Published: Jul 1, 2024

ST. THOMAS – The Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance, under the leadership of Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory met in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall. Lawmakers received testimony on the proposed Fiscal Year 2025 Executive Budget for the Virgin Islands Department of Education, the Virgin Islands Board of Education, the Virgin Islands Career and Technical Board, and the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation.

Dr. Dionne Wells-Hedrington, Commissioner of the Department of Education delivered its proposed FY 2025 Budget of $170,084,508. Of this amount, $104,637,975 is for personnel services, which supports 1,977.40 FTE (full time equivalent) positions. This includes 122 filed exempt positions at $8,895,794 and three vacant positions totaling $238,915. 1,840.95 FTE filled classified positions cost $93,116.158 and 11.6 vacant classified positions are budgeted at $1,162,108. The Department has 2,230 active employees. This includes 2,032 classified positions and 198 exempt positions. Additional expenses include substitute teacher pool funding at $800,000, night schoolteacher per-diem payments of $400,000, and part time/temporary employment costs, at about $25,000. The Department of Education is the largest department in the Government of the Virgin Islands.

Health insurance premiums decreased by $749.076, about 3.50%. Workers compensation declined by 5.10%, a decrease of about $15,860.00. There were no changes in the unemployment insurance budget. Fringe benefits represent 30% of the total budget. The budget for materials and supplies is $881,528. This includes office supplies, drinking water, vehicles and maintenance supplies, gasoline purchases, and food supplies for lunch program. Other services is budgeted at $7,829,938. This includes items such as pupil transportation, janitorial services, advertising, special education services, internet costs, software licensing renewals, communication, travel, office rental, transportation and training experiences. This figure increased from the 2024 funding level of $3,368.171. Utilities are budgeted at $5,000,000. $0 has been budgeted for miscellaneous, due to revenue constraints. $500,000 is scheduled to be received from the Tourism Revolving Fund. The Department has engaged Ranger American to provided unarmed security services, which totaled $1,013,535.02. The Department also manages twenty-one federal grants, totaling $216,998,365.74.

Seventy-seven employees have separated from the agency during the 2023-2024 school year. Additionally, forty-six separations from the Department are effective August 31, 2024, 34 in the St. Thomas- St. John District and twelve in the St. Croix District. This includes six teachers in the St. Croix District and twenty-two teachers in the St. Thomas- St. John District. As of September 1, 2024, 332 employees are eligible to retire, including forty-two administrators, twenty-seven paraprofessionals and 126 teachers territory wide. Wells-Hedrington stated that the department has had difficulty in filling teaching positions. Difficulties include the prohibitive cost of living in the territory, decline in local and national entrants into teaching, and the 11.5 % deduction in the GERS. Thirty-three teachers are scheduled to begin in the 2024-2025 school year, fifteen in the St. Croix District and eighteen in the St. Thomas-St John District.

Dr. Kyza A. Callwood, Chairman of the Virgin Islands Board of Education delivered its recommended budget of $2,387,697. This includes Personnel Services at $1,011,917, Fringe Benefits at $465,774, Supplies at $87,500, Other Services and Charges at $698,595, Utility Services at $33,911, and Capital Outlay at $90,000. There are currently six vacant full-time positions. Three positions, the Executive Director, Financial Aid Representative, and Executive Assistant are being prioritized. Other vacancies include Researcher, IT Specialist, and Custodian (STX). The Board of Education plans to hire two temporary employees to review delinquent accounts. The Board of Education has nineteen positions between St. Croix and St. Thomas. The St. Croix office is staffed by the Associate Executive Director, a Financial Aid Representative, an Administrative Assistant, and an Educational Certification Officer. The St. Thomas office has nine employees. These include the Director of Business and Finance, an Accountant, Financial Aid Coordinator, Financial Aid Assistant, Educational Certification Officer, two Loan Collection Officers, a Maintenance Engineer, and a Custodian. These are classified, nonunion positions. The board leases office space in St. Croix from the Christiansted Restoration at a cost of $52,7477.08, located in Strand Street. Christiansted, St. Croix, with additional space Estate Hogensberg, Frederiksted, St. Croix. The Board also owns the property that holds its St. Thomas Office, located at #60, 61, and 62 Dronnigens Gade. The 2017 Hurricanes caused considerable damage to this property.

Joanne Murphy, Chair of the Virgin Islands Board for Career and Technical Education delivered its proposed budget of $1,284,681. A general fund budget of $689,681 was recommended by the Governor. Murphy reiterated support for the establishment of the establishment of the “Ms. Lena Shulterbrandt CTE Fund,” which consists of a $600,000 funding request. Murphy requested that the Board’s financial status be restored to the semi-autonomous status as listed in the GVI’s budget chart. Murphy stated that CTE’s instructors were being lost, and not being replaced. Since 2002, CTE programs have been reduced by 50%. The board operates with an Executive Director, three staff members, with two in St. Croix and one in St. Thomas. The board leases two office spaces, one in both districts, at a cost of $55,000. $15,000 is spent on utilities. Murphy stated that the board has spent its allotment on unfunded initiatives to support CTE programs from its operating budget. This includes $20,000 in supporting Career and technical student organization, and $30,000 in Virtual Reality googles software and equipment. Total personnel services is at $279,667, fringe benefits at $136,279, supplies at $90,000, Other services at charges at $755,740, utilities at $3,995, and capital outlay at $19,000.

Calvert White, Commissioner of the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation delivered a proposed FY 2025 budget of $9,272,040. $4,916,980 is for personnel services, $2,822,209 for fringe benefits, $248,945 for supplies, $478,906 for other services and charges, and $805,000 for utility services. Classified positions under personnel services is budgeted at $3,846,792, and unclassified positions at $972,688. Overtime is budgeted at $58,000, night differential at $19,500, and other compensation at $20,000. Fringe benefits are broken down into employer contribution retirement at $1,073,257, FICA at $304,854, Medicare at $71,298, Health Insurance Premium at $1,317,644, and workers compensation premiums at $55,156. The supplies budget includes operating supplies at $61,829, vehicle supplies at $80,000, repair and maintenance at $71,316, small tools and minor equipment at $23,000, data processing system at $8,200.00, and clothing and cloth material at $4,300.00 for a total supplies budget of $248,945.00. The other services budget is comprised of debris removal of $7,490.00, repair and maintenance of $74,487.00.00, automotive repair and maintenance of $34,023.00, rental of land/building of $38,400.00, training of $12,000.00, communication of $78,000.00, advertising and promotion of $25,000.00, transportation, not travel of $6,500.00, travel of $8,000.00, bulk airline tickets of $2,500.00, professional services of $82,506.00, and the non-operational miscellaneous grants of $110,000.00 leading to a proposed budget for other services at a total of $478,906.00.

The Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation has 126 positions. There are fourteen exempt positions and 110 classified positions. There are two vacant positions, budgeted at 50%. In the St. Thomas-St. John District, there are sixty-four positions, fifty-seven positions are classified and seven are exempt. St. Croix has sixty positions, fifty-three are classified and seven are vacant. The positions of lifeguard instructor and messenger/receptionist are vacant. The vacant positions of Groundskeeper, Recreation Leader I, Recreation II, and Recreation Specialist were lost due to budget cuts. There have been ten new hires in the last six months, however, there have been nine resignations and two retirements. White stated that the department faced funding challenges, increased workloads for existing employees, lack of upward advancement, and low salaries.

Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carriόn, Dwayne M. Degraff, Ray Fonseca, Marise C. James, and Javan E. James, Sr.

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