School Bus Stoppage Surprised Education, Commissioner Says

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Parents were not informed in advance that St. Croix school buses wouldn’t run April 30 because the bus company did not notify Education of the stoppage until that morning, Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry told a Senate panel Monday.

"Frankly, we believed that because we were processing payments, they would continue service," Terry said when questioned about the lack of notice by Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly at a hearing of the Education, Youth and Culture Committee on St. Thomas. O’Reilly pressed Terry on the point, asking if Terry was saying the cutoff of service came as a surprise.

While the company demanded payment in an April 16 letter, there was no subsequent announcement that service was going to stop on a particular date, Terry said. "Unfortunately, we believed the company would wait while we moved money and processed payments, and it just didn’t happen that way," Terry said.

The department gave Senate President Ronald Russell draft legislation that morning for a $2.4 million appropriation transfer request, moving money from personnel costs, materials and supplies, and allocating $1.4 million for bus transportation, which, along with reprogramming $2 million currently allocated to setting up a longitudinal data system, will pay bus service through the rest of the fiscal year, she said.

But the schools will still be struggling to make ends meet, and $3.5 million in projected utility bills remain unfunded, she said. The hardship is compounded by the department’s proposed 2013 budget, which is $9.2 million less than the 2012 level, Terry said.

Since 85 percent of the budget is salaries and benefits, "there must be additional dismissals in order to stay within the budget," she said.

It is possible the schools will have to reduce the amount allotted for supplies as they did this year; athletic programs, maintenance and janitorial services may all be affected. "Even though each district is modifying bus routes in an effort to reduce the cost, bus transportation is likely to continue to be a challenge," she said.

Sen. Janette Millin-Young, chair of the committee, asked Terry about the status of JROTC instructors’ pay and whether they must be exempt from recent 8 percent government employee salary reductions. In April, the Rules and Judiciary Committee held a bill from Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen to exempt the instructors, pending clarification from the federal government as to whether locally hired and paid JROTC instructors’ salaries can be cut and how the minimum allowable salary is computed. Since then, James E. Knauff Jr., JROTC chief based at the U.S. Army Cadet Command in Savannah, Ga., wrote a letter to Hansen and subsequently told the Source directly that unless the territory rescinds the reductions it will lose the Junior ROTC programs at St. Croix Educational Complex, St. Croix Central High School, and Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on St. Thomas.

Hansen has asked Russell to convene a special session of the Legislature to address the question, according to a statement from her office Monday.

Terry said the department is committed to maintaining the JROTC program. She and Assistant Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory said they recently participated in a conference call with Army representatives, who were concerned that the cut would affect the instructors’ federally mandated rate of pay. But Terry said she not been sent any correspondence from the military about the matter.

If the 8 percent is restored, it will cost Education about $77,000, which will require the reduction of one to two employees, Terry said.

No votes were taken during the oversight hearing. Present were: Millin-Young, Sens. Craig Barshinger and Carlton "Ital" Dowe, along with O’Reilly, who is not a member of the committee. Absent were Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone, Louis Patrick Hill, Neville James and Sammuel Sanes.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Surprise! A great example of government complacancy. They didn’t take the ADVANCE warning seriously and it bit them in the a$$. Maybe next time (oh, there will be a next time) they will pay a little more attention.

  2. “Parents were not informed in advance that St. Croix school buses wouldn’t run April 30” And these idiots are learning to be courteous to visitors. They need to learn how to be courteous to each other. What kind of fools do not notify the parents of school children that their school buses will no longer pick up their children. What the he11 is wrong with you bunch of screwballs? Don’t you know how to act in life? No, you don’t. And you don’t know how to run a bus system or a government or an education system. I feel sorry for the children here. They deserve better. They deserve better adult supervision. And the adults need intelligent supervision of their own. Maybe the children would do a better job.

  3. You’re surprised they cut off service while you were “processing payments?”

    You’re still “processing payment” for my income tax refund two years ago. You’re still “processing payment” for the $20m you owe WAPA.

    You were probably “processing payments” the whole time you racked up $600,000+ in bills to the school bus company.

    Everybody on the island knows that when they government is “processing your payment” is means they’re ignoring you, and you’ll never be paid until you cut off service or sue them.

  4. I second everything said here. They owe over a half a million dollars to a company and they are surprised when they stop providing services? How does Education think they will pay their employees, taxes, and buy fuel for the buses? They are just supposed to sit and go bankrupt while the government processes their overdue payments? If Education doesn’t act, they will lose their JROTC programs, too, and I suppose they’ll be shocked then, too.

  5. Yes, Totally agreed.
    An all time LOW! Low lifes, loosers, I should go on and on, but, they know who they are and If I was a parent and could get to who was responsible for my child standing around on a street corner………..

  6. It is inexcusable to leave children stranded on the roadsides and parents scrambling at the last minute.
    This is so typical of our Government, unfortunately.
    Our Senators can’t budget, can’t pay bills, can’t provide basic services, yet our Senators and Governor continue to get their elevated and excessive salaries and perks that they voted themselves and happily collect at our expense.

    We lack BASIC services such as smooth, clean, well groomed and well lit roads to drive on, reliable and affordable electricity which without such has driven the cost of living up, safety in our homes, on our sidewalks(when there are any)and public places due to lack of police presence, just to name a few.
    Yet we continue get taxed more to pay the VI Gov. to squander our money while getting NOTHING in return.

    Using the $55 Million Dollars to upgrade WAPA to provide affordable, reliable electricity instead of a sports stadium in STX would be a much better idea.
    $500 Million (at a conservative estimate) to provide an expensive extension cord to PR, before we pay for a single KWH, be at the mercy of PR rates, and enhance their economy while we continue to struggle is not a good plan. If you can get $500M for the underwater cable why not spend it on state of the art electrical producing plants that take advantage of renewable, AFFORDABLE and sustainable energy while giving Virgin Islanders jobs and enhancing our economy?

    When is our government going to pay attention and give us basic services and stop wasting our money?

    When cows fly or we vote them out and replace them with competent, ethical, financially astute, hardworking individuals committed to working together to serve the People of the Virgin Islands.

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