Archived Story

Teacher pay a matter of priorities

Published 8:34pm Tuesday, April 29, 2014

It might be effective politics to assert that Suffolk schoolteachers can get a raise only if the City Council ponies up a couple extra million in school funding.

Politicians get easy mileage out of passing the buck on sensitive issues.

However, the Suffolk School Board would do its teachers a bigger service by prioritizing competitive pay and finding the money to raise their pay, regardless of what the council appropriates.

There’s plenty of room to do so in an operating budget north of $50 million if the school board simply chooses to make classroom instruction its highest priority.

School board member Linda Bouchard has offered her colleagues a number of opportunities to do so — from her common-sense proposal to outsource custodial services to suggesting that the schools call in police officers when they are needed, instead of paying them to be on campus all the time.

And if low teacher pay is the school division’s biggest crisis, then direct every precious dollar available for higher wages to the teachers, instead of diluting the available funds with raises for support staff — another Bouchard suggestion that fell on deaf ears.

When my company buys a newspaper, as we are blessed occasionally to do, we immediately reorganize the staff to put a premium on the people who write the news stories, take the photographs and sell the advertising. Administrative staffing inevitably is reduced as we seek to get clerical and support work done at maximum efficiency.

Reporters and sales reps are the newspaper equivalent of classroom teachers.

A fruitful exercise after buying a newspaper is to look through 90 days of accounts-payable invoices, scrutinize every purchase, determine whether the product or service truly serves our readers, and eliminate any that don’t. Typically, we find enough savings to protect at least one job in the newsroom that would have otherwise been eliminated.

The school board needs to put its $50-million budget under a similar microscope and leave no stone unturned until the money is found to pay its teachers competitively.

A decade ago, the commonwealth of Virginia began something called the School Efficiency Review Program, “to ensure that non-instructional functions are running efficiently so that as much funding as possible goes directly into the classroom.”

Between 2005 and 2012, outside auditors identified $42 million in annual savings for 38 school divisions through “best practices in divisional administration, human resources, finance, purchasing, educational service delivery costs, special education, facilities, transportation, technology, management and food service.”

Unfortunately, the General Assembly made participation by school divisions optional. It should be mandatory.

Suffolk’s crisis in teacher retention illustrates why. The rate at which teachers are fleeing Suffolk for neighboring school divisions — 30 percent after the 2012-13 school year alone — is stunning.

It’s past time to stop the blame game and pay Suffolk’s teachers a competitive wage, regardless of what the City Council does.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is

  • spdrltr

    I agree with deany. Why was the title of Assistant Superintendent with a salary of $117,025 changed to Chief of Operations with a salary of $138,581? How many job responsibilities were actually changed? This is just one example of how many of the administors gave themselves raises. In title, they received promotions with bigger salaries for the same job. Slick, huh?

    Suggest Removal

  • J. Peoples

    Very well written but it will fall on death ears! Consider this, does any one on the school board have a business, finance, or human resource background? Maybe if the board had other career members beside former principals and administrators, it would understand that its teachers are the foundation of the system. What is really sad is how on one hand there is no money, but admin positions have doubled downtown along with doubling and tripling of salaries. SAO is constantly spending, and the school board approves, money on operating and instructional systems that dont benefit the students or teachers. Just look at the fiasco of the buses and start time of some schools, how much money and manpower was wasted and it still is an issue. If Suffolk insists on paying top salaries to SAO administrators at least make sure their competent enough to recommend sound business advice to the supertindent and school board! It is embarrassing as a citizen of Suffolk of how our teachers, police, and fireman are treated and demoralized because if the incompetence and incompassion of its governing board, superintendent, and city council……SHAME ON US !

    Suggest Removal

  • Roger Leonard

    What an astonishing read of the facts by the editor and one that most people in Suffolk, especially our School Board and City Council have turned their backs on. As I have noted many times, the policy issue of teacher pay is and can only be driven by priorities set by these governing bodies. As tax-payers we are reduced to demanding that taxes be fair and that we can in fact pay them, but how they spend them is and has been the province of those we elect.

    If these governing bodies set priorities to support our teachers, where the School Board insures fair and appropriate pay at all levels in the classroom and the City Council provides reasoned support, it can function properly. If there are other costs, a case has to be made for that. Roofs, H-VAC, new construction and other facilities must be provided for instruction, but I am leery of believing that we need to spend as much on administration as we do. Those are the priorities that must be recalibrated.

    This change of priority might be done by segregating funding streams and demand accountability in each cost center. Fund Teachers with local dollars provided by the city council and force a responsive strategy by council to fund good instruction. Let state funds hold sway to cover the administration costs and split the costs of facilities with sound strategies to include local and state/federal funding. That way the administrators don’t literally eat the lunch of our school teachers…

    As a senior administrator, I see that it is time for fundamental change. As a tax-payer, I know there must by reason, be limits with stronger strategies and change for better service and outcomes. What that change may look like cannot be stated in a few lines here, but the system is broken and favors the administrators over the teacher… That is a formula for failure and loss, which we can no longer tolerate. We need to take this issue seriously and act, before all is lost due to our local petty politics…

    Suggest Removal

  • suffolklady

    Excellent article! While I was not comfortable with all of Ms. Bouchard’s ideas, I absolutely agree that there are many ways in which money could be better appropriated. There is a lot of waste in the system and it is time for accountability.

    Suggest Removal

Editor's Picks