Governor John deJongh last week took two hours out of his busy schedule to meet with the St. John Commission on Youth to discuss the dire condition of educational and recreational facilities on St. John. The governor shared his impressions of a video and report compiled by the youth commission, and the group grilled deJongh on a timeline for improving facilities for the island’s youth.
The St. John Commission on Youth, formed under a directive by deJongh and the St. John Administrator’s office, consists of five island youth and five adults. The group was directed by the governor to discuss matters relating to youth activities and existing facilities on St. John.
Commission Chairperson Paul Devine was pleased with the two hours deJongh dedicated to the group, and the governor was so impressed with the video made by the commission, he showed it to other governmental leaders, Devine explained.
“The governor looked at the video three times,” said Devine. “He said he loved the video but hated the content. Everybody else he showed it to said the same thing, which prompted him to make sure he got a meeting with our group.”
No Separate St. John Budget
DeJongh also read the commission’s report several times, and came to the meeting prepared to answer the group’s list of questions. One of the questions he could not provide a definitive answer to, however, was how much of the budget is set aside for the V.I. Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation on St. John.
“He did say that St. John is not separated out in the budget as its own line item, but the budget for the St. Thomas-St. John district is $3.9 million,” said Devine. “We tried to impress upon him that we felt the conditions of the facilities on St. John are, in our opinion, in a state of emergency. He agreed with us, but said he couldn’t guarantee anything would be done about it in the next three months.”
The governor did, however, vow begin the process of attempting to obtain funding to repair the island’s recreational facilities, Devine added.
The group also discussed the hot-button issue of a new school for St. John with deJongh, who recently line item vetoed a bill passed in the V.I. Senate restricting the construction of a new school to Cruz Bay. Ronnie Jones attended the meeting on behalf of the One Campus group to hear what the governor had to say regarding the new school.
Commission To Continue Meeting
“DeJongh said he was in favor of one thing — getting rid of the Julius E. Sprauve School from downtown,” said Devine. “He was not opposed to moving the school to Catherineberg, but he said he’s open to any suggestion that would get the school out of Cruz Bay. He told us that’s his top priority.”
The commission was honest and open with deJongh regarding Love City’s problems, and the governor was impressed with the amount of work the commission has completed to date, explained the chairperson.
“I think we just covered the entire gamut and we made an impression on him,” said Devine. “We certainly didn’t hold anything back. We insisted he give us answers.”
Now that the commission has completed the work deJongh asked for, they plan to continue to meet on their own and set their own goals, Devine continued.
“We impressed upon the governor that even though his mandate started the youth commission, we feel that he got his report and his mandate is over,” said the commission chairperson. “We’re going to continue on as a citizens’ group until we complete our mission.”
The commission will also act as a sounding board to gather locals’ concerns and report them to the governor.
Video to Be Shown at Town Hall Meeting
Now that the group has met with deJongh, it plans to focus on its next goal, which is to identify programs and activities that exist for youth on St. John and compile them into a calendar format to be posted online and distributed to local schools.
“We want to do this so the youth of St. John understand what’s available to them,” said Devine. “We feel it could take as much as a year to do this. What we need from the government once we determine what programs and activities are out there is the facilities to conduct them in.”
The list will include everything from athletic activities to counseling programs open to all children’s age groups.
“We want the schools to tell the children that these things are available to them on a regular basis and it’s up to them to take advantage of the programs,” said Devine.
The group also hopes to soon share its video on the state of recreational and educational facilities with the St. John community at a town hall meeting, which has not yet been scheduled. The commission will meet again in early February.