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Public School Enrollment Up, Molloy Tells Board

Public schools in the U.S. Virgin Islands opened this month with more students than a year ago, the second year in a row there has been a territory-wide increase, St. Croix Superintendent Gary Molloy told the V.I. Board of Education Saturday.

Molloy gave a status report to the board during its regular session Saturday morning at its Sunny Isles conference room. He was reporting for Education Commissioner La Verne Terry, who was unable to attend.

Noting that the numbers are not yet official, Molloy told the board schools opened smoothly with the single exception of Alexander Henderson Elementary School, where the opening was delayed several days for final school repairs and maintenance.

Preliminary enrollment numbers show an increase of 213 students across the V.I. for a total of 15,960 students as of Wednesday, versus 15,747 on Sept. 30, 2010, the date for official statistics.

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All of that increase came in the St. Thomas/St. John District. On St. Croix, 7,803 students were enrolled as of Thursday compared to 8,898 last year, a decrease of 95. But St. Thomas/St. John more than made up for it with 8,157 students Wednesday compared to 7,849 a year ago, a gain of 308.

Molloy said by the end of the month the St. Croix numbers will probably increase to the point where the district shows an overall gain.

The opening weeks have been made more tricky by a sharp drop in staff, as teachers, administrator and other employees took advantage of an early retirement incentive in the territory’s Economic Stability Act. The public schools lost 111 employees – 63 teachers, seven administrators, 15 paraprofessionals, five counselors and 21 other support staff. Molloy said 89 of those were directly related to the Economic Stability Act retirement incentive.

Hardest hit were elementary school teaching positions, where 30 retired. In the St. Thomas/St. John District, that drop was ameliorated in part by redistributing teachers formerly assigned to the Evelyn Marcelli Elementary School, which was closed at the end of the last school year. A parents lawsuit to force the school to be reopened still awaits a final decision in court.

Funds for school maintenance have fallen off since the previous year, Molly said, but he presented a list of projects undertaken between April and the end of August, everything from testing school cisterns and servicing fire extinguishers to repairing and replacing security gates and perimeter fences.

On St. Croix, Molloy said, the most expensive project in that time period was the mold remediation at the adult education center, which cost $49,640. The total cost for maintenance projects was $601,888.

In the St. Thomas/St. John District, $605,807, including $47,000 for the ongoing replacement of air conditioning units in the auditorium at Charlotte Amalie High School, and $25,564 to renovate the kindergarten classroom at Ulla Muller Elementary School.

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