The Education Department’s plan to move Guy Benjamin School Principal Dionne Wells to Julius E. Sprauve School and bring in St. Thomas-based Whitman Browne to fill the Guy Benjamin principal’s post isn’t sitting well with more than 500 St. John residents.
Those residents, 507 so far, signed a petition against the move, and the Coral Bay Community Council is leading a campaign that asks residents to call or email Government House and the Education Department to request that the decision be changed.
“And we have about 150 to 200 more,” Coral Bay resident Donna Matthias said, referring to names on a petition that hasn’t yet been delivered.
Matthias’ daughter, Sierra, will enter Guy Benjamin’s third grade in the fall. Daughter Seala will be in fifth grade.
The petition signers and those calling Government House want Wells to remain at Guy Benjamin and Browne to serve as Sprauve School’s principal.
Matthias spoke about Guy Benjamin’s well-oiled machinery with Wells at the helm and said that the chemistry between the teachers and parents works well.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” she said.
Transportation logistics are a significant issue. Wells lives down the road from Guy Benjamin School, and Browne could walk to Sprauve School after taking the ferry from St. Thomas.
Browne is principal at Evelyn Marcelli School, which is closing. Mario Francis is the current Sprauve School principal. He’s been transferred to the Alternative Education Academy.
Although Browne is willing to take the Sprauve School post and has nothing against “the people in Coral Bay,” he’s said he’s not pleased about the long trek to Coral Bay for the Guy Benjamin job.
“It’s a punishment assignment,” he said.
Browne suggested that because he didn’t support Gov. John deJongh Jr. in the most recent election, he’s been singled out. Further, he said that his speaking out about issues didn’t please the administration.
He’s old enough to retire but said he has no plans to do so. While he won’t say how old he is, he said that getting up at 4 a.m. or 4:30 a.m. to make the trip from his home in Wintberg, St. Thomas will be tiring and won’t allow him to do the best job possible.
“I’m not 20 anymore. It would be stressful to get there,” he said.
Community Council President Sharon Coldren and Matthias both agreed that having someone commute from St. Thomas to Guy Benjamin, located in Coral Bay, isn’t workable.
“It’s three hours a day getting out here,” Coldren said, referring to the round trip from St. Thomas to Coral Bay.
Matthias said it was unfair, not reasonable and cruel to force Browne to serve at Guy Benjamin because of the distance involved.
There is no reliable public transportation to Coral Bay so Browne would either have take the ferry and keep a vehicle on St. John or bring his car every day on the barge. However, he nixed the idea of bringing his car on the barge. He said that he understands there is a car at Sprauve available for use but has no further information on it.
Matthias wants to see the financial justification for the Education Department’s decision.
“The move is going to cost the taxpayers more money and cost the students and the faculty unnecessary turmoil,” Matthias predicted.
This isn’t the first time the Education Department has sent St. Thomas-based people to Guy Benjamin in what appears to be a punishment.
“Guy Benjamin has been used as the Siberia of the Virgin Islands,” he said.
Also at issue is Guy Benjamin’s after-school program managed by Wells for no extra money. Coldren said it’s federally funded for five years. She said that without Wells running the program, its existence is threatened.
Wells, Government House, and Education Department spokesman Juel Anderson did not return phone calls requesting comment.