Officials hash out funding

Published 11:37 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2013

After sending City Council a request for a $7-million increase in funding, School Board members pleaded their case and discussed steps they have taken to cut costs in a joint work session between the two bodies Wednesday afternoon.

Looming budget issues at the state and federal levels, including the threat of automatic budget cuts that would slash federal funding to school programs and a state transportation plan that could dip into the state’s general fund, complicated the discussion. But the 15 elected officials forged ahead.

“Clearly this is not a Cadillac budget,” said Superintendent Deran Whitney of Suffolk Public Schools. “It’s a matter of maintaining what we’re doing and trying to move to the next level.”

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The increased budget request would pay for a 2-percent raise for teachers, an increase in the cost of health care benefits, extra positions for graduation coaches, science and social studies specialists and more, and equipment replacements, among other needs.

“If we’re going to do the kind of job you want us to do, we need the funding,” said School Board member Judith Brooks-Buck, noting that the city has made many improvements and experienced growth in the past several years. “Our schools have to follow.”

School Board members lay down their case for increased funding. State funds have dropped, they said, and last year’s local appropriation merely restored school funding to its 2008 level.

In fiscal year 2012, Suffolk gave about 75 percent above its required local effort to the schools — dead last among the 12 localities that include the seven Hampton Roads cities, York, Isle of Wight and Southampton counties and the cities of Poquoson and Franklin. The next year, that improved to ninth place among the same group, but only because other localities gave much less, not because Suffolk gave significantly more.

But City Council members countered that Suffolk is third among Hampton Roads cities in the local appropriation per student, which equals $3,495 based on fiscal year 2011 numbers. Suffolk’s rank drops to seventh on that statistic, however, when the other localities in the former group are included.

School Board member Linda Bouchard presented a variety of ways the schools have saved money — realigning jobs, turning out lights and even moving copiers around to optimize their use.

Wendy Forsman, director of finance for the schools, said the school system is considering changing benefits to save money. Current employees may wind up paying more on their health insurance premiums and co-pays, she said.

City Councilman Mike Duman questioned the need for some of the requested increases and seemed to agree that employees should pay more for their insurance, noting that few in the private sector pay so small a percentage of their premiums.

But, Brooks-Buck countered, “I do not know of any business that has not offered its employees a raise in six years.”

The School Board’s proposed budget is available online at