Inside his John Yeates Middle School classroom, math teacher Tim Kubinak ponders the future. Will he stay or will he go? The city’s elected officials, with their fingers on the purse strings, hold the answer, he says. (MATTHEW A. WARD/SUFFOLK NEWS-HERALD)
Inside his John Yeates Middle School classroom, math teacher Tim Kubinak ponders the future. Will he stay or will he go? The city’s elected officials, with their fingers on the purse strings, hold the answer, he says. (MATTHEW A. WARD/SUFFOLK NEWS-HERALD)

Teacher demands change

Published 12:31am Sunday, April 27, 2014

Stagnant salaries souring Suffolk teachers

A John Yeates Middle School math teacher’s pay stubs during the past six years tell a story of disappointment that is shared by many educators other frontline public employees in Suffolk.

In June 2009, Tim Kubinak took home $1,076.90 for two weeks’ work. Five years later in 2013, it was only $25 more.

One of Kubinak’s most recent pay stubs shows $1119.12 in take-home pay. But had he not dropped his Suffolk Public Schools’ health insurance and gone on his wife’s plan, his paycheck would have reflected almost $60 less than he was earning in 2009, he said.

“The school district has invested in me,” said Kubinak, the father of two children under 4. “I’ve spent 10 years here, and they have allowed me to grow as an educator. I want to repay that, (but) several of my colleagues here have expressed interest in seeking employment elsewhere, due to the pay situation. I’m included in that.”

Though his staying loyal to Suffolk Public Schools is a priority, Kubinak said, “You have to keep your options on the table when you are trying to feed a family and trying to pay the bills.”

Many of Kubinak’s colleagues with the district have already left for what they see as greener pastures. Comparing 2008 and 2013 teacher pay scales for the five South Hampton Roads cities, it’s not hard to fathom why.

Basic pay for Suffolk teachers with 10 years’ experience has rewound more than 7 percent in that time, compared to just over 3.5 percent in Virginia Beach and a little more than 1.2 percent in Chesapeake.

In Norfolk and Portsmouth, meanwhile, salaries have grown by 1.8 and about 9.2 percent, respectively.

A rookie Portsmouth teacher now earns more than a Suffolk teacher with 10 years in the classroom.

The story is much the same up and down the pay scale.

Amid the present budget battle between the school division and the city, and during those of recent previous years, Suffolk teachers have argued they are no longer receiving step increases.

In fact, they have been progressing a step on the pay scale each year, but the amounts corresponding to those pay-scale steps have been almost consistently wound back, leaving them treading water.

A teacher with a decade of experience would gross $44,873 this year if the scale were unchanged from 2008. Under the current scale he earns just $41,671.

Regression occurs each year a raise is not given, according to Wendy Forsman, the district’s finance director.

The scale’s first three steps have had the same beginning salary — $38,900 — since 2008, she noted in an email, and the scale was tweaked in fiscal 2013 to “provide a small differential” between steps 4, 5 and 6.

“When we go several years without a raise, the Year-6 teacher becomes a Year-7 teacher with the same pay, then a Year-8 with the same pay and so on, until a year that we are able to get a raise,” she said.

“We have only given cost of living raises over the past two years due to the small amount of raise given and the time between increases, this ensures that everyone gets the same amount as the percentage between steps varies,” she added.

Forsman noted that a recent Virginia Education Association study showed that, on average, the state’s teachers are only making 1 percent more than they were five years ago.

Earlier this month, Kubinak attended a public hearing on the city’s proposed budget, which offers 1.5-percent bonuses to school and city employees instead of the 3-percent raises for full-time teachers that the School Board had requested.

He had intended to get up and address the chamber, but instead remained seated, deciding to submit a letter to the editor that drew a strong response when published in the Suffolk News-Herald.

Hoping for a sea of teachers at the hearing, Kubinak was disappointed that so few — five including himself, he said — showed up. He also wasn’t exactly buoyed to see only one School Board member, Chairman Michael Debranski.

“I chose not to speak, because I felt it would have been hopeless,” Kubinak said.

There were more public safety employees at the hearing than teachers, and city records show they face much the same predicament as teachers.

