Early retirement

Published 11:15 pm Friday, February 11, 2011

Schools look to close budget gap

For the second year in a row, Suffolk’s public schools could offer a retirement incentive to help balance the system’s budget.

Other measures to help close a $5.2 million gap between projected revenues and expenses include closing two elementary schools, cutting positions and scaling back on equipment purchases and the summer school program.

“We had to prepare a budget with a $5.2 [million] shortfall,” Superintendent Deran Whitney said. The gaps included a net decrease of $3.1 million in state funding and $2.1 million in increased costs of the Virginia Retirement System.

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The budget is contingent upon there being no further decreases from the state and upon increased funding of $2 million from the city. Whitney said he has no idea what will happen if the General Assembly approves a state budget with more cuts, or if the city does not provide the additional funding.

“We’ve not put anything together as far as what the next step would be,” he said.

The early retirement incentive, which must be approved by the School Board separately from the budget, would be offered to 140 teachers who have at least 30 years of experience and are at least 50 years old. The system anticipates about 15 percent of those eligible would take the incentive, which equals a cash payout of 20 percent of the teacher’s base salary.

About 30 percent of eligible teachers took a similar incentive offered last year, Whitney said.

The system also hopes to save about $900,000 by closing Florence Bowser and Mount Zion elementary schools.

Florence Bowser includes only pre-kindergarten through first grades. If the closure is approved, students there likely would be moved to Driver Elementary School, which includes second through fifth grades. The two attendance zones are exactly the same.

The elementary zones likely would be redrawn to redistribute children from Mount Zion, Whitney added. A majority of them likely would go to Elephant’s Fork Elementary School, which is currently below capacity.

Whitney said the system does not yet have definite plans for the two buildings. He hopes to place all teachers and staff at the two schools through retirements and resignations at other schools.

Administration, teachers and staff also would not receive any raises under the budget proposal. This would be the fourth year school staffers have gone without a raise, either in the form of a salary scale adjustment or in the form of a step increase on the scale.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 17 at the King’s Fork High School auditorium.

Administrators have set a few guidelines for the session in order to avoid a repeat of last year’s public hearing, which lasted into the early hours of the morning and attracted the attention of the fire marshal because the auditorium was over capacity at one point during the evening.

The school system is asking speakers to keep their comments to two minutes and appoint a representative for groups.

The budget is available for download from the system’s website at www.spsk12.net, or it may be viewed at any city or school library or at the school administrative offices.