When it comes to debates, North Side MLA Ezzard Miller often sits at the opposite end of the table from the Cayman Compass Editorial Board. But when Mr. Miller questions the Cayman Islands government’s avowed commitment to education, as he did last week, we find ourselves right at his side, nodding our heads in agreement.
At a Wednesday-evening meeting at Savannah Primary School, Mr. Miller rightly pointed out that – public pronouncements aside – the true measure of a government’s priorities is its actual allocation of resources. He said, “The numbers and what they’re proposing to do … does not bear out that education is No. 1.”
When you are crafting a budget, every dollar is a decision. As former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden once said, “Don’t tell me what you value; show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
For all the lip service the Legislative Assembly pays to its sacred responsibility for educating future generations of Caymanian leaders, lawmakers have consistently demonstrated little to carry through on their political promises.
On a recent tour of Cayman’s public schools, opposition leaders say they found scarce resources for students with special needs, overcrowding at Clifton Hunter High School, inadequate facilities across Grand Cayman and growing primary school populations in the Bodden Town district. Mr. Miller thinks government will need to construct two new primary schools within the next three years just to keep up with enrollment.
Which brings us to the government’s “old” new school project, the half-finished construction of the John Gray High School campus. If all goes according to the government’s recent announcement, by the time work on the high school is restarted and completed – the year 2021 – it will have been 14 years since construction on the school first began. That’s time enough for a student to have progressed from Reception to secondary school Graduation Day.
Don’t be mistaken: We welcome the government’s recent announcement that it is reviving the John Gray project. However, the announcement itself comprises a labyrinthine list of checklists, requirements and benchmarks that the government supposedly must navigate before the construction project finally gets under way.
We understand the need for due diligence and accountability, but we don’t understand how the government was able to fast-track the new $8.8 million John Gray gymnasium (in time for the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament) – or more precisely why the government can’t take their successful gym strategy and apply it to the construction of educational facilities.
Even as the interior of the completed gymnasium resounds with the echoes of sneakers squeaking and coaches’ whistles, the rest of the John Gray project remains a silent sarcophagus of partially completed buildings and scrub vegetation. According to the government’s timeline, the project will be in stasis for two more years while officials conduct a “multi-stage assessment process” – including hiring consultants, gathering “stakeholder input” and completing the obligatory “business case.”
In and of itself, a superior school building does not equate to a superior school, but obviously inadequate physical learning environments (such as the current John Gray and other campuses) make it more difficult for teachers to engage with students in a learning-conducive environment.
Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly has said completing the John Gray project is a priority. We trust that she, Education Councillor Barbara Conolly and Education Council Chairman Dan Scott will work to keep the John Gray project moving forward until it is finally removed from the “to do list” and added to the government’s list of accomplishments.