School superintendent answers budget queries

Published 10:13pm Saturday, May 3, 2014

Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Deran Whitney has circulated a memorandum to School Board members to “clarify some misconceptions” regarding the district’s budget.

Whitney handed out the three-page document, along with two other budget-related documents, during a School Board meeting Thursday.

Tensions have been building and commentary flying since the city manager’s proposed budget turned down the School Board’s request for an extra $3.5 million to provide 3-percent raises for full-time teachers and 2 percent for other employees.

The city’s proposed budget instead proposes about $1.5 million to fund a 1.5-percent bonus for all school division staff. City employees would also receive the bonus.

Councilman Mike Duman and others have argued the school system could save enough money to fund teacher raises by reducing health benefits and cutting its budget in other ways.

Whitney pointed out that the 2014-2015 budget actually has a decrease in the division’s health insurance costs, despite a nationwide trend of increasing costs.

The division’s health costs have fallen, Whitney stated, due to hiring of part-time employees that don’t receive health insurance instead of full-time workers that do, for positions such as bus drivers and custodians.

Costs also have been passed on to employees, he stated, with doubled co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses, added deductibles, 29-percent premium increases for family and spousal coverage and a 200-percent increase for the employee-only premium.

Other points included in Whitney’s presentation include the following:

  • Next year’s allocation for part-time/overtime wages is $2.3 million, a line item that includes summer programs, remediation, homebound instruction and other necessities.
  • Suffolk Public Schools have reduced 276 positions since fiscal year 2010, including 122 teachers, 79 teacher assistants, 18 professional positions, 10 clerical positions and 57 trade/non-professional positions.
  • The district’s funding has been reduced $6.5 million since fiscal year 2009, while costs have continued to rise.
  • Rates for retirement, group life and Virginia Retirement System health care are set by the state.
  • Unfunded mandates and added reporting from state and federal governments have almost doubled since 2009.
  • Non-personnel operating costs are estimated at almost $20.6 million for fiscal 2015. These items “are all essential to maintain a conducive learning environment,” according to Whitney.
  • Other budgeted expenses include $2.9 million for services, including general education, special education, career and technical education test scoring and various other costs.
  • Materials and supplies is $2.6 million, and Share Joint Operations (such as Suffolk’s share for the The Pruden Center) is $5.4 million.

Whitney invited School Board members, who did not discuss the memorandum during the meeting, to contact him with any questions.

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  • Lucia01

    Recently, a friend told me that her son had to take the MAP test twice for math within the same week. He is senior and enrolled in 2 advanced math classes, Statistics and AP Calculus, I think. My frend said that the test was a joke. It was a test of basic skills, starting at the 6th grade level.

    The teachers told him that it didn’t count for anything, but he decided to try harder for the teacher that he liked. For the other teacher, he put forth only a half-hearted effort. Ironically, he scored higher on the test that he did try hard on. He couldn’t understand how that happened. And he didn’t understand why they had wasted 3 class days this year when the teacher was always complaining about not having enough time to prepare for the AP test.

    He also had to take the test (grade 6 again) for reading in his AP English class. At the same time, the testing had tied up all of the school’s computers for weeks. His English class couldn’t get access to do on-line research.

    It would be interesting to find out who approved this apparent waste of time. Also, how much money has been wasted?

    Suggest Removal

  • spdrltr
  • J. Peoples

    shouldn’t teachers and education in general be a priorityy? Apparently not in SPS!

    Suggest Removal

  • blueberry

    Didn’t know about the retreat, that is too much. My son is in 2nd grade and has yet to bring home a book and when asked about them the teachers just tell us they don’t have text books.

    Suggest Removal

    • TB_suffolklady

      They throw hundreds of thousands of dollars of books away yearly. They say it’s not cost affective to keep older books or to give them away to those that might need them. There was a grand old trash party for all the high school english books this year.

      Suggest Removal

      • suffolklady

        It’s interesting that you say “yearly.” Science books have not been purchased since 2003. English books have been purchased twice since then.

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      • am

        Books are SUPPOSED to be purchased at the high school level every 7-8 years when the SOLs are updated. That does not always happen. Additionally, there are state mandates courses, like the relatively new Economic and Personal Finance class where as many as 5-6 teachers are sharing 2 classroom sets of texts. Teachers are often spending their time, effort, and finances to ensure that students have quality, relevant materials to use.

        Suggest Removal

      • suffolklady

        Shouldn’t textbooks be a priority for a school system?

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  • TB_suffolklady

    What about the half million dollars worth of text books that he authorized to THROW AWAY?

    What about the school board and administration’s retreat to Napa Valley last year?

    Suggest Removal

  • spdrltr

    What is the purpose of Alio?

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    • am

      It eliminates the paper direct deposit notice and will be the place that you will go to print off your W-2 in January. For some reason it did not go “live” as it was supposed to do at the end of March.

