Public gives feedback for schools budget

Published 10:59 pm Thursday, December 8, 2011

Suffolk Public Schools staff members and parents voiced concerns about cutting certain expenses, raising teacher pay and the addition of a new school during a public comment session on the division’s 2012-2013 budget.

The School Board opened the floor to the public to share concerns and comments about the budget at its meeting Thursday.

“We’ve got a challenge ahead of us,” Wendy Forsman, the executive director of finance for the schools, said during an overview of the budget prior to the public comments.

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The school division faces losing $3.05 million in federal funding and has an estimated expense increase of $5.1 million, Forsman said.

Additionally, the state is considering decreasing its funding for the division by 1 percent, but that will not be certain until the governor introduces the state budget next week.

“Dec. 16 will give us more factual information in the budget,” Superintendent Deran Whitney said.

During the public comment session, five citizens came forward to share their comments with the School Board.

Ethel Williams, president of the Education Association of Suffolk and a special education teacher at Elephant’s Fork Elementary School, said she recognizes the budget constraints of Suffolk Public Schools, but the division needs to recognize the teachers are facing their own budget problems.

“It has been four years since we have received a raise,” she said. “I’m requesting a 4-percent salary increase for teachers across the board.”

Williams said she thinks funds for the raises should be taken from differentiated instruction training funds.

She said the lack of pay increases has caused some teachers to pursue other career paths simply to make more money, and the division can’t afford to lose good teachers.

“(Lack of raises) not only affects us, but it also affects our families,” she said.

Another speaker at the meeting, Diane Vavrek, asked the School Board to push the construction of a new elementary school in North Suffolk sooner than planned.

She said her children go to Creekside, and the large student population doesn’t just affect class sizes — it also affects recess, the attention given to gifted and special education students and the lunch schedule.

“It saddens me to see so many trailers in our play area,” she said. “What we need is to build a new school now before the problem gets worse.”

Another elementary school parent, Patricia Sutton, came to the board with concerns about how some money is spent.

She said after reviewing the school division’s budgets, she saw a few expenditures that concerned her.

“As a board, it looks as if you have benefits for health insurance and retirement,” Sutton said.

She said when times are tight, there are necessary compromises to ensure budgets are met.

Later in the meeting, School Board members shared some concerns of their own.

Lorraine Skeeter said she wants an examination of how much money is spent on consultants and for what purposes.

“I’d like to see a list of how many and what they were paid,” she said.

The public meeting was one of the first steps of the budget process. The next step for the division is to meet with supervising personnel about their budget requests.