Oct. 17, 2005Government money earmarked for the construction of a track and field at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School has not been spent by the Education Department, according to Kenneth Mapp, executive director of the Public Finance Authority.
Mapp said Monday $2 million from the General Fund was appropriated for the project in 2003, and can still be drawn down for the project by the department.
However, Mapp testified before the Senates committee on Education, Culture, and Youth that he believes a misunderstanding between Education and the PFA has prevented anything from happening, leaving the project stalled still in the planning and development phases. Mapp said this is unfortunate, considering the construction of the track and field is essential to the schools re-accreditation.
Despite having the $2 million earmarked, Mapp said the Education Department assumed the project was slated to be paid for by the PFA. Because of this belief, Mapp said the department gave the go ahead to Caribbean Professional Consultantsa firm contracted by the PFA to undertake other improvement projects at IEKHS to draw up an architectural engineering design plan for the track.
However, once the firms president, Edmond J. Blaize, submitted an invoice to the PFA for drawing up the plans, Mapp sent Blaize correspondence stating the track was not going to be paid for by the PFA.
Blaize, also present at Mondays meeting, said when he received Mapps letter in early August, he stopped the project, realizing he would not be paid for the work completed so far.
Noreen Michael, education commissioner, said Mapp has made her aware of the mistake, and said she did not initially spend the $2 million because of various problems. It was unclear, for example, whether the tracks boundaries would be on land belonging to the Education Department, or Housing, Parks, and Recreation. In addition, Michael told senators the money was not immediately placed within the Education Departments budget.
To get the project going again, Mapp said all the department has to do now is submit a proposal to the Department of Property and Procurement, asking them how to proceed with the track.
Sen. Liston Davis told Michael she has to submit a plan of action for the completion of the track and a detailed report for the use of the $2 million before going to Property and Procurement.
Meanwhile, a bill to establish a territorial educational curricula committee, to research and evaluate any curriculum changes, was also considered Monday. Davis, the bills sponsor, said the body would allow the school system to move into the modern age, as well as expose students to an education more "realistic," and "relative" to the culture in which they live.
Sen. Shaun Michael-Malone supported Davis statements by adding this should mean courses in Caribbean history be taught more on all levels, as well as courses which are geared toward training students to prepare for jobs in local industries. Agriculture, for example, is on its way out because no one is being taught about it in schools, Malone said.
Michael did not support the bill, stating there are ongoing efforts within her department to address curriculum reform. In addition to having various curriculum personnel in each district, Michael said the department is also in the process of completing a "standards assessment and accountability initiative," which deals with academic content standards.
Since these initiatives are required in the compliance agreement between the local and federal education departments, Michael said once these projects are complete, they will go to U.S. Education Department for review.
"It is our view, then, that the proposed committee would be redundant at best," Michael said.
She added that if the bill were passed, it would have to be re-worded, as the language is too ambiguous.
Carver Farrow, president of the local chapter of the Education Administrators Association, made the same remarks.
Consequently, senators voted to hold the bill in committee until changes were made which addressed Michaels concerns.
A bill to require instruction in swimming and water safety in public schools was also held in committee Monday, as representatives from the St. Thomas, St. John Swimming Association, as well as Sen. Craig W. Barshinger, the bills proponent, were not present at the meeting.
Testimony on the bill was still given by Margarita Benjamin, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association, who said since the bill does not provide the funding necessary to implement the program, the Education Department would be left with an unfunded mandate in its curriculum.
Michael added she was cautious about providing "unconditional support" for the bill, as it does raise some concerns about the basic logistics surrounding the implementation of such swimming instruction.
Michael questioned, for example, where the instruction would occur, since none of the territorys schools have pools.
"Since this is the case, we would have to provide transportation for students to and from beaches that means more money for the departments budget," Michaels said. "And another problemaccommodating even one hour during the week to beaches would cause formidable conflicts in scheduling."
Michael also raised questions about lifeguards and insurance costs associated with the programs.
Present at Mondays meeting were Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Davis, Louis P. Hill, Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Usie R. Richards, and Ronald Russell.
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