      Suggest Removal

  • snh

    Suffolk Schools sets an interesting precedent this year, officially announcing to their support employees through the superintendent’s budget and board members public comments, that their contribution to teacher and student success is worth 2/3 that contributed by the teachers and teacher assistants. I can only imagine the resentment and anger this is prompting within a school division already struggling with a complete lack of support from a City Council.

    Suggest Removal

  • sherace

    I agree … as atax paying citizen of Suffolk, I too call for an audit.

    Teachers in Suffolk have lost faith in their school board and SPS administration. In Dr. Whitney’s speach at the opening of school last year he proclaimed all the right buzz words that teachers wanted to hear. So many of the teachers fell for it … not a bit of truth in it.

    Under his leadership the schools have gotten worse each year. Why does the SPS school board think the same leadership will get different results?? Will it take a State of Virginia takeover to change leadership?

    Suggest Removal

    • mcdb

      Any teacher that can believe him is in trouble! There’s not a genuine thing about that man.

      Suggest Removal

  • Roger Leonard

    Always be leary of an administrator putting his numbers and case forwards… Truth can only be found by establishing real number and more importantly, what they mean. The city and SPS administrators are profoundly good at stating numbers that serve their own purposes and feathers their own bed.

    Small things matter and small numbers add up to big numbers. By example, why do we pay School Board members local travel reimbursements and city council members get nothing? These types of things must be zeroed out and then we might see real costs and necessary expenses…

    Suggest Removal

  • spdrltr

    Does Suffolk Public Schools’ invoice for NWEA map testing look anything like the one linked below?

    http://a2schoolsmuse.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-financial-costs-of-nwea-testing-in.html#.U2ZgwSe9KK1

    Suggest Removal

    • am

      Probably much higher given that SPS is using NWEA testing t all levels, and this link only appears to be middle school. How’s that “Teach More, Test less” working for everyone? Can anyone also tell how much the “My Alio” system costs which still is not being used yet for its intended purpose?

      Suggest Removal

  • stown23437

    My question is why did the workers compensation line item in the school budget change ZERO PERCENT from last year when the workers compensation line item held a 500,000 dollar lawsuit in last years budget line. Is there another lawsuit to pay, or is this smoke in mirrors and a fluff line item? The schools MUST be accountable to the taxpayer before they receive additional funding. How do we know additional funding is needed if we as taxpayers can’t see where the present dollars are spent? Teachers need raises and if that is a real priority to the Superintendent then he should have no issue with being more specific with the questions taxpayers have.

    Suggest Removal

  • spdrltr

    As a tax paying Suffolk citizen, an audit from an outside source paid for with the results published by the city council, not the school system, would ease my mind. From the many comments posted regarding school expenses, there seems to be a plethora ways for the school admin to cut spending. Dr. Whitney, what was the cost for the new testing, grade book, and personnel systems that were purchased during the 2013-2014 school year? The substitute teacher automated system purchased the previous year? What was the rational for the timing of these purchases? How do or did these systems improve the students’ education? How much money did the new improved bus schedule for 2013-2014 save or cost? If there was an actual savings, where were these additional monies spent? How much money did hiring the many new specialist, supervisors, coordinators, directors, and chief of operations cost, and what quantitative benefits do they provide to students? If 276 positions have been eliminated, how many of these positions paid for the restructuring of the new higher salaried positions created spring 2013? What was the SPS employee head count in 2010? 2014? These are just a few of the my questions. When these are addressed,I have many, many more?

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    • teach

      As a not only a Suffolk resident but also a teacher, I not only feel like there should be an audit on school spending but also one for the city. I can tell you that the city has high waste that we pay for and if one of the “lower” end accountants question it, they are replaced immediately. The corruption is allowed to continue everywhere. This is a real shame while I struggle to pay my bills.

      Suggest Removal

      • thekytikat

        I’d love to see an outside audit of both the school and city budget as well. Thing is – the local governments all over Hampton Roads are so incestuous and friendly to each other — for it to be a TRUE unbiased audit, you’d likely need to go to a company out of state, or at least outside of the Hampton Roads/Tidewater area, and make sure that said company is not in any way associated with any of the developers or politicians in the area.

        Did you know that the Commonwealth Atty in Chesapeake is Councilman Charles Parr’s sister? Look at the board of Towne Bank and see how many other localities Mayors are on there with Mayor Johnson. Councilman Brown is in business with a guy who was in Economic Development in Norfolk. Councilman Gardy is Mayor Johnson’s husband’s law partner, and they specialize in real estate law.

        Those are just off the top of my head. Seriously people, look into the people who are running this city – and the people who want to run this. All of that information above was found with simple Google searches! Anyone can find this information.

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  • am

    “Suffolk Public Schools have reduced 276 positions since fiscal year 2010, including 122 teachers, 79 teacher assistants, 18 professional positions, 10 clerical positions and 57 trade/non-professional positions.” Yes, let us include those 13 positions “cut” from Central Office staffing last year. They suddenly became 19 positions classified as “Instructional Staff” (not SAO line items)but really doing little to work with actual instructional staff. Smoke and mirrors

    Suggest Removal

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