Board pushes better pay for teachers

Published 10:06pm Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The School Board made its case for higher teacher salaries and a special compensation plan for mid-career teachers during a joint meeting with the City Council on Wednesday.

Most leaders left the four-hour meeting cautiously optimistic about the collaboration that happened.

“I thought it went very well,” said Superintendent Deran Whitney.

“The public doesn’t like to see the confusion we see on the national and state level,” School Board member Judith Brooks-Buck said.

Even though leaders said the meeting wasn’t meant to be a budget meeting, much of the discussion revolved around compensation and benefits for school employees.

Suffolk Public Schools leaders put forth a $1.39-million plan that would boost compensation for teachers with five to 15 years of experience to make Suffolk more competitive with salaries offered in surrounding districts, particularly Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Isle of Wight County.

Suzanne Rice, director of human resources for the schools, said 30 percent of teachers who left the school division at the end of the last school year did so to teach in another district in the region. About 48 percent of those who left had seven to 15 years of experience and could earn as much as $6,000 a year more in neighboring divisions.

The three-year plan would provide “competitive adjustments” to three or four experience levels at a time. The adjustments — ranging from $800 for Step 15 to $2,800 for Step 9 — would not be in the base salary so as to avoid complications with the Virginia Retirement System changes, schools Finance Director Wendy Forsman said.

But some City Council members were skeptical of the assumption that the teachers who left did so for pay alone.

“You really don’t know how many teachers left strictly because of pay,” Councilman Mike Duman said. He said other factors — from class sizes and treatment from parents and the administration all the way down to the individual teacher’s commute — could have played roles.

Councilman Charles Parr said the school system should compare total compensation, rather than salary alone.

“When you’re dealing with teacher salaries, you’re dealing with small numbers,” Brooks-Buck said. “It’s not a big difference between the package compensation you get and the salary.”

School officials also proposed a full salary study to be conducted in about four years.

During a discussion on health and dental insurance, some City Council members suggested cutting coverage to send saved money to the classroom.

“The key is to shift money where you can to the classroom,” Duman said.

The governing bodies also talked about a possible joint use facility that would incorporate school and city warehouse needs like textbook storage, archived records storage, the print shop, food services offices, the lawn shop and more.

The school district proposed locating the facility in a renovated Mount Zion Elementary School on Pruden Boulevard. City Council members and city officials don’t like the idea.

“The 460 site isn’t the highest and best use,” Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said. “We stand to benefit tremendously on 460 on this corridor.”

He added, however, that the idea of a shared building is good.

“We could be good neighbors in a facility and save the taxpayers money,” he said. “Bottom line, we believe it’s not the best location for it, and we would like to move forward as quickly as possible somewhere else.”

The school system also proposed a five-year timetable for heating, ventilation and air conditioning replacements at 11 school buildings. The buildings would be an average of 24 years old by the time the equipment was replaced, if the timeline goes through as planned. Total cost for all of them — $9 million.

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