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‘No lack of respect’ exists or intended

Published 10:54pm Wednesday, August 21, 2013

By Councilman Mike Duman

I take exception to the Aug. 19 commentary by Chris Dove regarding the joint meeting held by the Suffolk City Council and School Board on Aug. 14.

Unlike Mr. Dove, I was pleased with this meeting. This initial meeting established an atmosphere that should promote future cooperation. I believe those attending were receptive and strived to work collectively towards a common goal. That common goal is to discover means to adequately fund our school system and to do so without placing an escalating burden on our taxpayers.

At least four constructive, cost-saving ideas were discussed that could be implemented with the collaboration of both entities.

The School Board presented its vision and projection of present and future needs. The City Council listened. It is incumbent upon City Council to ask questions concerning any monetary requests, because there is a responsibility to the citizens of Suffolk to reasonably assure those monies are spent prudently.

Simply asking questions does not imply a lack of respect. The intent is to ask questions and make constructive, productive suggestions that may assist in accomplishing our common goal.

I did not sense an attitude that, as Mr. Dove stated, “council members repeatedly volunteered how they would have done things better.”

It is not my desire, nor do I believe that of my fellow members of council, to micromanage the school system. It is not my desire to designate funds or attempt to direct or oversee teachers in their task of educating our youth. They are the academics, professionals and intellectuals knowledgeable in their fields.

Mr. Dove also referred to a comment relating to a $1,500 difference in teacher salaries. It is true that Portsmouth, in some cases, pays its teachers approximately $5,000 to $6,000 more annually than Suffolk; however, their insurance coverage can cost the employee as much as $648 more per month, resulting in a total compensation package below Suffolk.

It should be noted that even though Portsmouth pays the highest salary, they are, according to an Aug. 16 Virginian-Pilot article, “desperately trying to hire nine math teachers.”

This tends to support my theory that money is ALWAYS an issue but seldom the ONLY issue. In the eight-, nine- and 10-year experience categories, where Suffolk is lacking, an annual increase of $1,500 to $1,600 in salary would escalate their position from 11th to seventh in salary ratings for the Hampton Roads area.

I did suggest a means to partially fund pay increases through a revamping of the school system’s self-insured hospitalization plan. This could be accomplished by adjusting deductibles to be closer to, but still less than, other school systems. In addition, a wellness program with incentives could be implemented.

The goal is NOT to charge more to the employees for premiums or co-pays. Health and dental insurance cost $10.3 million in 2009-2010 and is now projected to cost $18.1 million in 2013-2014 ­— a whopping 76-percent increase. Combined with other fringe benefits, this accounts for 24.72 percent of the school system’s budget.

The objective should be to find savings in this area through incentives and efficiencies so they can be re-directed to the classroom, where they are surely needed. We should be committed to finding cost savings, in addition to any augmented funding, to support our teachers and promote the retention of quality personnel.

This type of discourse by Mr. Dove does nothing but fuel the disconnect and contentiousness of prior years. Let’s take a fresh approach to resolving a difficult issue.

This issue is not unique to Suffolk, but a challenge that exists within every school system and locality in America.

Furthermore, I would encourage Mr. Dove to continue to hone his mind-reading skills, for I can unequivocally attest that I do not have any lack of respect for our teachers, administrators, School Board or support staff.

May I suggest the following quote for consideration from Theodore Roosevelt: “It behooves every man to remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that, in the end, progress is accomplished by the man who does things.”

Mike Duman is a member of Suffolk City Council, representing the Chuckatuck Borough. Email him at mike.duman@mikeduman.com.

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