Mid-level pay for both a Police Officer II and Firefighter II, for instance, has remained at $45,903 between 2008 and 2013. For Firefighter/Medic II and Police Sergeant, it’s been frozen at $57,995 and $65,237, respectively.

“I hope that the conversation on fair pay for teachers and public safety (employees) continues until Election Day,” Kubinak said.

“How often do we forget this from May until November? We forget all the time. We need to keep the discussion going. We have a City Council that is not mindful of public education, and I believe that needs to change.”

Responding to the common argument that short-funding the school division causes stagnant pay and teacher flight, city spokeswoman Diana Klink stated council’s appropriation for Suffolk Public Schools has increased from $34.23 million in 2005 to $50.18 million in 2014.

In addition to those appropriations, she added, city support of schools through capital projects — “replacing schools, school renovation projects, hazardous materials management, etc.” — has been $61.8 million during the past decade.

Increasing health care costs have also hit teacher salaries, including the doubling of some co-pays and out-of-pocket maximums. And a requirement for school divisions to cover their workers for increased retirement costs, which Suffolk Public Schools is phasing in at 1 percent annually, has further hindered administrators in their desire to increase salaries.

Plus, school district employees are now required to work for 20 years before qualifying for retirement benefits — twice as long as before — which Forsman says saved $600,000.

For a growing number of teachers, it all adds up to a strong reason to leave. But Kubinak, for now, is withstanding the pressure.

“I want to continue to do what I feel is the most honorable work that I could do,” he said.

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  • J. Peoples

    I agree the school system seems to have made some bad economic choices over the past couple of years. Also, in speaking with several of my teacher friends, it appears that the school system pretends to lay off people or scare the teachers into believing their jobs are in jeopardy, and then turns around and higher more people at higher salaries than the ones which were laid off and places them in SAO. So I agree an i dependent audit needs to be done on both the school system and city council.

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  • stown23437

    Has anyone thought of actually showing up at School Board and requesting an independent audit to see if some of the claims below would be solved by analyzing the school system budget? Have any of you thought that MAYBE every cent you give to the schools via your tax dollars is not as frugally utilized as you would expect? The City Council gave the Schools extra dollars past the requested budget the past 3 years and yet NOT ONE TEACHER has seen a raise.

    Everyone must think the school budget is perfect. Inquisitive minds want to know otherwise, including me.

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  • hambone

    Suffolk has become Detroit Corrupt politics Screw over employees.

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  • gs

    how many late model cars/suvs are parked in the school board parking lot? The may indicate overpaid administrators, which is part of the problem

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    • whitemarshtaxpayer

      How many late model cars/ suvs show up at the turkey giveaways for thanksgiving . ??? I dont see your point

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      • gs

        You are another low information voter

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      • J. Peoples

        the point is whitemarsh, the people in the Sao office are living high off the hog and are overcompensated, while the teachers and other support staff are barely getting by and doing all the work

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  • ladybug9327

    Congrats Mr. Kubinak for making a statement. I understand his hesitation about speaking at the last City Council meeting, it would not have done any good; the CC blames SB and vice-versa and the City Manager gets her raise in close door sessions. City spokeswoman Diana Klink speaks out both sides of her mouth – but she isn’t telling the truth: we were given a raise two or three years ago – to cover the shortfall of Suffolk into the retirement program. IF another “raise” goes through this year – well then, we are still in the same situation since we need to increase the retirement contribution again by 1%, so a 1.5% raise amounts to nothing at all. DEANY, I have chosen to remain loyal to my SCHOOL, my STUDENTS and my BUILDING Administrators, who try to be as compassionate as they can. It is the downtown administrators and school board with their “realigning positions” and ridiculous scheduling “solutions” that compound an already alarming problem. Jgurwell, we have been making noise about this situation for years – and no one has done anything. Yes, schools are losing their accreditation because teachers are being pulled in too many directions – all with the “latest and greatest teaching methods” that SAO can find online. How many new lesson plan formats have we had in the last two years? How many times are we pulled for SOL tutoring? We were told this year – “test less-teach more” and the next week we were told to administer “this great new testing program” that somebody found online and paid who knows how much for it.

