A rock in the road

Published 8:52 pm Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Suffolk’s teachers, who have done without raises since 2008. Few jobs place similar demands on the skills and emotions, and even fewer have such long-term significance to a society.

So it’s not hard to understand why the Suffolk School Board was so eager to spend a windfall of federal money — together with a pot of local money — on a schedule of bonuses for teachers, administrators and other school system employees this week. The urge to reward those employees for their loyal service was likely strong and irresistible when administrators learned that Suffolk would receive $3.4 million from the Federal Education Jobs Fund.

About a third of that money will go toward $500 bonuses to be paid next month to teachers and support personnel, along with $300 bonuses to administrators. About 72 people who do not qualify for the federal money will receive bonuses from the school’s general fund.

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Most of the rest of the money would be used to extend for another year funding for 43 school positions originally paid for by the federal stimulus fund. That will come as good news to the people who hold those jobs, as well as to those who rely on their work output.

Still, City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn had a valid point when she stated in a September letter that she would be asking School Superintendent Deran Whitney, in effect, how he plans to pay for those positions once Uncle Sam’s well runs dry.

The city manager is concerned about city agencies’ plans for sustaining the budgets that they balanced with federal funds last year. With those funds no longer available, either budget cuts or tax increases are likely results.

It’s tempting and understandable to want to spend the federal windfall on salaries and bonuses. But the School Board would have done taxpayers a better service by setting forth a plan that proves members are looking down the road farther than their hood ornament. There’s a huge rock in the road ahead, and unless they pay more attention to it, School Board members are liable to drive the bus straight into it.