School bonuses were awarded unfairly

Published 9:35 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2011

To the editor:

Like many other Suffolk residents, I would have preferred the recent surplus income the city received from the new businesses in the northern part of the city be used to reduce my real estate tax rate or lower the new trash pick-up fee, rather than for bonuses for city employees.

However, City Council approved the motion to give city employees, including the five constitutional officers originally omitted, a bonus equivalent to 2 percent of their salaries.

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Councilman Barclay was quoted as saying, “It’s important that we include all employees of the city and school system as a matter of fairness.”

So why did the Suffolk City School Board decide to do otherwise?

School personnel with up to four years of experience in Suffolk were awarded a bonus of $520, approximately 1.3 percent of their salary. Those with 20 or more years in Suffolk were awarded $1,240, which varied from 2.3 percent of the salary of a teacher with 20 years to 2 percent of that of a teacher with 29+ years.

Based on Thelma Hinton’s estimate that 2 percent of the salary of a bus driver or custodian was $409, one with 20 years of experience in Suffolk was awarded $1240 or 6 percent of his salary.

With a master’s degree and 26 years of experience, including only 13 in Suffolk, my bonus represented approximately 1.4 percent of my salary.

Was the reduction in bonuses for employees with experience in other school systems used to supplement the bonuses of other employees?

When they are hired, city employees are given salaries that are based on prior experience, so their bonuses did reflect that experience.

But when given the opportunity to compensate employees at all levels of the salary scale equally, the School Board chose not to. Is it really fair to award school employees one of five arbitrary amounts based on experience in Suffolk only?

The $1.68 million awarded the Suffolk School Board is equivalent to more than 2 percent of the $76,711,239 allotted for personnel in the 2010-2011 budget.

But how many employees have been in Suffolk for 20 years? That leads me to question the allocation of the remaining funds. Did the School Board see this as an opportunity to acquire additional funds for other purposes at the expense, once again, of teacher salaries? Could this be the source of the “windfall” recently referred to by one of our coordinators?

Or were school employees treated differently because the City Council and School Board are having difficulties working together?

The Suffolk News-Herald stated that “Linda Bouchard said she had a problem with City Council making the decision about how the surplus should be used.”

In either case, it is unfortunate that the School Board chose not to implement City Council’s motion to award 2 percent of each employee’s salary, so school employees were not compensated in the same manner as other city employees.

Anne Branch