Sacrificing good faith

Published 10:07 pm Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Suffolk School Board missed an opportunity this week to take a position of leadership on the matter of keeping two small elementary schools open at the expense of sound fiscal policy.

Parents and faculty had pressed hard for the School Board to find a way to keep Mount Zion and Florence Bowser elementary schools open, despite the potential to save at least a million dollars a year by closing the schools. During two different meetings on Tuesday, members of the School Board expressed their desire to appease those special interests at the expense of taxpayers across the city.

Both Mount Zion and Florence Bowser are aging buildings with small student populations. Both will require an increasingly onerous amount of maintenance in the years to come. Both are near enough to other schools that the students displaced by their closure would not have to travel significantly farther to get to school each day. And both have relatively small staffs that could largely be absorbed by the remainder of the school system.

Email newsletter signup

At an early point in the budget process, the Suffolk Public Schools administration had planned to close the schools as a way of making up for expected shortfalls in state funding — under the full knowledge that even with the closures, the system’s budget would require an infusion of $2 million more in local money than was available last year.

When the General Assembly worked out a budget deal that effectively provided $2 million more to the city’s schools, though, the plan changed. Instead of making the hard choice that would have showed fiscal responsibility — and proved to Suffolk’s taxpayers the system’s commitment to providing value for its public education dollars — the board appears headed toward a decision that sacrifices the pocketbooks of many for the appeasement of a vocal minority.

In fact, a courageous decision on the matter would have put the School Board in a better position to work out a budget that gives school employees higher raises than they can expect under the spending plan that’s being considered. Those employees, who have gone without pay increases for the past three years, would get an extra 1 percent based on the budget that’s been proposed. That number could have been somewhat higher if it had included the money that would have been saved by closing the two elementary schools.

As things stand, the school system will ask the City Council to provide about $1.6 million in extra funds next year. And it’s likely that the increase will be sold as necessary in order to show teachers and administrators good faith. What the City Council — and those teachers, for that matter — should remember is how the School Board was willing to sacrifice some of that good faith on the altar of timorous placation.