Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, Chair of the Committee on Education and Workforce Development, along with Senators Jackson, Hodge, Vialet and representatives from the offices of Sen. DeGazon and Sen. Francis, toured several public schools on St. Thomas and St. Croix on Thursday and Friday this week—with additional schools to be toured in the upcoming weeks.
With school scheduled to reopen in a few weeks, senators are troubled by the lack of visible work on school campuses. What they encountered this week were schools in varying degrees of disrepair. Broken windows, overgrown bush and chipped, soiled and peeling paint provided evidence of deferred maintenance at almost every school visited. Department of Education officials remain confident that schools will be ready to receive students come
September 3rd. Assurances are being made that minimal tasks like cutting back overgrown bush and waxing floors will take place on each of the campuses before school starts. But there is still a lot of heavy lifting to be done.
“We are concerned,” Sen. Frett-Gregory said. “It looks like nothing has been done all summer. We are hoping that the Department of Education will be able to pull this off.”
Major maintenance work has not begun on school campuses as DOE continues to wait for approved project worksheets from FEMA. In some instances, damaged areas in schools were entirely missed in the assessment conducted by FEMA officials and Witt O’Brien’s. The department must now move quickly to provide information on these damaged areas previously missing from reports. Some students will return to schools without gymnasiums, libraries and space to play sports as we begin yet another school year since the hurricanes.
The senators are also concerned that modular classrooms have fixed windows and are without generators to provide electricity for air circulation. “Generators should have been a part of the scope of work for all schools with modular classrooms based on the frequent power outages,” said Frett-Gregory. “I am urging the department to revisit this situation immediately.”
Sen. Frett-Gregory says it is time for the territory to develop a long-term plan to address aging school structures in the territory. “This is the opportune time as the territory has seen a reduction in school population. We must take advantage of this period as future growth is inevitable. Planning must be at the top of our agenda.”