Questions a billboard can’t answer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Staff report

News-Herald reporter Allison Williams has a story in the paper today about the billboard that John Dodson put up on Route 17 in an attempt to embarrass certain city officials over public school teacher salaries.

Dodson claims that Suffolk teacher salaries lag behind those of surrounding communities and for some unexplained reason, he lays blame for that at the feet of City Manager R. Stephen Herbert, Chuckatuck borough Councilman E. Dana Dickens III and Holy Neck Councilman Calvin Jones.

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School funding is included in the city’s budget, which, as Dickens pointed out, passed on a 7-0 vote. One would think that all who voted in favor of the budget should equally &uot;share&uot; the blame. Perhaps those three faces were merely the easiest to recreate?

But that’s neither here nor there. Teacher salaries, just like police and fire fighter salaries, are certainly issues that warrant discussion. It’s generally accepted that members of all three professions are grossly underpaid for the importance of the work we do.

However, there is not enough information available to suggest that Suffolk officials are somehow balancing their budget on the backs of teachers who, by the way, were afforded a 6 percent pay increase in the new budget.

While they may be paid less than teachers in larger, neighboring jurisdictions, there are many factors that need to be considered in such a comparison, such as: How does the percentage of the overall budget allotted for education compare to other cities? And how does the percentage allotted to teacher salaries within that education budget compare to that in other communities? Suffolk is the fastest growing city in the state, so one would imagine that a larger percentage of its total earmarked for education would go toward facilities and hiring more teachers.

And perhaps most importantly, how many of Suffolk’s already stressed property taxpayers are willing to increase that tax in order to be able to pay teachers more?

We don’t know the answers to any of those questions, but they are central to the question Dodson poses. We may find Suffolk is doing all that it can.