Schools plan for budget cuts

Published 11:13 pm Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Closing schools and deleting positions are among the options on the table to close an estimated $5.3 million budget gap.

School Board members discussed options for proposed cuts to the operating budget for the 2011-2012 school year yesterday at their annual retreat.

The superintendent will finalize a draft of the budget for the consideration of the school board this week. The proposed budget will be discussed at the next school board meeting.

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“If we don’t have the funding in place in order to do some of the basics, we’re pretty much stuck,” Wendell Waller, school board attorney, said earlier in the day when discussing the funding coming from City Council.

Michael Brinkley, executive director of finance for Suffolk Public Schools, presented the school board with several recommendations that are expected to begin to close this gap by bringing the deficit to $2 million.

The cuts and reductions suggested include closing Florence Bowser and Mount Zion elementary schools; cutting 10 positions besides those at the closed schools; rezoning schools to provide for less fuel expenses; and reducing money set aside for utilities, materials, supplies and more.

The options also include a $100,000 reduction in funds allotted for textbooks; reductions of over $36,000 in funding for summer school programs including SOL Academy and Math Camp; and reductions in equipment purchases.

The 10 positions proposed for deletion include one that currently is filled and nine that are vacant. Closing the two elementary schools also would create a loss of positions.

Superintendent Deran Whitney expressed his hope of being able to place the teachers and staff from Florence Bowser and Mount Zion elsewhere through attrition, but said the reality is that certain positions will not be needed at other schools.

To bring the deficit down to $2 million, the school system would need to “make sacrifices,” Whitney said.

“They do have families, and that’s what I’m concerned about,” said Thelma Hinton, School Board vice chairman, expressing her concern for teachers and staff who may lose their jobs.

Whitney explained that the school system would refer to a reduction policy before dismissing teachers and staff. Whitney assured concerned board members that Suffolk does not have a policy of “last hired, first fired” but instead decisions are made based on performance evaluations.

The board suggested that Whitney consider offering early retirement benefits as a preventive measure.

The school board voted to include the closure of Florence Bowser and Mount Zion as part of the proposed budget. They expect that parents and teachers will attend the next meeting to discuss their concerns as they relate to the school closures.

Board member Enoch Copeland suggested that the superintendent and School Board consider rezoning as a means to save more money and teaching jobs. He explained that there are kids in the city who are bused across Suffolk, wasting gas and resources.

A public hearing on the budget will be held Feb. 17 at King’s Fork High School.