Preparing for reality

Published 10:29 pm Saturday, December 3, 2011

After three years of shuffling money around, taking advantage of federal stimulus funds, offering early retirement packages and winnowing staff through attrition, this could be the hardest year yet for Suffolk Public Schools.

School Board members plan a community input session about next year’s budget during their meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Suffolk City Council chambers at City Hall on Market Street.

It’s a safe bet that teachers, parents, faculty and maybe even some students will turn out to argue for the need to protect funding for various programs and schools. And it’s likely that the School Board will be sensitive to those requests. There are, after all, few people in Suffolk who are more committed to fully funding public school budgets than School Board members.


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But it’s exceedingly unlikely that the school system will scrape by another year without serious cuts. The federal money is gone, and the political climate in Washington, D.C., ensures there will be no more in the near future. State funds are liable to be scarce, as legislators prepare to face their own budget gaps without resorting to raiding rainy day funds and retirement accounts. And here in Suffolk, tax collections appear to be slightly higher than last year, but not enough to pay for the increases the school system, based on past experience, is expected to seek.

School administrators are left, then, with the task of taking an uncompromising look at the system’s programs, policies and personnel, determining which are working and which are not and then making the tough decision to cut or retool those that have proven to be poor investments.

This will not be an easy task. It’s never easy to change a culture, and cutting positions should never be done cavalierly. It almost certainly, however, will be necessary. And it’s a process for which school administrators already should have been planning for more than a year, since even the most optimistic prognosticators never expected that the economy would have rebounded completely by now.

If school administrators at all levels are unprepared with suggestions for saving money, that lack of preparation, in and of itself, should give School Board members reason to question the leadership of those administrators.

It would have been wonderful if the school system were in a position to hope for restoration, rather than reductions. Unfortunately, that’s not the world where we live. Suffolk’s School Board and its taxpayers have a right to expect that the school system’s administrators have a firm grasp on that reality.