Education Minister Dr Natalio Wheatley gave that assurance last evening while further challenging legislators to support his mission to get an extra couple million dollars in funding to overhaul the education sector.
In a statement on the sickout that took place at four primary schools between last Wednesday and Friday, Dr Natalio Wheatley said he recognised the situation is an emergency and the government needed to allocate resources to fix it.
He said it seems money can be found for emergencies in other areas but not for the education sector. However, he is determined to remedy the issues teachers face.
“Standing with teachers is not enough, we must put our money where our mouth is. We must back up our talk with actions. I challenge all elected members in the House of Assembly to support the allocation of $2 million in the upcoming budget for our schools. Let’s make sure that every single school has the money required to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for our children,” Wheatley said.
The Education Minister said he engaged more than 100 teachers on Thursday regarding their list of demands and he has taken steps to have those demands rectified in short order.
“The first request was the payment of a $300 stipend … In agreement with this symbolic and practical payment from the Teachers Union, we’ve budgeted the funds in the adjustment budget passed in September and the ministry processed the vouchers. Seventy-five per cent of checks were printed this past week and are ready for distribution. The rest will follow closely after,” Wheatley said.
The minister also said the payment of outstanding 2017 salary increments to teachers was passed in the recent adjustment budget and are currently being processed. And for the first time in 19 years — as per their demand — the BVI Teachers Union have been fully involved in the salary review process.
Dr Wheatley further said the Education Ministry does not plan to start another school year with classes still happening at the Elmore High School’s (ESHS) senior campus at Pasea Estate. He said there is a major concern about the quality of structure for teachers and students.
“Money was allocated in the recently passed adjustment budget and the money has been transferred to the Recovery & Development Agency which is overseeing the project [to repair/rebuild structures at ESHS’s main campus in Lower Estate]. Geotechnical investigations, demolition of the existing site and designs will all be completed in November and should begin in January if all goes well,” Wheatley said.
The Education Minister said the most challenging request by the teachers’ union is the maintenance of school facilities. He noted the school infrastructures are very old and have been poorly maintained over several years. Wheatley said Hurricane Irma further worsened the conditions of the schools in 2017. However, he mentioned the government has spent close to one million dollars on school maintenance and mould remediation. He acknowledged works are still required despite the government’s best efforts and he will be advocating for budgetary allocations to address the issues.
Finally, Dr Wheatley used his statement last evening to address what he described as fake news circulating about the docking of teachers’ pay for the silent protest.
“I have instructed my Permanent Secretary to provide a full report of the events of last week to the teaching service commission. I specifically ask that ministry recommend that no teacher is penalised for the actions relating to the sickout,” he said.