By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THERE is “more than enough blame to go around” for the issues at the Black Point All-Age School, Bahamas Union of Teachers president Belinda Wilson has asserted.
She was addressing a recent social media post which detailed the government’s continued failure to fix major issues at the school, and a subsequent statement from Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper. Photos circulating on social media showed dilapidated faculty and student restrooms, overgrown grass and a library that appeared also to be used as a messy storage room.
In a statement on Saturday, Mr Cooper said it was an outrage that the Black Point All-Age School remains in a state of disrepair five months after the start of the 2018-2019 academic year.
He pinned blame for the issue on the Minnis administration’s decision to give oversight of school repairs to a new contractor who, despite giving assurances for more than four months, has not completed the work as contracted.
“I am trying to determine exactly why this has happened,” Mr Cooper said. “Also, as I did last year, I have brought the deplorable state of the school to the attention of the minister, who has promised that the repairs will take place. It is a frustrating state of affairs and in no way acceptable.”
When made aware of Mr Cooper’s claims, Mrs Wilson said it was ridiculous that a politician would attempt to misrepresent the failures of his own party.
“I am not interested in any comments that the PLP has made in reference to the Black Point All-Age School because the conditions were the same when the PLP was the government,” she pointed out.
Mrs Wilson said officials on both sides of the political divide have refused to discuss the matter.
“If there is blame to be placed, I’ll like to place blame squarely on the former minister, permanent secretary and director; and then also to place equal blame on the present minister, permanent secretary and acting director,” she told The Tribune.
She said as recently as September 27, 2018, she personally took reports of the issues now being highlighted, namely building complaints and staff shortages, to senior officials at both the Ministry and Department of Education.
Referring specifically to the physical condition of the school, Mrs Wilson said restrooms at the facility and a nearby residence used to accommodate teachers, now sit in a state of disrepair.
Mrs Wilson claimed: “I, along with the area vice-president (Ann Strachan), we visited Black Point All-Age and I would have brought to the attention of the persons responsible for the repairs and maintenance our concerns.
“I took photos and Ms Strachan, she took a letter and photos to the Acting Director Marcellus Taylor and he did nothing.”
Mrs Wilson added: “The former principal, (Esmae Cox), and I have a paper trail of documents and photos that she would have forwarded, not only to the former director of education, but to the permanent secretary and the former minister; all of them were quite aware of the unhealthy environment at Black Point All-Age School.
“Mrs Cox, she continued writing to the new government. So the acting director, the deputy director and the person in charge of physical plans, who themselves were at the school last year, all of them are quite aware. So to make this point clear, both had opportunities to fix this and none did. So let’s not make this a political matter to pass from one side to the next.”
She added that union officials have also raised concerns with the Ministry of Education related to the “disrespect and incompetence” of District Superintendent Pamela Gorte, whom the union claimed was only interested in the “fluff” of management, and not bringing about “the strong, competent and consistent leadership” needed in the district.
“So, when we look at the conditions at the school, the physical environment, all of them must take the blame, it lies with all of them,” Mrs Wilson said.
She went on to demand the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Works immediately carry out all needed repairs and maintenance at the Black Point All-Age School.
“We are not accepting any excuses,” she said, “everyday the Ministry of Education is sending new instructions and directives to teachers as to what new duties they must perform, these teachers are being evaluated regularly, my question is, who is evaluating these incompetent and inept leaders?”
Mrs Wilson further implored Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to place both the Ministry and Department of Education under a “microscopic view,” claiming that unskilled and misplaced personnel are presently stalling major advancements in the sector.
“There needs to be an entire restructuring at the Ministry and Department of Education, from top to bottom to ensure that our students have the best chance or opportunity to get a 21st century education so they could be productive citizens,” she said.
Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd, who is in London on official business, did not comment when contacted.