Legislators debate school costs

Legislators from the People’s Progressive Movement and United Democratic Party put forward opposing views on the necessity of spending nearly $60 million for a single school in Finance Committee recently.

The 2008/09 budget includes a $68 million appropriation, which will fund, among other things, the commencement of three new high schools and a new primary school.

Although the costs of the new George Town Primary School and the Beulah Smith High School in West Bay are not yet known, construction contracts were signed recently for the new John Gray High School and the Clifton Hunter High School in Frank Sound for $59.99 million and $56.7 million, respectively.

Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush questioned whether the country needs to be spending that kind of money on new schools at this time.

‘I believe we can get better education even with the schools we have today,’ he said. ‘I can’t agree that we need to spend [$60 million] on one school. I can’t buy that.’

Minister of Education Alden McLaughlin said Mr. Bush had just outlined the difference in philosophies between his People’s Progressive Movement and Mr. Bush’s United Democratic Party.

‘I do not believe it is satisfactory for our children… to be expected to learn and thrive in substandard, overcrowded schools while we spend millions and millions of dollars for facilities for our turtles,’ he said. ‘I’m going to do everything I can to give our students the best facilities we can afford.

‘I do not believe any facilities are too good for our children.’

Mr. Bush responded by bringing up the Prospect Primary School, which was completed by the UDP government in 2004.

‘We build a reasonable building for $10 million or thereabouts,’ he said. ‘Don’t tell me our children aren’t learning there.’

Mr. Bush said the new John Gray High School would cost $50 million more than the Prospect Primary School.

‘For what?’ he asked. ‘I don’t know.’

Speaking about his grandchildren, Mr. Bush said he was glad his children don’t overindulge them. He said they didn’t need things like murals in their bedroom or gold-plated fixtures in their bathroom.

‘They need a good bed,’ he said

‘Children will learn best when they have the best teachers that are paid the best. Yes, new classrooms are needed, but they don’t need [$60 million] worth of them.’

Mr. Bush said the government was building ‘castles for our children’.

Mr. McLaughlin said comparing the new schools that are planned now with the Prospect Primary School was not an ‘apples to apples’ comparison.

He said Prospect Primary was built to accommodate 240 students, while the John Gray High School will be built to accommodate 1,000 students. In addition, he said John Gray will also have ‘first-class sports facilities’ that include a double gymnasium, two football fields and a cricket pitch.

He also pointed out that the construction of the school will incorporate its use as a hurricane shelter.

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