DeJongh Vetoes School Year Change

Governor John deJongh Jr. vetoed a legislative measure Tuesday that would have changed the starting and ending dates for the public school year, saying it was an expensive and unnecessary unfunded mandate.

The provision, sponsored by Sen. Neville James, says the school year shall begin no later than the second Tuesday after the second Monday in August and end no later than the first Friday in June, so long as the calendar includes at least 1,080 hours of instruction and the first semester ends by Dec. 23. It was one of many nongermane amendments attached to a large, omnibus bill in the last legislative session.

"Here again, by simply moving the start and end dates of the academic year, the Legislature has ignored my administration’s drive to expand the school year and provide additional instruction time," deJongh wrote in his transmittal letter to the Legislature. DeJongh said the bill would do nothing to help better prepare students, "while at the same time costing an estimated $3.2 million in the first year alone to affect it, which the Legislature has not funded and which the Department of Education cannot accommodate without such funds."

DeJongh criticized the Legislature’s override of his veto during the same session of a bill creating a "Youth Commission" to advise the government on policy, saying it was "yet another example of the Legislature’s determination to ignore the fiscal realities faced by our government and ignore the ongoing work of my administration."

"Moreover this unfortunate action will serve to inflate public expectations that by the creation of an unfunded commission, real steps toward addressing the pressing needs of those for whom the commission is named are being taken. Nothing could be farther from the truth," deJongh said.

DeJongh signed measures:
– to transfer $2.4 million from Education Department budget line items for personnel costs, materials and supplies, with $1.4 million for busing and $1 million for maintenance;
– to provide $50,000 to the Department of Health to hire a consultant to write a five-year strategic plan for the division of mental health and the two hospitals in the territory required by a 2009 court settlement;
– to allow companies with Tax Increment Financing agreements with the V.I. government to pursue renewable energy, and if it can produce enough to sell, requiring it to sell to the V.I. Water and Power Authority rather than to private customers;
– transferring V.I. government-owned Smith Bay and Lindqvist beach to the Magens Bay Authority which already manages the property;
– granting Haresh and Namrata Udhwani a use variance to the existing R-3 residential-medium density zoning to allow them to operate as a retail store and importer of goods at their property on parcel 69-3 Estate Contant from R-3 residential medium density to B-3 business scattered.

DeJongh also signed resolutions honoring:
– the Elena Christian Rocketry Club;
– the V.I. Special Olympics Team;
– Efrain Feliciano Jr. for his contribution to the Virgin Islands community thru his 27 years of civic contribution in the area of emergency rescue efforts;
– and former V.I. Daily News Publisher Ariel Melchior Jr. in naming Routes 38 and 134 on St. Thomas, commonly referred to as the Estate Thomas Drive, the Ariel Melchior Jr. Drive.

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