Count on them

Published 11:46 pm Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The year 2010 is turning out to be one of the toughest on the books when it comes to funding for public education. First, there was the recession, which has resulted in lower tax revenues and government coffers that have been drained nearly dry as local and state agencies struggle to pay for the programs that have suddenly become too expensive to support. In recent weeks, many of the state’s school divisions — including Suffolk — have been hit with the added burden of learning they will lose millions of dollars to their counterparts in Northern Virginia as a result of a change in the formula that allocates state money to local divisions.

Local school administrators warn of “painful” cuts and “doomsday budgets,” and teachers, parents and students wonder just what public education in Suffolk will look like by this time next year. Will there still be music and art programs? Will there be a place for 4-year-olds who need help getting ready for kindergarten? Will Suffolk have to close any of its schools in order to balance its budget?

It’s still too early to answer those questions — and, indeed, until Virginia’s General Assembly makes a final determination about its own budget, school divisions are just working from estimates and best guesses. But there is one thing that folks around Suffolk can be pretty sure of: Louise Knight most likely will still be driving a bus.

Email newsletter signup

Ms. Knight has been driving buses for children or mentally challenged adults in the area for nearly 61 years. She was one of the original six bus drivers for Nansemond County back in 1950, and she’s worked for Nansemond, for the city of Suffolk or for the Tidewater Occupation Center ever since. When she started driving, she made $69 a month. Her pay has gone up substantially since then, but even a highly experienced school bus driver isn’t going to earn the sort of pay that will make the difference between a balanced budget and red ink.

Ms. Knight and lots of other folks who work in the background — often for little money and sometimes as volunteers — will continue to provide their indispensible service to the city, regardless of what happens in budget deliberations during the next few weeks. That should give parents, teachers, students and other taxpayers a measure of comfort in the midst of a vast sea of unknowns.