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Constitutional Convention's Education Committee Hears Proposals


March 6, 2008 — Restructuring the territory's Board of Education, creating a V.I. Commission on Higher Education, and making higher education free were among proposals aired Thursday as worthy of possible inclusion in a Virgin Islands constitution.
Speaking at the fifth meeting of the Committee on Education, Youth and Culture of the Fifth Constitutional Convention of the Virgin Islands, LaVerne Ragster and two colleagues offered those suggestions, among others, as ways of improving education in the territory. Ragster, president of the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), and two colleagues, her chief of staff Noreen Michael and Tregenza Roach, an attorney assisting the constitutional convention process, had a "brainstorming" session at the committee's request, resulting in proposals which committee members greeted with interest, if not enthusiasm.
Ragster said the education system was suffering from inefficient structure and leadership that hampers the commissioner of education. Her team's proposals call for making superintendents accountable to the board, rather than the commissioner, thus freeing up the commissioner to deal with policy rather than policy and day to day issues as currently happens — a 24/7 job, as one committee member described it.
The proposal also calls for six board members to be elected, and five to be appointed by the governor. Currently there are nine members, all elected. The report justified the suggestion, stating, "…popularity, large war chests and public relations resources provide for the election of popular choices which do not carry the weight of either institutional experience or academic accomplishment which are crucial to effective education initiatives."
Additionally, her team is calling for a commission on higher education, saying the UVI board is "regularly inundated" with requests for the establishment of medical, vocational, legal and other tertiary level institutions. She said it's a conflict of interest for the UVI board to negotiate those requests.
"I currently have a document on my desk asking whether we should have a medical school come into the territory," Ragster told the committee. "That's something a commission should be answering."
To help reduce learning gaps between high school and university, the chair of the higher education commission would serve on the board of education, and the education commissioner would serve on the higher education commission, said Ragster.
To make the territory more competitive globally, Ragster's team proposes making a UVI education free to graduates of secondary schools who meet entrance requirements.
As for funding her team's proposals, she suggested the committee consider establishing in the constitution an annual percentage the government must allocate to education from the general fund, helping finance that through legalized games of chance.
The committee has at least two more meetings scheduled, both set to focus on youth. Committee chairman Mary Moorehead said Thursday's testimony from Ragster concluded the education and culture testimony.
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