The Virgin Islands Board of Career and Technical Education Chairman Michael François requested the Senate reallocate funding from the Department of Education to the career board for the maintenance of career and technical education classrooms because students are working in “deplorable” conditions.
During Monday’s hearing of the Senate Committee on Education and Workforce Development, François testified virtually that the board has visited the classrooms on St. Croix and St. Thomas only to discover the workspaces lack basic upkeep and have missing ceiling tiles, leaking roofs and visible mold growth.
When visiting St. Croix Central High School François said, “This classroom, on our visit, had exposed and stripped wiring, leaks and a lack of basic maintenance. Furthermore, the equipment in the classroom was outdated. Both the environment and equipment place our students at a learning disadvantage while being subjected to health and safety hazards.”
At Charlotte Amalie High School François said the board “found classrooms that consistently flood, a culinary lab missing basic sanitary requirements set by the Department of Health and buildings with mold in plain sight. The bottom line is, such an environment is unsafe and unhealthy for our students.”
This is not the first time the board has suggested the Legislature redirect funding from the Department of Education to the Career and Technical Education Board for the upkeep of classrooms.
“After years and millions in federal funding, this has not been remedied,” François said. “It’s baffling, especially when modular units for academic teaching have been provided.”
François said the board has requested the Department of Education repair the facility, but the board has denied the requests because the department “is not allowed to do any temporary work,” because it could impact the eligibility of pending Federal Emergency Management Agency funding.
“This board would like to somehow take control of getting those things done,” François said. “However, we don’t have control, we have to go through the Department of Education and in a lot of cases the Department of Education is dependent on the maintenance department of funding to get those classrooms fixed.”
François said the board doesn’t want to wait on the pending Federal Emergency Management Agency funding, which will aid in replacing the territories schools which were damaged or destroyed in the 2017 hurricanes, and that “in a lot of cases, a lot of these classrooms were in a similar state before the hurricanes.”
Sen. Milton Potter said what has happened to the various career and technical programs “is sad,” and said hearing François testify about the classroom conditions “just broke my heart.”
Committee Chairwoman Genevieve Whitaker said at one time the Career and Technical Education Board was functioning well, “but they have all been destroyed through various efforts over time.”
“The push is to reform the systems, set the boards properly, align them and the departments to start engaging and collaborating and moving from discussions to putting items on paper and executing,” Whitaker said.
The committee also was scheduled to hear from V.I. Department of Labor Commissioner Gary Molloy on Monday, but due to his absence, the committee did not receive an update on unemployment insurance and pandemic relief programs.
Sens. Carla Joseph, Potter and Janelle Sarauw were present for the hearing. Sens. Kenneth Gittens, Donna Frett-Gregory and Kurt Vialet were either absent or excused.