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    • VAeducator

      yes, city council might not be approving the school board’s budget, but they have said many times that the school board isn’t spending the money in the right way. The school board need to be held accountable for where all the money they receive is going. If we can cut wasteful spending, then maybe we can find the funds to pay our teachers.

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    • J. Peoples

      Ladybug9327, is it really loyalty or complacency and comfort……..because there are students all over hampton roads who could benefit from your loyalty and experience and in the process you might be reasonably compensated for your efforts! Whatever works for you……Martyr……hope your family appreciates your loyalty while your treading backwards in your pay!

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      • ladybug9327

        Certainly NOT a martyr, and maybe you could call it comfort, because there are students who have benefited from my teaching experience up and down the East Coast. Sometimes you need to balance the idea of starting over with what you are capable of doing. What happens to my retirement if I walk away now? I’m all for starting over, but do I sacrifice now or do I sacrifice my future? What about the students that benefit now?

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  • machakm

    Let the city manager teach after all the teachers quit and go elesewhere. Maybe Debbie George can take on the extra duty as hall monitor. They always find money to pay for the buffonery in city hall/council but not for the people lke teachers, police and fire protection.

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  • VAeducator

    Here is another good link…

    http://www.doe.virginia.gov/teaching/workforce_data/salaries/2012-2013_salary_report.pdf

    Details salaries for all Virginia school systems…check out all the red…

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  • VAeducator

    All the city council is doing is pushing the good teachers/police officers/firefighters out…keep the hardworking and dedicated here! Email council@suffolkva.us and tell them what you think! write editorials! If we are quiet about the issue, nothing will ever be done! Let them know you care about the quality of your children’s education and your safety!

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  • isthisaseriousconversation
    • Magnolia

      Well how about that! Thank you Pilot Online for saving the City of Suffolk thousands of dollars on a comparison report.

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  • hambone

    I will be voting my council man out in November. Gardy is a yes man and has done nothing for city employees or teachers. I live in his district and will do everything to vote him out . He’s a yes man for the mayor .

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    • suffolkian1965

      What happens if he runs unopposed?

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      • jgurwell

        Suffolkian1965 – if he runs unopposed that means no
        one in his district has the backbone to step up and service their fellow citizens. A fairly sad comment when Suffolk has so many people that were born and raised in Suffolk.

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      • Jefferson

        I heard a group of people are encouraging Tim Johnson to run against Gardy.

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    • jgurwell

      hambone – what exactly do the voters in Suffolk believe? Gardy shares an office with Jesse Johnson (mayor Johnson’s husband)! Do the voters REALLY believe that office partners that rely on each other in business. What ARE you all drinking?ss are NOT going to partner up against the Suffolk citizens?

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  • TheGuyNextDorr

    The city had no problem voting for ~20%+ increases for city officials though. Their justification is simply “well other cities make that much”. Moronic ideology at it’s finest while our children suffer.

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    • jgurwell

      TheGuyNextDorr – 21% exactly – I couldn’t agree more. Didn’t the Suffolk tea party speak out at city council, write letters to the paper & generally try to alert the Suffolk voters? I didn’t see many voters behaving like the 21% was a problem.

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    • landoswim

      The City Manager’s salary was justified as a means for making her position competitive with surrounding cities, if I am correct. The problem with that notion is this: Are her responsibilities also commensurate? If we are paying her at the same rate as the CM for Portsmouth, or Virginia Beach, or Norfolk, or Chesapeake, is she earning that pay with a similar workload? I might be remiss, but I find it difficult to believe that the City Manager of Suffolk – with the population and amount of businesses and functions therein – should command a comparable salary to a CM for Virginia Beach with its numerous tourist attractions and businesses, Norfolk with its ports and military affiliations, Portsmouth with its ports and numerous businesses, etc. In short, does she really do the same amount of work to earn what she takes home? Is it a true apples to apples comparison?
      On the flipside of that notion, why are we not trying to make our educators’ salaries comparable? Do our educators not teach the same standards? Do they not have the same (or more – with the numerous and redundant mandatory reports that must be submitted on such a frequent basis) on their plates administratively? Do they not have comparable class sizes? I have heard that Steering Committee Reps, grade team leaders, and others with added responsibilities are compensated for them. Not in Suffolk.
      If the city council is so intrigued by the idea of making Suffolk attractive for only the best candidates for higher level city administrators, why then does it drive teachers away in the same regard?

