July 14, 2006 – A budget recommendation of approximately $1.6 million is enough to start funding various initiatives for the V.I. Board of Education during Fiscal Year 2007, board representatives said during Friday's Finance Committee meeting. However, more money is needed to keep teacher certification programs running throughout subsequent years; to repair the board's headquarters on St. Thomas; to acquire more staff; and to conduct an audit.
When explaining how the recommended funds would be distributed, board chairwoman Judy Gomez told senators that $100,000 earmarked in the budget would be used to put in place a new assessment program that uses retired local teachers as a resource for evaluating and expediting the certification process. "Because these eminently credentialed educational retirees have been a part of the system, they will be able to scrutinize very carefully the credentials and the certification process to ensure that all guidelines of the No Child Left Behind Act are considered," Gomez said.
After the meeting, Gomez said the extra manpower brought on by the program would assist the board in certifying 280 teachers per year – a requirement laid out in the now expired compliance agreement between the local and U.S. Education departments. While the board has had mixed success in achieving this goal in the past (in FY 2004 only 116 teachers were certified) Gomez assured senators that the new initiative, coupled with other certification alternatives would allow the organization to reach the requirement in FY 2007.
She added, however, that the program is a recurring expense, and would have to be regularly funded in subsequent fiscal years.
Funding in addition to the $8,000 earmarked in the budget for maintenance and repairs is also necessary, she said after the meeting, explaining that the building the board occupies on St. Thomas is in need of roof repairs and electrical upgrades.
More money is also needed for "critical" staff positions such as an accountant and an information technology specialist, Gomez said.
The board also included a supplemental budget request in its presentation – $25,000 of which is needed to conduct an audit, Gomez added. The board, which has never before conducted an audit, made the same request during last year's budget hearings.
"We need to be accountable and ensure that a system of checks and balances is maintained," Gomez said.
Board members made a plea for an extra $800,000 – another topic discussed during last year's budget hearings – to fund student scholarships.
"We realize that the financial support given to our students is inadequate in light of the spiraling cost of education," Gomez said. "What students now receive – a $1,000 loan and a $500 grant – can buy a plane ticket or pay for some books, but it is not truly a reflection of the students' needs."
In other news, senators heard testimony from Lena Schulterbrandt, chairwoman of the Career and Technical Education Board (formerly the vocational education board), in regards to the organization's $540,241 budget request.
During the meeting, Schulterbrandt said the money – which represents a $160,221 increase over Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's $380,020 recommended budget for FY 2007 – is "absolutely necessary" for the board's operations and would help to improve the standards of vocational education in the territory. She also included a $4.5 million supplemental budget request that outlined other needs, such as new textbooks, computers and pre-vocational programs for junior high school students.
While Schulterbrandt did not talk about the supplemental budget request during Friday's hearing, she said afterwards that the $4.5 million is "critical," since the state of vocational education in the territory has been on the decline. "Only a few of our facilities are operational," Schulterbrandt said. "And some of our students have even been going to classes without the materials that they need. I don't think that's right."
Present during Friday's meeting were Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste and Ronald E. Russell.
Sen. Usie R. Richards was absent
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