May 1, 2002 In an informational vacuum isolated from the firing of Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds at Government House two blocks away, members of the Senate Education Committee heard encouraging news and discouraging news on Tuesday about the territory's schools.
Education officials told the committee that the public high schools are inadequate, but that funding for proposed new schools doesn't look to be right around the corner.
Ira Mills, Office of Management and Budget director, said coming up with money to construct additional schools would be "challenging at best."
Sens. Carlton Dowe and Donald "Ducks" Cole, both Education Committee members, have proposed building new high schools. They got discouraging news Tuesday not only from Mills, but from the Public Finance Authority's recently contracted director of finance and administration, Kenneth Mapp.
Mapp said the PFA already has floated $40 million in bonds that has been used for school reconstruction and that currently there is no money available for additional school construction.
Hollis Griffin, environmental protection director for the Planning and Natural Resources Department, had good news, though: The water supply at Joseph Sibilly Elementary School has been given a clean bill of health. Griffin said he was "very pleased" with the steps the Education Department has taken to eliminate water contamination at the school, where problems first surfaced in August of 1999.
Rosalia Payne, St. Thomas-St. John district schools superintendent, said the water supply at Sibilly has tested safe for consumption since February, when it showed an unacceptable level of triholmethanes naturally occurring byproducts of chlorinated water acting on organic matter.
Also testifying was Simmonds, who gave no indication in her presentation of awareness of the governor's decision to remove her as commissioner.
She said she intended to ask DPNR to investigate differing results from the testing of water samples taken at Sibilly only days apart, and to suggest the testing of cisterns of businesses and residences near the school to try to determine whether an environmental element was contributing to the water problems that have plagued the school.
Payne said the school now gets its water from Crown Mountain Water and that this water has a lower chlorine level that what was previously delivered by the Water and Power Authority.
Simmonds also told the committee that any discussion of new school construction should require "careful planning," including consideration of all the elements of a state-of-the-art learning institution. She said most of the elementary schools in the territory are at maximum capacity. Running down current enrollment figures of the four public high schools, she said only St. Croix's Education Complex currently shows over-capacity enrollment, with 1,335 students in a facility built to accommodate 1,100.
Jorge Galiber, Board of Education chair, said the board is conducting an assessment of the territory's school needs which will be finished by the end of August. The findings, he said, will outline "the basic requirements for our schools … including building size and maximum capacity for enrollment." He said basic features such as gymnasiums, cafeterias and outdoor space are being considered.
Jeanette Smith, Charlotte Amalie High School principal, agreed with Cole and Dowe that another senior high school is needed on St. Thomas. She said that CAHS, built in 1955, is badly in need of repair.
Committee members attending the meeting were Sens. Douglas Canton Jr., Cole, Dowe, Emmett Hansen II, Jn Baptiste and Almando "Rocky" Liburd. Sen. Adelbert Bryan was absent. Sen. Lorraine Berry, who is not a committee member, also attended.
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