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      • J. Peoples

        Well said landoswim, why don’t you put your name in the hat for city council in November.

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      • landoswim

        Thank you for your endorsement, deany. Unfortunately(?), I am a Chesapeake resident. My dog in the fight is my employment status.

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  • 4rugrats4me

    I believe it is time for Suffolk to start voting for better city counsel and school board members! It is sickening that our city counsel are lining their pockets,but when it comes to our teachers that teach our children, they are getting the short end of the stick. Will their teachers say “oh well, I don’t get paid enough for this” and not fully teach our kids? Will our children start reflecting this too? Wake up Suffolk and do something about this. We need to try and be a voice (when voting school board and city counsel) for our teachers. They are worth it!

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    • jgurwell

      4rugrats4me – you are correct- someone ought to check and see how much raises the school board received during the same period. How much did it cost the citizens for the school board’s health care, trips, salary, Christmas and other parties? WHY??? How do the Suffolk voters continue to justify their disinterest in these important matters?

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    • truly

      This is already happening. The teachers are becoming mediocre at best because there are so many other tasks put on their plate by the people who are making the big bucks. Those that are not on the front line teaching our kids don’t need to be making the decisions. This whole situation sickens me.

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  • melburnor

    Teachers want to continue doing what we love, but as stated above–there comes a point where you have to look at what is best for your family. Insurance has been a paycheck killer for teachers, as well as the frozen steps. The city always states they ARE funding the schools, but I can assure you–the repairs discussed they have funded? Not seeing that. HVAC units on their last legs, suspected mold in the building at JY forever, tech repairs and purchases stalled for lack of money. I get that the economy is tough; I AM grateful I have a job-but why should I not expect that we can find the funding to pay teachers what we deserve? Why doesn’t the news media dig deeper into how the council justifies salary increases of city employees constantly, when their job performance is comparable to my great evals yearly? The governor of Virginia makes $175,000 yearly. Our CM’s BASE salary is $180,000. What she does in a town of about 85,000 is more important than the governor?? Numbers don’t add up.

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    • jgurwell

      melburno – Why has it taken you – a teacher- NOW – to begin to bring this to the attention of the voters in Suffolk? Why does it take YOUR personal paycheck to get your attention? The GPA and grades of the Suffolk public school children are next to the worst in the entire area, and have been for years. The schools are not even accredited usually for more than 1 year without a warning! It is clear that the ONLY concern the Suffolk school teachers have IS their pay checks because their lack of concern about the quality of their performance shows in the LACK of education of the Suffolk students.

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      • J. Peoples

        Jgurwell, that is and extremely unfair comment for you to make. Just as you blame the teachers, you as a parent has to take some responsibility for your childs education. Why shouldnt they expect to be compensated for their education and experience. do you realize how much money they spend on continuing education, classroom supplies, and other tgibgs to helo their students? Instead of being snarkly with teachers , who also have children in Suffolk Public Schools, why dont you spend a week in your childs school and maybe your tune will change when you see what the teachers have to go through on a daily basis trying to educate your little darlings! I keep asking my teacher friends what’ the point of working in a district that cares nothing about them or the student!

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      • colleeng72

        Not a fair comment. Close to 30 kids in a classroom with little support, parents that are not cooperative, and shoestring budgets. The school system is demanding more and more from the teachers with test after test and assessment after assessment and insane policies one after another. The teachers hands are tied when it comes to any creativity to teaching. Suffolk has its priorities all out of sorts. Seriously….the school department has yet again changed the bus schedules to “save money”. I am not knocking bus drivers at all (we love ours!) but I am sure they are not becoming millionaires rushing around town making multiple school runs. Now next year with the new school start times, I heard teachers are going to be basically “babysitting” kids almost an hour before school starts. Give me a break. City of Suffolk, you need to come back to reality and deal with the mess you created.

