Whew! A close call. The Virgin Islands government just dodged another bullet, the threat of a federal funds being cut off for the territory's public schools. The pending agreement will keep the flow of funds, some $30 million per year, coming for another three years. Now, if V.I. education officials can just con the accrediting body into reinstating high school accreditation, things can get back to some semblance of normal.
Normal in this case is defined as the systematic mis-education of the territorys children by a system that is essentially a jobs program with a sideline in insider contracting.
Remember the time when a leader presiding over a disaster of this magnitude would automatically resign? Not anymore. Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds makes the usual empty promises (e.g., " at the end of this process, the Virgin Islands will be in a better place"), acts as if she had nothing to do with the current situation, and commits herself to the earthshaking reform of digitalizing the NOPAs. That should do the trick.
What possible reason is there to believe at this late date that this cast of characters can implement any program of change, either administrative or educational? Are we to believe that the threat of a federal funds cut-off will drive reform more than the desperate and unmet needs of V.I. schoolchildren have in the past?
After all of these years, all of the studies such as "Kids Count," and the parade of Ruby Simmonds clones who assume responsibility for nothing, is it not time to state a very unpalatable truth? That truth is that, except in some abstract way, many of the people who run, and have run, this system really do not care about these children. They have other priorities.
It reflects little credit on the federal government that its focus is largely on fiscal accountability and administration, rather than on the education of the children of the Virgin Islands. The responsible federal official described the Virgin Islands as a "high-risk grantee." That is not an accurate description. There is little risk. It is pretty much a sure thing that V.I. educational officials will fall short of any expectations that have been set. After all, the feds can always lower the bar even further and provide another "last chance."
The Source has called editorially for "radical" change. The only way such change will take place is if the schools are put in receivership, the Department of Education is eliminated, current contracts that protect and nurture the inept and venal are voided, and adequate funding streams are put outside the reach of the executive branch and the Legislature.
For a number of years, there has been a strong argument for putting the entire Virgin Islands government into receivership. The argument for doing so with the schools is not strong. It is overwhelming. There are now so many cases of high-performing schools with poor, minority student bodies that the arguments and excuses about deficient homes and the like are no longer tenable.
It is about the schools. These kids can learn. They won't learn within this system, and taking money away is hardly the answer for the children in the schools. Take the money out of the hands of those who have mismanaged this system, jeopardized the futures of far too many children, and forfeited their right to exercise control.
Editor's note: Management consultant Frank Schneiger has worked with V.I. agencies since 1975, most recently as consultant to United Way of St. Thomas/St. John. He is one of the founders of the St. Thomas/St. John Youth Multiservice Center.
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