Senators fail to repeal school calendar in special session, table issue until April


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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Legislature was called into special session by Gov. John deJongh Jr. on Friday to address the administration's concerns about implementing a new school calendar in the fall.

DeJongh asked senators to repeal the law mandating the new calendar, but the measure was lost in a 4-10 vote.

The law to change the school calendar was first passed in the 29th Legislature. The idea was to have the fall semester start two weeks earlier in August so that it would end before the Christmas break.

Currently, the way the year is structured, students go on break and then have to take their exams when they get back.

No one was disputing that making the change is a good idea, the problem comes in the implementation.

The first year the new calendar is implemented will make the school year start two weeks early, but those two weeks are paid vacation weeks for unionized teachers and staff. Making them work would mean paying them more for those two weeks.

Additionally, the Educational Administrators Association - the union representing school administrators - contract calls for 60 days of vacation. The administrators must report one week before school begins, so if the calendar is pushed up two weeks, they will be about 20 days under the 60 day requirement.

The department would have to pay administrators for the lost vacation days.

V.I. Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory said the implementation of the new calendar would cost the department about $5.4 million.

With the V.I. government facing a $40 million budget shortfall, that money is not available, according to Office of Management and Budget Director Debra Gottlieb.

Frett-Gregory asked senators to make a decision on the matter before the end of March, so that the school calendar can be finalized in time for its approval and dissemination by the end of April.

But, senators said they are not ready to give up on the idea that the new calendar can be implemented for next school year.

Several ideas will be discussed at the next Education, Workforce and Development Committee hearing, scheduled for April 7.

Sen. Clifford Graham said he will propose a bill that will allow the calendar change to be implemented in phases over a period of several years. This would minimize the up-front cost to the department, he said.

Sen. Terrence Nelson said if the school year starts two weeks early, those two lost vacation weeks can be made up throughout the year - resulting in a zero cost implementation.

Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone said that the Senate must take responsibility for dragging its feet on this issue, but promised the matter would be resolved by the next session, which is scheduled for April 14th and 15th.

The four senators who voted in favor of repealing the new calendar were Sen. Alicia Hansen, Sen. Donald Cole, Sen. Clarence Payne III, and Sen. Tregenza Roach.

Senators voting against the repeal were Sen. Judi Buckley, Sen. Diane Capehart, Sen. Kenneth Gittens, Graham, Sen. Myron Jackson, Malone, Nelson, Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly, Sen. Sammuel Sanes and Sen. Janette Millin Young.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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