School Board: Ask for raise money

Published 11:11 pm Thursday, February 9, 2012

School Board members on Thursday night instructed Superintendent Deran Whitney to ask the city for more money than initially proposed.

“Go ahead and ask for what we really need,” School Board member Linda Bouchard said. “Just go for it. Why not?”

The $137 million proposal already included a $3.5 million increase in local funding to help close a $6 million budget gap. The rest of the gap would be bridged by a $2.5 million reduction in operating expenses.

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About 10 people spoke during a public comment session on the budget. Gwen Sweat, the director of the Obici LPN program, opposed the balancing of the budget by eliminating the $243,770 program.

“We would like for you to reconsider,” she said, touting the school’s pass rates, accreditations and benefits.

“We’re educating individuals to get a job,” Sweat said. “They go from unskilled to highly skilled and employable in one year.”

Other citizens opposed the elimination of teacher assistant and bus monitor positions and parent resource center funding.

“I’m very concerned about the budget,” School Board member Phyllis Byrum said. “This is a difficult task we’re about to go into. It seems like this year, we don’t have much left to cut.”

School Board members largely pointed the finger at City Council, the General Assembly and Gov. Bob McDonnell for the potential loss of funding.

“I think it is time to stand up in this city and say our teachers deserve what the city people get,” said School Board member Diane Foster. “This is election year. It’s time to take a really hard stand.”

Finance Director Wendy Forsman presented statistics showing that the city’s Composite Index has risen since 2008 — meaning the state believes the city has more money to pay for its own education system — yet appropriation of local funds has fallen $4.4 million in the same time period.

The Composite Index formula is determined using the locality’s property values, taxable sales, gross income and population, as well as the number of students served by the school system.

“The people you put in office determine what you’re going to get in return,” Board member Enoch Copeland added. “You’re going to have to march to the ballot box and vote. Six years is far too long to be [paid] at the same level.”

Chairman Michael Debranski agreed.

“Mr. Copeland has hit the nail on the head,” Debranski said. “It’s not just a local problem, it’s a state problem.”

School Board members asked Whitney to amend the budget to include more local support from the city for raises, Virginia Retirement System support and all the programs that Whitney recommended cutting.

“We ought to ask for $2 million for raise money,” Debranski said. That would equal about a 2-percent raise for every employee.

The School Board also asked Whitney to investigate the possibility of performance pay.

“I think that’s going to take an extended period of time,” Whitney said. He added his research has shown that performance pay causes teachers to collaborate less.