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      • truly

        The concern we have IS for our students. Pay is a necessity of life. I bust my rear every single day tutoring, teaching, re-teaching and staying well past my contracted time to help these students. If you were well versed in our public schools you would know that the students have little to no guidance, other than the 90 minutes every other day I see them. The parents are absent, or non-existent, and the students don’t have the drive or work ethic they once did thanks to technology advancements and instant gratification. In addition to that, there is so much focus put on testing that it is hard to actually get quality instructional time in. We are forced to concentrate on specific SOLs instead of general education. We are forced to give tests multiple times of years that take up time in the classroom. We are forced to keep data on these tests that take time away from grading and giving proper feedback to students. Students are often ill prepared for class, so we have to buy our own school supplies and dole them out to the students (paper, pencils, erasers, pens, and anything else they might need). Not to mention, I have to buy my own CHALK and erasers for the chalkboards in the classroom. I have basically taken these children to raise in the short time I have them, then crucified when THEY don’t perform because the accountability is put on the teacher. I would love for you to experience what I experience on a daily basis (disrespect, apathy, wearing multiple hats, being a counselor, a mentor, a teacher, a punching bag if they are having a bad day, the humor in their day, the data taker, the problem solver and the friend). Tell me I’m not concerned with the students welfare and well being. I would love for you to tell me I am a bad teacher because that’s just what you take from accreditation being on warning. Teachers break their neck for these students. It’s time for the city to break their neck for us. We are teaching the future, and it is starting to look bleak.
        Also, this isn’t just coming up now. It comes up EVERY YEAR. We have struggled through it, but enough is enough. Lets put the accountability where it belongs… City Council and Parents that are not involved enough. I am not asking for a million dollars, but a cost of living increase would be more than enough. I work hard and I have EARNED at least that.

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      • melburnor

        You are so far off base. First, my building has been accredited every single year. I spend summers, nights, and weekends making sure I plan engaging lessons that will teach students how to think, and analyze, not memorize and spit content back verbatim.Teachers stay because we care about the lives we reach through our line of work. That being said– you take a $3,000 pay CUT and tell me that doesn’t affect your family? Please attach the study or article you’ve used to determine our students are next to the worst in the entire area. What “area” are you referring? Hampton Roads? The IB program and Project Lead the Way alone produce some the highest functioning students in the area, including GPA and grades.

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  • Suffolk Candid

    It appears that Suffolk, like many other cities and counties in Virginia are just not valuing teachers. In this instance, for five years the pay has been stagnated or declining. Since Suffolk is just not taking action to remedy the situation, but best option is to VOTE WITH YOUR FEET and leave. Don’t feel you have an obligation to stay in Suffolk since they probably won’t act if no one shows outrage in teacher / parent numbers.

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    • J. Peoples

      Why should teachers remain loyal to a system and city that has no loyality to them. How can Suffolk pride itself on being the best kept small secret, the best places to live, etc. What exactly does it have to offer? Now you know when Portsmouth, a city Suffolk turns it’s nose down to, pays its teacher and public servants more…and way more than Suffolk what are you proud of Suffolk. If a teacher with 10 years experience went to Portsmouth they could make almost $8000-10000 more. The problem is, the teachers in Suffolk have to come out of their comfort zone and venture into what they think are the “not so nice districts”, learn to travel more than 5 miles to work, and learn to deal with children other than those in Suffolk, then they could make a stand and leave. Unfortunately, the council knows and its betting on their fear factors and know most of them aren’t going anywhere and love their neighborhood schools since alot have been at the same school for years. Also, it is rather funny the SNH, Virginia Pilot, or any of the news stations don’t do a public records request to find out exactly who is lying, the superintendent or city manager. Hats off to the John Yeates teacher, but you can’t eat loyality or pay bills with it!

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      • blueberry

        I agree, every teacher in the district should boycott next year to show the City exactly how unappreciated they are.

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    • jgurwell

      Suffolk Candid – GREAT idea. I hope all of the teachers leave as quickly as possible. Those that remain should be thoroughly examined to determine if they stayed due to love of the job or no one else would hire them. Get rid of the hangers on (Suffolk has too many non functioning teacher hanger on’s)and hire some folks that LOVE to teach for FREE. If you can perform for free we many decide to keep you.

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