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HomeNewsArchives'Renegade Operator' Mismanaging Schools' St. Croix Food Warehouse, Senator Charges

'Renegade Operator' Mismanaging Schools' St. Croix Food Warehouse, Senator Charges

June 25, 2007 — Complaints received by senators about mismanagement at the Education Department’s school-lunch food warehouse dominated a hearing of the Senate Education, Culture and Youth Committee Monday.
The Frederiksted hearing was held to consider a bill banning vending of sugary sodas and snacks in elementary and middle schools, and limiting them in high school. An array of issues relating to school nutrition was aired as well, but problems at the food warehouse generated the most ire.
“I’ve had enough complaints about the operation of the food warehouse on St. Croix,” Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said. “I’m told there seems to be a renegade operator. Something is going wrong with the food supply. I am asking the inspector general to conduct an audit. … There are federal funds as well as local funds involved, and regulations must be followed or risk those funds, so let it stop. Let the food get to the schools.”
Sen. Liston Davis, the committee chairman, concurred. “I have received numerous complaints on St. Croix regarding the nutrition program,” he said. “I hear reports of pilfering, unauthorized use of vehicles, card playing on the job. I myself was considering calling for an audit. I may go down there myself, unannounced.”
Nelson used the televised forum to make a request of Gov. John deJongh Jr.
“Governor, you’re on notice,” he said. “You’ve got an individual working down there, and there is a problem.”
After the hearing, Nelson said numerous school officials had called his office to complain about food deliveries being very late and often not arriving at all. The driver would allegedly make one delivery, then take off for the day with the government vehicle. There were allegations of nepotism, too, Nelson said: The person in charge had allegedly hired several immediate family members to run the warehouse.
These allegations made by Davis and Nelson have not been independently verified.
The bill to limit sugary snacks in public-school vending machines was uncontroversial and supported by all present.
“All across the nation, states have been setting guidelines to ensure our young people are in good health, in a state of well being,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste. “All you have to do is take a look at the children attending our schools to see the increase in obesity over the years. … It is for the betterment of our children.”
Sen. Louis Hill agreed.
“One of the challenges we face in this community is a growing population of obese children,” he said. “We in the Caribbean have a diet that is very high in carbohydrates. It may be something handed down to us from our ancestors, when plowing in the fields for a long, long time; they needed the calories to sustain the activity. But as circumstances have changed, physical activity has been drastically reduced and as a result we are keeping a lot of that carbohydrate in our system.”
Acting Commissioner of Health Phyllis Wallace strongly endorsed the bill, citing national and territorial studies of diet and youth.
“Obesity is a growing problem among Virgin Islands children,” she said. “Statistics show that 25 percent of Virgin Islands pre-school children are overweight. Children who are overweight put themselves at risk for serious health concerns such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and elevated cholesterol and blood pressure.”
Wallace cited an ongoing study being done as a dissertation by Health nutritionist Edward C. Jones: “(He) conducted a survey of a little over 1000 students randomly chosen. … The results showed that the rates of childhood obesity in the Virgin Islands exceeded the rates from the most recent U.S. National Health and Nutrition Survey.”
Other studies link the rise in obesity to disease.
“Since coming on board, DOH (Department of Health) Epidemiologist Eugene Tull has discovered that the increasing trend in childhood obesity is leading to increased reports of Type 2 diabetes,” Wallace said.
The committee sent the bill on to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary. Should that committee also approve the bill, they will set the terms of debate for the final hearing before the full Senate.
Shortly before the vote, Nelson said making Wallace’s position permanent might be a good idea.
“It seems the governor is going back and forth on who should fill the commissioner’s seat,” Nelson said. “Wallace here is known by all, and she is clearly very knowledgeable. I just wanted to do that plug for you, Dr. Wallace.”
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