Schools mull raises

Published 8:43 pm Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ten people spoke at a public hearing on the Suffolk Public Schools budget on Thursday.

A revised, $123.6-million proposal includes 2-percent raises for all school employees and a request for even more funding from the city — $6 million more than what the schools received last year. The School Board will meet again this week to discuss the budget.

Several visitors spoke against a proposal to cut school bookkeepers down to 11-month employees, and others feared the larger request would bring a backlash if the city did not provide the full amount.


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“I fear that if final cuts have to be made, they may come at the expense of our Early Start program,” said Kerry Patterson, an Early Start teacher at Booker T. Washington Elementary School.

But perhaps the most vocal support — and the most spirited defense from school administrators — came regarding the Obici LPN program, which was proposed for elimination.

“There has to be a better way,” said Mary Perdue, a graduate of the program. “It has been a life-changing experience for me.”

The program’s elimination is expected to save more than $300,000.

Gwen Sweat, the director of the program, asked the board to, at the very least, allow the current class to finish. The current session is due to wrap up next February.

Superintendent Deran Whitney justified the decision to cut the program by saying the school district must focus on K-12 education first. He also said few Suffolk residents are using the program.

“Obviously, the primary focus for us is pre-K through 12th grade,” he said. “The question is, are we at least serving our own community?”

According to statistics on the last four classes that he provided, less than 40 percent of the 53 students were from Suffolk. Of the classes of 2009, 2010 and 2011, only 13 of the 40 students — 32 percent — returned to work in Suffolk. The class of 2012 has yet to take its board examinations.

He did, however, say the current class likely would be able to finish.

School Board member Enoch Copeland downplayed the importance of where the students worked after graduation.

“People have to work wherever they can,” he said.

Noting recent medical problems in his family, Copeland said he has had an up-close view of the important work that nurses do during the last couple of months.

“I’m not in favor of cutting this program at all,” he said. “We have to fight for it.”

School Board member Lorraine Skeeter agreed, suggesting a partnership with other jurisdictions that could pay for their own residents to attend.

“I think a lot of us probably would want to keep the program,” she said.

The board will meet at 3 p.m. on Thursday in the band room at King’s Fork High School for further discussion. The meeting is open to the public.