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Superintendent: School cuts will affect everyone in the system

Following is the text of a letter sent on Friday by Dr. Milton R. Liverman, superintendent of schools for the Suffolk Public Schools system, to faculty and staff who work for the system.

Dear Colleagues:

This is without a doubt one of the most difficult letters I have ever written, but it is necessary that I share with you what I know about our budget situation. For months, our budget crisis has been the foremost topic on everyone’s mind. While there is much I still do not know, I will keep you informed to the best of my ability.

First, the school division has already absorbed $2.5 million in state reductions under the Governor’s Caboose Bill in its current fiscal year’s budget (FY 2009-2010). The School Board has eliminated approximately 100 positions, significantly reduced or eliminated equipment purchases, eliminated its bus purchase plan, enacted energy conservation measures, and reduced or postponed textbook purchases as cost-savings measures.

In addition to those cost-savings measures, we have built and released a proposed budget document (FY 2010-2011) that was based on former Gov. Kaine’s budget proposals and includes state reductions of an additional $1 million.

Second, Gov. McDonnell has announced two budget decisions that have resulted in unprecedented cuts in state funding for Suffolk Public Schools for FY 2010-2011. The first action was a decision to unfreeze the local composite index that was recommended by former Gov. Kaine.

This resulted in a $4.2-million reduction in state aid to Suffolk Public Schools. The second action (announced on Feb 17, 2010) was to recommend a $730-million cut to K-12 education. This cut resulted in another $5.2-million cut in state aid to Suffolk Public Schools.

The school division is facing a total projected minimum $10.4 million state funding reduction for FY 2010-2011.

Third, I have been asked by the city manager to produce 5-percent and 10-percent budget-reduction scenarios. An additional 5-percent decrease in local funds ($2.23 million) would result in a total $12.63 million reduction to the school division for FY 2010-2011. A 10-percent reduction ($4.46 million) would result in a total reduction to the school division of $14.86 million.

Suffolk Public Schools will not only be affected by reductions in the current budget and FY 2010-2011, but also for FY 2011-2012. Under former Gov. Kaine’s budget proposals for FY12, the school division is facing an additional $3.8-million reduction, plus a second $5.2-million reduction in Standards of Quality funding proposed by the General Assembly, resulting in a total projected minimum $9-million additional state reduction for FY12 — a total projected minimum $19.4-million reduction in state funding over the next two years.

In summary, Suffolk Public Schools is facing $10.4 million in state reductions and a potential of $2.23- to $4.46-million reduction in local support for FY2010-2011. Therefore, in the absence of any increase in revenue, the current superintendent’s proposed budget must be further reduced by anywhere from $9.4 to $14.86 million. These reductions can now only be accomplished by a significant number of staffing reductions, program eliminations or reductions, school closures and other drastic measures from which it will take many years for our school system to recover.

I regret that I cannot give you better news or more information. I can tell you that NO decisions have been made about these required reductions. I also must tell you that none of us will go unaffected. These reductions will touch every building and every group of employees. The degree of this impact is yet to be determined.

Due to the high volume of calls expected regarding these budget issues, it is suggested that citizens, parents, and staff submit their questions and concerns via email. A link, budget@spsk12.net, has been established on our main web page. Answers to Frequently Asked Questions will be posted by Feb. 23 on the web page and will be available to the public. All emails will be shared with the School Board in a summary format.

The School Board will hold meetings March 4 in City Council Chambers to work on the budget issues and to hear public comments regarding the budget. The meeting schedule is as follows:

1:00 – 3:00 p.m. …Public Budget Work Meeting

3:00 – 4:30 p.m. …Dinner Break

4:30 – 7:00 p.m. …Resume Public Budget Work Meeting

7:00 p. m. …Public Budget Input Meeting

It is not necessary for speakers to sign up prior to the meeting. As it is hard to know in advance how many people may wish to speak, all individuals must limit their comments to five minutes. Citizens and parents, in addition to employees, must be provided with time for their comments.

We are aware of the quality of our programs. However, the reality is that a minimum of at least $9.4 million must be cut from the current proposed budget. The Board is seeking comments and suggestions on how to re-structure our programs to save money.

No video presentations will be permitted. Employees who wish to speak will need to identify themselves and their employment position and location. It is recommended that employee groups (bus drivers, gifted teachers, middle school teachers, nurses, etc.) select one spokesperson to share their comments. The group may also provide written statements to the Board that would provide more detailed information.

I would ask your assistance in dealing with this crisis — which is a strong but appropriate description of what we are facing. I would ask that you remain patient and not react to rumors. I give you my personal and professional assurance that as soon as I know the nature and degree of the impact, I will share that information.

Thank you for your patience, your work, and your understanding. I assure you that, as difficult as the challenges are, we will come through this. We will continue to provide world-class education and experiences for our students. We will adapt and overcome.