Understanding Our Board and Commissioner of Education

From the inception of our work in public education, we have had many questions over the years when it comes to our schools like: Who’s really in charge? Who is responsible for making sure our schools are ready for teachers and students at the start of each school year? Are our schools really adequately funded? How and why are principals selected or transferred?

The St. Croix Foundation has deduced that our educational system can at times be extremely confusing as the maze of policies and governing bodies have often confounded us and been difficult to navigate. As stakeholders outside the system, we have also been surprised to note that the system has appeared to be confusing even for some inside the system. That’s why over a year ago St. Croix Foundation convened a steering committee comprising committed and engaged community stakeholders from each District to begin seriously researching ‘the system’ in order to better understand the policies that govern it.

One of the most interesting findings we have uncovered is that our local Board of Education functions very differently than boards in most states. Affirming this observation, a 2002 study by the University of the Virgin Islands concluded that the Virgin Islands Board of Education is more of an advisory board whereas many boards in the states, in addition to setting and evaluating policy, have the power and authority to actually hire and fire superintendents and select commissioners.

Surprisingly however, in the Bylaws that govern our Board of Education, the Board is defined as an independent agency that is “responsible for the general policy and direction of education in the Virgin Islands.” According to Title 17 of the V.I. Code, the Board is also responsible for promulgating rules and regulations for the certification of all elementary, secondary, and postsecondary educational institutions; doing anything necessary for the proper establishment, maintenance, management, and operation of the public schools of the Virgin Islands; cooperating with the Office of Education in the administration of all acts of congress relating to general education; providing for the proper administration of funds which may be appropriated by Congress; approving or disapproving the rules and regulations proposed by the Commissioner of Education.

By statute, our Board has a lot of responsibility which can be summed up this way: the Virgin Islands Board of Education is the leading entity for the governance and financial management of the Virgin Islands’ education system. The question remains, do they really exercise all their power, and if not, what are the impediments? Additionally, do they have the resources to do so? The University’s 2002 study reported that due to power struggles, communication issues, policy disconnects, and confusion about the Board’s role, the Board was unable to exercise their full power. So, how can we improve our system with that level of systemic dysfunction? And, do we need to change the structure and role of our Board, or are there policies in place that should be examined and modified to empower and elevate its role?

What we have found, however, is that among some of the highest performing states there are completely different organizational structures for each state’s educational system. In some, the board is elected while in other states the board is appointed by the governor. And some states don’t even have a ‘board of education’ at all. According to the National Association on State School Boards, 23 states choose to have their board of education hire their commissioner. But in some cases, states elect their commissioner and in others the choice of a commissioner is a gubernatorial appointment. The common thread among high achieving states, based on our research, is a high level of collaboration among all the key stakeholders and policymakers.

But, whether appointed, elected (like our Board of Education), or hired and whether a commissioner or a state superintendent, we believe that it is vital that we analyze how we select our education leaders and the policies that govern their roles and responsibilities.

As we move into the height of this election season, we want to challenge policymakers and all community stakeholders to consider these questions: Should our Governor continue to appoint our Commissioner of Education? Should our Commissioner be elected by the voters or hired by the Board of Education? And, who should the Commissioner of Education be responsible to, the Governor/political party in power, the Board of Education, or the people whom he/she serves?

This election season, let’s ask our political candidates how committed they are to reforming our education system to ensure we put our children first.

For more information on the Foundation’s Education First series, please call 773.9898.

Suggested Readings & Sources

Report on the Administrative Efficiency of the V.I. Department of Education. (May 5, 2002). University of the Virgin Islands. St. Croix Source https://stcroixsource.com/content/community/data/2002/05/25/uvi-study-education-department-efficiency-0

National Association of State School Boards

• State Education Governance Models (2014): https://www.nasbe.org/wp-content/uploads/Governance-Models-Chart-July-2014.pdf

Virgin Islands Board of Education

•  https://www.myviboe.com/pdf/board_of_education_bylaws.pdf