Education, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Sharie de Castro, pictured at the opening of new facilities at Elmore Stoutt High School earlier this year, said on Feb. 10 that her ministry is working to address rising concerns from teachers about overdue increments and starting salaries that fall far short of those in other jurisdictions including the United States Virgin Islands. (File photo: DANA KAMPA)

Amid upset concerning outstanding increments due to teachers, Education, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Sharie de Castro met with the BVI Teachers Union last month and promised progress, according to an update she delivered in the House of Assembly on Feb. 10.

Ms. de Castro said the union wrote to her on Feb. 3 concerning the payment of increments, prompting her to meet with representatives that week.

She said the meeting was “very productive in achieving the expected outcome, and I have committed firmly to representing the views of teachers in relation to both the payment of outstanding increments as well as prioritisation of teachers in the compensation review process that is currently ongoing.”

She did not specify how far back the increments are overdue or say when they might be paid.

Longstanding problem

Compensation for public officers has been a longstanding problem, however, with teachers holding a “sickout” in November 2021 prompted by overdue stipends and backpay, crumbling infrastructure, and resource shortfalls.

Ministry leaders met with the government’s compensation review consultants last week to highlight the urgency of considering teachers’ salaries, Mr. de Castro said on Feb. 10.

“Due consideration must be given to the cries of teachers and the value of education to the economy of the Virgin Islands,” she said. “Education is arguably the most important profession in our society.”

She added, “We are losing our teachers to other countries and industries due to several issues: the low rate of pay, the increased cost of living, compensation offered in other countries, insufficient and outdated resources, and a challenging work environment, just to name a few.”

USVI comparison

In the VI, she said, grade four teachers start at an annual salary of about $34,600.

In the United States VI, by contrast, USVI Governor Albert Bryan recently announced that the entry-level teacher salary will be raised to $50,000 in August. And in Texas, the starting salary is $61,500, Ms. de Castro said.

“I implore us all to think carefully about the potential ramifications and impact of such a decision on our education system and, more specifically, our current teacher complement,” she said. “Consideration for varying approaches to facilitate teacher retention is absolutely critical at this time.”

Financial restrictions and other challenges, she said, have led some VI teachers to leave in recent months.

“The ministry has already received an alarming number of resignations since the start of this school year,” she said. “If teachers continue to leave the profession, the immediate and long-term impacts would be gravely felt throughout the territory.”