Schools’ budget direction still unclear

Published 10:39 pm Monday, March 9, 2009

Following the Suffolk Public Schools’ School Board work session Monday night, it was still hard to say what the Suffolk Public Schools’ budget will look like.

“We really are talking without any direction right now, because we don’t know,” said Board Member Michael Debranksi. “We’re putting a lot of maybes on the table.”

“That’s a fair assessment,” Superintendent Milton Liverman said. “We’re pretty much in a holding pattern.”

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The Virginia General Assembly has released its budget recommendations, which called for $400,000 worth of more cuts from the Suffolk Public Schools’ budget.

Governor Timothy M. Kaine has yet to approve the General Assembly’s proposed spending plan.

However, the federal stimulus package has allotted Suffolk Public Schools $4.9 million in stabilization funds for the next two years. That money could make up for part of a $6.5-million shortfall the system faces as a result of dwindling state funds.

While that money would be welcome, the federal government has yet to release the specifics of how the school system can use it.

Adding to the confusion, the School Board has yet to hear whether or not the city will continue to fund the schools.

“We still do not know what the city of Suffolk is going to do with local funding,” Liverman said. He added that he has met with City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn, and she has said city staff will do everything they can to level funding, but she still has asked city departments to provide budget scenarios with 3-, 5- and 10-percent reductions.

“I will be ecstatic if we receive level funding.” Liverman said. “But I wouldn’t sit here and tell you to count on it.”

With such uncertainty on how to proceed, Liverman advised the School Board members to look at his original proposal and make adjustments as they saw fit.

One of those adjustments, according to the board members, would include providing for the International Baccalaureate lead teacher position they heard so much about during the public comment session for the budget held two weeks ago.

Debranksi said he was overwhelmed by the number of people who came to speak on behalf of Micah Smith, the current lead teacher.

More than 75 people came out to the public session, with more than 15 IB students present to support their teacher.

Liverman called the public session one of the biggest turnouts in 10 years. He went on to say that based on that response and through shifting some federal and local funds, the system will be able to restore the position.

Overall, Liverman advised caution with using the stimulus funds.

“We need to look down the road, because we know in two years it’s coming again,” he said.

The board will vote on the budget at its Thursday meeting.