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SIMMONDS' ABSENCE IRKS EDUCATION COMMITTEE

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The leadership of the Education Department could find itself subpenaed to appear before the Senate Education Committee to answer questions about the status of schools on St. Croix and more.
Commissioner Ruby Simmonds and other Education officials failed to appear for a Friday hearing called by Sen. Norman Jn-Baptiste, the committee chair.
Jn-Baptiste, who proceeded with the meeting despite having been told by Simmonds that she and the teachers union were involved in mediation, expressed frustration when St. Croix deputy superintendent Lionel Sewpershad did not have the answers the committee was seeking to the "many pressing problems" facing the school system there.
At one point, the freshman senator, who has clashed with Simmonds repeatedly, suggested that a no-confidence vote be sent to those commissioners who fail to appear before the Senate and that the governor be urged to name persons to his cabinet "who can perform."
Sen. Adelbert "Bert" Bryan took things a step further by moving to have subpenas issued to force attendance at a meeting scheduled for Jan. 17.
In addition to Simmonds, officials from Special Education, Finance, Public Finance, Public Works and the Office of Management and Budget will be expected to appear. Topics that Bryan wants to cover at the meeting include the process by which school bus drivers are paid, the timetable for repairs to the public schools, a reported delay in payments to contracted St. Croix school bus operators and a problem with insurance payments for St. Croix bus drivers.
Ralph Mandrew, president of the VI Workers Union, which represents school bus drivers, spent considerable time before the committee detailing the history of slow and often times delayed payment to vendors for school bus service.
As recently as last Monday, Abramson Bus Co. pulled buses off the streets for lack of payment, leaving hundreds of parents and guardians scrambling to get their children to school. The service was reinstated after the government delivered a check to Abramson.
In Friday’s meeting Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen threatened to take the Education Department to court the next time bus service is halted without adequate notice to parents.

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