Raising the bar

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Suffolk School Board will be asking the city for $40.3 million – $6.4 million more than it received last year – to begin raising Suffolk Public Schools to a new level.

During a special meeting Tuesday, the board approved a $124.9 million operating budget for next year. The $121.4 budget initially proposed by School Superintendent Dr. Milton Liverman called for a $36.9 million local contribution.

That budget includes several initiatives from the supplemental budget of &uot;extras&uot; that school leaders believe will raise the bar of excellence in the school system. Board members got their first look at the $11.8 million supplemental budget last Thursday.

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The budget puts an additional $2.3 million into teacher salaries, a move that would make Suffolk the third highest-paying school division in Hampton Roads.

&uot;If we expect to have qualified teachers, we need to be competitive with our neighbors,&uot; said board member John Riddick. &uot;That is necessary.&uot;

The initial budget proposed by Liverman would have given teachers a 4 percent raise. But with neighboring Virginia Beach and Chesapeake proposing raises of 6 percent or more, that will do little to keep teachers from seeking greener pastures in neighboring localities, said board member William Hill.

&uot;The other school divisions seems to be giving fairly good raises this year,&uot; he said &uot;It looks like we will be losing ground if we fund at the level we are at now.&uot;

The school budget also calls for $714,446 for a much-needed second daytime alternative school and $407,290 to expand the Early Start program. If the alternative school funding is approved, the school system would also need assistance finding a place to house it.

The alternative school is needed to help students with behavioral problems, board members agreed.

The alternative school would be an option for students who now have to be expelled, said board member William Whitley.

&uot;Now those students are on the streets…to become criminals or burdens on society,&uot; he said.

Items pared from the supplemental budget include funding for high school enrichment programs, including International Baccalaureate curriculums and magnet schools that focus on the arts, science and engineering; and additional personnel to reduce class size.

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