OP-ED PIECE: ‘I’ve Been Banned – But Will NOT Be Silenced!’
By GARY POKORNY
The Virgin Islands is in critical condition! New leaders have been elected. They are searching for ideas and a plan to take the boat off the rocks.
I have been outspoken for the need to balance the General Fund not next year, but now. If they can’t balance the bloated budget by growing the economy 60 percent then it must be done through expenditure cuts.
I have been quick to point out when the new government has fallen into their old ways (like sending the governor, a commissioner and six senators to a trade show in Florida, or throwing an extravagant birthday party with public funds for the University).
As I often do, I participate in the comment section on a variety of VI-based on-line news publications. I frankly share my concerns about what is going on – or not going on to fix the economic problems in the VI.
For example, The Source provided exceptional coverage of Education nominee Racquel Berry-Benjamin in front of the Senate Committee on Education and Workforce Development. The article was published on April 4, 2019.
The nominee shared some very concerning information that is indicative of the situation faced by the people of the VI:
1. A thousand fewer students enrolled this school year – a decline of almost 10 percent!
2. There are 123 professional vacancies they have been unable to fill. They can’t get new teachers to come to the VI, not even from Puerto Rico. Current staff keep leaving for the mainland.
3. 54 teachers are on extended sick leave – she could not state due to HIPPA laws, but the sense is they are bona fide sickness – and likely due to mold in the schools.
4. The department testified that they need $20 million to properly maintain the schools – a U. S. Army Corps of Engineers’ recommendation. The allotment from the General Fund is $300,000. A fraction of what is needed to address the infrastructure maintenance problem.
The V. I. Consortium published coverage of the senate hearing on April 5 and basically glossed over the four real issues listed above. The article basically said, it is deja vu again, “can’t seem to keep teachers”. Nothing to see here – move on, business as usual.
So I graded the article and said it was tardy, incomplete and biased – not addressing the real issues: like what is happening to the children in these classrooms? If teachers are being affected by mold, aren’t the kids? Teachers – and entire families aren’t just leaving because of greener pastures stateside, or GERS. You couldn’t pay most people enough to work in modular units or moldy old buildings – and now with more students per class makes the situation worse for both
the teachers and the kids. We can’t bury the facts: There is very little money to be cut from the General Fund. Half the available budget is for payroll. There is very little money available for capital projects. The boat is on the rocks and few are willing to share the observation that nothing is changing, there are few ideas and no plan. I’m darn upset about it!
So as punishment for raising my concerns, I was banned for 24-hours, not because I advocated a “Fire burn,” or suggested the stoning of someone who threw rocks at a car – but because I pointed out the article “glossed over” the issues and questioned if the publication was possibly biased towards giving the current senate and governor a “free pass” (in a separate email exchange I was assured they are completely unbiased). I endured my brief ban, but now, I have a received a permanent ban notice! If it was a restaurant and I was banned this would be a big deal (refusing service) – but to quietly just ban someone from a community platform – a Consortium can’t go unnoticed. What is the policy on banning a customer? The Press should be free from oppression, don’t you agree?
I am thankful for the publications in the Virgin Islands who continue to raise the unpopular questions and hold the government accountable to the people. And I’ll continue to point out when the Press doesn’t address all the facts. The financial boat is already on the rocks – we need to demand the government change course and address these issues – NOW. You can be sure I will continue to speak out with help of dutiful publishers like John McCarthy.