April 20, 2022
St. Thomas, USVI - Today’s protests on St. Croix and St. Thomas by members of the American Federation of Teachers (“AFT”) further solidified Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory’s position that the construction and maintenance of our schools should not continue to be the responsibility of the Department of Education. Senator Frett-Gregory’s legislation to create the Bureau of School Construction and Maintenance was defeated in the Committee on Education and Workforce Development on March 17, 2022, on a 3-3 vote with one abstention.
The bill sought to create a bureau directly responsible for maintaining our school buildings, facilities, grounds and for the construction of new schools and facilities. A concept which is not new and is currently utilized in school districts across the nation. “Year in year out, our educational leaders attempt to balance the academic needs of our students with the needs of our school facilities. It has not worked, this is evident, as our schools continue to remain in disrepair,” stated Frett-Gregory. “The time is now for us as leaders to move in a new direction and take a chance on a new approach to resolving this vexing issue.”
This new approach proposed in the legislation not only places the onus on the executive branch, but also the legislative branch to appropriate the funds needed to maintain schools. Across the nation, school districts have long moved away from maintaining and building new schools, shifting their focus on academic achievement. The proposed legislation is a product of three years of research and collaboration with stakeholders. During the March 17th hearing testimony in support of Bill No. 34-0079 was offered by both the Board of Education and the Department of Education, and other stakeholders.
“We must get serious about the state of education in the territory. We cannot continue to hope for disaster dollars to build and maintain our schools. Our schools have long been in disrepair and the hurricanes of 2017 have exacerbated the situation. As we are now in the construction phase of building new schools, absent of a plan, we will return to where we are today, schools in disrepair,” said Frett-Gregory. “We have to take a chance on a new approach, we are elected to find solutions, not to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. There is more than enough culpability to go around on this issue.”
Senator Frett-Gregory stated that if today’s events aren’t reason enough to give reconsideration to Bill No. 34-0079, she doesn’t know what is. “It is my fervent hope that as I continue to have discussions with my colleagues that they will see the vision of the legislation and work together towards reconsideration and eventual adoption. It is time of us to make tough decisions and take risks for the betterment of our people,” concluded Frett-Gregory.
Office of Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory