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Tour Reveals Extensive Problems at St. Croix Schools

Feb. 11, 2007 — Island schools are plagued by outdated electrical systems unable to support new technology and aging buildings with extensive plumbing and structural problems, Sen. Liston Davis found on a week-long tour of St. Croix.
However, progress has been made in several areas, he said.
Davis, who is the senate education chairman, went on a fact-finding tour of St. Croix schools to get a firsthand picture of the problems. The senator toured St. Thomas and St. John schools in January. Each day, Davis visited two or three schools, inspecting the buildings and meeting with principals to determine their needs.
Plumbing problems cost Ricardo Richards Elementary School in Estate Strawberry several thousand dollars a month, according to Principal Coleen Williams. Although the school has a cistern that the administration believes can supply the school, several years ago the facility was connected to the potable water system. Leaking pipes in the walls cause the school to incur $50,000 in water bills monthly, which are paid by the Department of Education, she said. Several attempts to repair the cistern pump have failed, but they plan to continue trying to switch back to rainwater, Williams said.
On a more positive note, teachers proudly showed off one hallway filled with several pallets of new books for the students. Davis said $14 million has been allocated for textbooks in the 26th Legislature, and he was pleased the schools were receiving the supplies.
Davis also toured the educational program at the Youth Correctional Facility in Estate Anna's Hope. According to teachers, the school has a dire need for pre-GED and GED books, as well as basic tools such as calculators.
Instructors were concerned with the buildings at the Day Adult education program, located at the old Theodora Dunbavin School in La Grande Princess. They also see a need to upgrade the facility to accommodate new technology.
At several schools, Davis told principals that $6 million is allotted for school projects from the Public Finance Authority, which can be requested by the education commissioner.
Although the community commonly blames the Senate for school woes, Davis said, "It's up to the leadership — the commissioner and administration" to access funds allocated by the legislature. "I am not in charge," he said. "I just have oversight. We are just the watchdogs."
Officials from the Middle States accreditation team recently visited both St. Croix Central High School and the Educational Complex. Principals Gary Molloy and Kurt Vialet both said they are on schedule with the certification process.
Central reported some good news: A problem that caused flooding in the lower classroom wing has been repaired, but electrical upgrades still pose a problem. A new parking lot with student shelters was finished last year, but the track and bleachers remain in deplorable condition. Another concern of Middle States, Molloy said, is teacher absenteeism, which averages 10 to 15 teachers out each day. Absenteeism is due to long-term illness and professional-development days, as well as sick days, he said. However, Molloy said he has upgraded attendance record keeping and is watching the trends. "We have a good and committed staff," he said.
The grounds of the St. Croix Educational Complex looks nicely manicured and free from litter. Upon closer inspection, however, there is much wear to the physical structure. The metal roofs and walls need rust treatment and repainting. Additionally, only one of 10 water pumps at the facility works.
The condition of the Charles H. Emanuel School in Estate Kingshill most displeased Davis. The school "needs to be torn down" and replaced, he said. It needs six more classrooms because modular classrooms acquired after Hurricane Marilyn are no longer usable, Principal Basil Williams said. Some of the other problems include the lack of facilities for physical education, except for a basketball court, which cannot be used until it has been resurfaced. The bathrooms are unsanitary and in need of renovation, Davis said.
Davis also expressed concern that lunchroom workers refuse to use a fully functional dish-washing machine until it is determined whether a dishwasher needs to be hired or if present workers are supposed to man the machine. In the meantime, $500 a month is used to purchase disposable plates to feed students and faculty.
During last week's tour, Davis and his staff — sometimes accompanied by other senators and staff — also visited Positive Connections School, Elena Christian Junior High and Juanita Gardine, Lew Muckle and Pearl B. Larsen elementary schools.
The tours will continue this week with visits to the Career and Technical Education Center, Alexander Henderson, Claude O. Markoe, Eulalie Rivera, Evelyn Williams and the Arthur A. Richards Schools.
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