1970.
According to school board records, more than $1.9 million in loans made by the board to 1,320 persons was outstanding as of May 29. The amounts owed ranged from as little as $300 to as much as $8,000 per person.
Until last month, the board by law had six years in which to collect student loans. After that, the statute of limitations ran out. In June, the Senate passed legislation abolishing the statute of limitations, and in July the governor signed the measure into law.
In a release distributed on Tuesday, the board announced that it was declaring an amnesty from July 30 through Sept. 30 for those with outstanding student loans — and offering an even better deal for those whose debts go back to 1985 or beyond.
Anyone with a student loan that matured in 1970 through 1985 need only pay 80 percent of the outstanding balance in order to satisfy the debt entirely.
Those with loans that matured from 1986 onward must pay the whole thing, but they can avoid the accumulated interest and penalties by paying the outstanding balance — either in a single payment or in two installments — by Sept. 30.
"The board urges all concerned to take advantage of this opportunity to save while insuring that funds will be available for others as they pursue their educational dreams," the release stated.
In testimony before the Senate Education and Youth Committee on May 29 concerning the bill to eliminate the statute of limitations, school board member Terrence D. Joseph stated that while nearly $2 million in college loans was owed, more than $1.5 million of it was "uncollectible" because those loans, to 240 persons, had been made prior to 1997 and the statue of limitations on collecting them had run out.
Further, Joseph told the lawmakers, the opportunity to collect another $74,306 from 49 persons would be lost at the end of this year.
At the hearing, the board's executive director, Evadney Hodge, acknowledged that the board had no one assigned to collect the money owed, prompting Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste to question the point of giving people more time not to pay.
Four years earlier, the board had reported some 1,700 delinquent student loans totaling $2,433,209. Testifying then before the Senate Finance Committee, 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.
On March 24 of this year, the board approved a request from Sen. Ronald Russell to obtain the delinquency list. Russell, who prior to last November was the school board's legal counsel, chairs the Education and Youth Committee
Harry Daniel, then board vice chair, said on March 25 that the list would be updated and checked for accuracy before it was released. He said that the last time the names of those delinquent in repaying their loans was published, the board had gotten a lot of calls about mistakes. But he also said it spurred people to start paying on their loans.
Some board members expressed concern at the March 24 meeting about embarrassing public figures whose names appear on the list. Member Malik Sekou said "the most humane and dignified way to handle this is to have the professionals in this [the Board of Education] office contact them."
The list subsequently released documents collection efforts for most individuals. The notations include "ltr" followed by a date, "no response," "mail returned," "stop paying" and "no address on file." For a very few, there is the notation "small claim court."
Most Virgin Islanders will recognize at least a few names on the lengthy list — friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, associates, even themselves. Some are prominent in the local community, but none are top-echelon public officials. The Avis published the full list several weeks ago. The school board has not released information on any payments received since the end of May.
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