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Early retirement gains traction

Programs, positions and even schools were on the chopping block Thursday afternoon as the School Board spent hours reviewing the budget in attempts to cut $9.4 million in expenses.

“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,” School Superintendent Milton R. Liverman has warned employees.

Suffolk Public Schools is facing a total reduction of $9.4 million for the 2010-2011 budget years.

When school administrators drafted their 2010 budget proposal earlier this month, it allowed for a drop in state funds of only $1.85 million. Since then, administrators have learned the loss will be much greater — at least $9.4 million, they say.

During their discussion on Thursday, one expense-saving idea that got a lot of support was offering early retirement for up to 126 employees of the system. The move could save the system as much as $2.7 million, depending on how many employees take the offer Liverman said.

Even if only a third of those eligible were to take the incentive, it would save the schools approximately $1 million and create jobs for others within the system whose jobs could be cut.

A more controversial idea to save money was considered during a discussion about shutting down Mount Zion, Florence Bowser and Robertson Elementary schools. The three schools have fewer than 300 students.

Closing the schools would save at least $1.6 million by eliminating 37 positions and $125,000 by in other expenses, Liverman said.

It was noted that closing Florence Bowser would result in significantly less savings, because much of the personnel would be moved to Driver Elementary to help that school sustain increased class sizes.

Closing only Mount Zion and Robertson Elementary schools would result in a savings of $1.3 million.

School Board members discussed their concerns over closing the schools before examining other possible routes to save money.

“Closing the schools is drastic step, and not what we want to do,” said William Whitley. “I have no doubt there are a lot things in the system that have to be cut, but we have other things to look at first.”

“We’ve discussed closing the schools, but we need to look at other items and then just look at closing one or two of the schools,” said chairman Lorraine Skeeter.

The board decided to examine the budget in detail before making a decision about closing the schools.