The Progressives government entered office in 2013 facing tremendous challenges in the public schools system, including stubbornly low test scores, disciplinary issues and inconsistent conditions at various physical plants.
Nearly four years later, the Progressives are set to unveil a modest achievement in the field of education: A new gymnasium at the John Gray campus.
Pardon us if our enthusiasm seems somewhat subdued. We certainly are not opposed to sports or even new gymnasia, but first things first. Our priority is, and will always be, excellence in our classrooms. Everything else is second.
We are especially chagrined about government’s lack of transparency regarding the cost of the new facility.
Senior project manager Jonathan Matthews said the cost is “confidential.” Ministry of Education Chief Officer Christen Suckoo said, “Let’s not belabor this, OK?”
No, not OK. This is the public’s money, and it is being spent at the same time teachers and parents are complaining of shortages of books and even basic supplies in some schools.
Considering that the new gym is being constructed amidst a half-finished school project “ghost town” that has cost taxpayers, as of March 2012, more than $54 million, the price tag of the new building is exceedingly relevant.
Officials contend that revealing the budget or the cost would harm negotiations with contractor McAlpine.
Frankly, we doubt it. Would any private contractor be so foolish to construct a project, especially for Cayman’s government, without first agreeing to terms of compensation in written, well-lawyered form?
For context, it’s worth noting that the government allocated $7.9 million for new John Gray campus construction for the current budget year.
While students may enjoy using the new gym for sports such as basketball and volleyball, the new gym may do duplicate duty as a shelter during hurricanes – the inescapable truth is that (outside of gym class) this facility does not help John Gray fulfill its core function as a school: to educate.
Think of it this way: In the government’s budget, every dollar is a decision. If you had $7.9 million for education, would you choose to spend it on a gym? On school supplies? Or on teachers?
The John Gray campus, when completed, is likely to cost close to $100 million. This follows the $110 million-plus expenditure on the Clifton Hunter High School Campus in Frank Sound. This might be a good time to recall the educational truism that “financial input does not equal cognitive output.” In fact, often times there is an inverse relationship between dollars spent and academic achievement.
Supposedly, the gym will be completed and ready for use in May. As the government points out, that’s in time for end-of-year examinations.
The new gym will also be ready in time for the “Cayman Islands Classic” college basketball tournament – an initiative the Progressives government has been pushing for years, and whose start date of November 2017 was announced back in October 2015.
Perhaps coincidentally – but perhaps not – the new gym will be ready in time for Elections Day, May 24.
We fear that the motivations underlying the construction, and the timing, of the new gym (rather than the classrooms) are precisely what we suspect them to be – that is, political, rather than educational.