Aug. 5, 2004 – The Senate Youth and Education Committee met in Cruz Bay on Thursday to get a status report on preparations for the island's two public schools prior to the start of the 2004-2005 academic year on Aug. 25.
At the hearing, held at the Legislative Conference Room across the street from Julius E. Sprauve School, Education Department officials reported progress in addressing some building maintenance, special education and textbook needs. They also laid out the areas where Sprauve School and Guy H. Benjamin School in Coral Bay still need attention.
The hearing followed similar ones held by the committee Monday on St. Croix and Wednesday on St. Thomas.
Among those testifying Thursday, the Board of Education's executive director, Tregenza Roach, and its chair, Harry Daniel, told of recent site visits to the two schools. At Benjamin School, Daniel said, flooding still plagues the tiny cafeteria. At Sprauve School, one building has a leaky roof which Education Commissioner Noreen Michael has specified as a repair priority.
Education maintenance director Louis Hughes told committee members the department is in the process of selecting an engineer to redesign the Sprauve roof. He also said eight air conditioners at the school are to be replaced.
At Benjamin School, Hughes said, changes the cafeteria had been modified to keep wandering animals out. And he said the water in the school cistern will be tested to make sure it is clean.
Discussion of the Guy Benjamin cafeteria included concern that time is running out on Community Development Block Grant funding for the construction of a new combination cafeteria-auditorium. Michael said poor timing and confusion over plans drawn up for the cafetorium might lead to surrendering the grant funds.
She said the plans exceed the funding received, which "poses a challenge to the department. We are at the point where we will have to modify the plans or find another funding source."
The head of the Benjamin School Parent-Teacher Organization, Lorelei Monsanto, raised the problem of St. Thomas teachers who commute to teach at both St. John schools. Sprauve School is two blocks from the St. John ferry dock, but Benjamin School is eight miles away. Because they have no personal transportation between the two, Monsanto said, the teachers often are late to class, causing students to lose classroom time.
It appeared to be a problem Education officials had not considered before. Emily Carter, acting district superintendent, told the lawmakers that "it has never been the responsibility of the department to provide transportation from the dock to the school. The department provides boat passes."
Monsanto also asked school officials for a breakdown of expenditures for the St. John schools. Michael said it is not available, since Benjamin and Sprauve are part of the St. Thomas-St. John district and all budget listings are for the whole district. Whatever St. Thomas gets, St. John gets as well, Michael said.
However, Carter said the superintendent's office this year has asked book vendors to deliver new textbooks for St. John separately so they can find their way into the classrooms as soon as possible.
St. John also is in line to get its own speech therapist to assist students in special education, according to Carter. "It's a need. We just got three speech therapists, and one will be assigned to St. John," she said.
Meanwhile, she added, there is a need at Sprauve School to replace a special education teacher who recently resigned.
Committee members present at the hearing were Sen. Ronald Russell, the chair, and Sens. Roosevelt David and Shawn-Michael Malone. Sens. Louis Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, Luther Renee and Usie Richards were not present. Also in attendance was Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, who is not a member of the committee.
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