School board passes budget

Published 10:27 pm Thursday, May 14, 2009

After months of proposals, funding cuts and stimulus revenue specifications, the Suffolk Public School Board unanimously passed its 2009-2010 operating budget of $150.2 million last night.

At the school board’s work session Thursday afternoon, Superintendent Milton Liverman called this year of the “most interesting” of budget years as well as one of the most challenging.

In spite of the challenges, Liverman said he was pleased to provide the school board a balanced budget proposal that does not call for any layoffs of Suffolk Public Schools employees.

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“We will not have to lay off any individual,” Liverman told the board. “I wanted to put that on the table first.”

Liverman added that many positions that have been vacant this year will have to be altogether eliminated in next year’s budget, and there will be no pay increases this year for any Suffolk Public Schools employee. Additionally, a number of needed replacements, such as new school buses, were taken out of this year’s budget.

“We need to get them back in the budget as soon as we can,” Liverman said. “You have to have a replacement plan, but this is not the year to do it.”

In the work session, Liverman elaborated on the school staff’s plan to use caution with federal stimulus dollars because there was no guarantee that money would be there in two years. He also told the board that now is the time to begin thinking of how to make further cuts down the line, assuming the federal stimulus money is not given again in two years.

“We have to begin to operate with the expectation that these federal dollars won’t be here in two years,” he said. “We need to start cutting now in preparation.”

Liverman said staff needs to develop a “reduction strategy” to incorporate throughout the next two years to avoid “radical” changes two years from now.

He added that if the economy makes a turnaround, or the federal dollars are given again, the school system will have the “delightful opportunity” of maintaining the staff it desires.

Board Member Enoch Copeland asked Liverman why the system should worry about replacing seemingly superfluous positions and programs if it could survive with the suggested cuts.

“There’s a difference between making do and making progress,” Liverman answered. “We have needs we haven’t totally addressed yet. When you have a completion rate like ours, that’s not acceptable. But you have to have the resources to address that. The question is whether you want to make do or make progress.”