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Schools propose larger budget, raise for teachers

A proposal to increase annual spending by $9 million to provide a cost-of-living raise to teachers and other investments was presented to the Suffolk School Board on Thursday.

The planned $148.28 million 2013-2014 budget would increase spending by just over six percent and require the city to make up the difference, district Finance Director Wendy Forsman told the board’s regular monthly meeting.

As well as a 2-percent raise for all educators, costing $2 million, the budget would also provide for a pay bump on top of that for teachers in their seventh, eighth and ninth years with the district, a $930,478-plan administrators hope will stem the talent drain of educators to neighboring districts for better money.

The extra funds would also go toward phasing in Virginia Retirement System requirements and an increase in health care benefits, as well as invest in what Forsman called “strategic staffing,” which includes graduation coaches, science and other content-specific specialists and class size-reduction teachers.

Meanwhile, allocations for classroom supplies would be restored, some equipment replaced, and fixed-cost increases covered, Forsman reported.

In what promises to be a tough ask, the school district would appeal for the city to repeat a “one-off” $2 million it provided extra this year, as well as a further $7 million.

Forsman revealed a chart showing that the city of Suffolk contributes the smallest percentage of funds to schools out of 12 Tidewater localities.

In 2011-2012, the city contributed 76.56 percent of what it was required to, while at the other end of the scale, Portsmouth, a district of a similar size to Suffolk, stumped up 176.02 percent, Forsman said.

“Most (other) cities fund well over what they are required to,” she said. “We are at the very bottom. … Portsmouth is our same size … and they are at the very top of the chart.”

Extra revenue in the proposed budget comes from a $700,000 savings by introducing a new four-bell schedule — though it is a separate plan that board members are yet to approve.

Other savings would be found in things like using photocopiers more efficiently and cutting down on paper and travel time by going digital in different areas, Forsman said.

School district officials plan to meet with their city brethren to discuss the schools budget on Feb. 20.

“While asking for an additional $9 million is a lot, it goes back to what we need and what we would do if we don’t get it,” district Superintendent Deran Whitney said.

Spending less would mean eliminating teaching positions, teacher furloughs and larger classes, he said.

“It’s what we would need to move our schools forward,” he said of the larger proposed budget.