School Board reviewing supplemental budget

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 12, 2005

Some might call the $11.8 million supplemental budget reviewed by the Suffolk School Board Thursday a &uot;wish list.&uot;

But the list of extras that school officials believe are critical to taking Suffolk Public Schools to a new level is more of a &uot;need list,&uot; said school board member William Hill.

The supplemental budget calls for investing an extra $2.2 million in teacher salaries, a move that would make Suffolk the third highest-paying school division in Hampton Roads.

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It also recommends funding for a daytime alternative school; for high school programs, including International Baccalaureate curriculums, and high school magnet schools focused on the arts, science and engineering; and additional personnel to reduce class size.

&uot;These are things we probably need in place now,&uot; said School Board member William Hill.

&uot;I think we realistically know the city has other needs…and won’t be able to come up with all that money.

&uot;Seeing this as a menu of our needs, we can select our priorities and begin to take steps to get us up to the next level.&uot;

But the top priority needs to be raising teacher salaries to make them more competitive with neighboring divisions, board members agreed.

&uot;Teacher salaries have got to be our number one priority,&uot; said William Whitley. &uot;We have to pay a decent wage to get and keep good teachers.

&uot;I don’t care how good your program is. That program is no better than the person standing in front of the classroom.&uot;

Hill agreed.

&uot;Our salary scales needs to be competitive with our neighbors,&uot; said Hill. &uot;The dollar must speak…we owe it to our teachers.&uot;

It will take more than a one-time investment to keep teacher salaries at a competitive level, said superintendent Dr. Milton Liverman.

&uot;It’s an ongoing process,&uot; he said.

&uot;Other school systems are going to continue improving their pay scales as well.&uot;

The board will share both the supplemental budget and its 2005-06 proposed $121.4 million operating budget with the Suffolk City Council during a joint meeting March 16. The city is asking for $36.9 million in local funding – a $3 million increase from this year – in its 2005-06 budget.

Mayor Bobby Ralph said it is too early in the budget-planning process to discuss the city’s allocation to schools.

&uot;I know they will get additional funding but at what level, I don’t know yet,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s too soon to say.&uot;

Ralph said he views the supplemental budget as a planning document for the city and school leaders to use in shaping funding for the school system in coming years.

&uot;We need teacher salaries that are fair to teachers,&uot; Ralph said. &uot;We want to make sure what we pay is reasonable and what we can afford.&uot;

But comparing pay scales with other jurisdictions can sometime gets distorted because benefits and hospitalization may not be considered, he added. &uot;You’ve got to look at the total employment package,&uot; he said.

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett indicated he would like to see teachers get a substantial raise.

&uot;I personally think teacher pay needs to be competitive with other school systems in the area,&uot; he said.