Now is the time for public education

Published 8:24 pm Saturday, April 13, 2013

During fiscal year 2011-2012, the City of Suffolk was ranked last in terms of required local effort to support public education, compared to the other school divisions in our state-designated region (i.e., Virginia Beach, York, Norfolk, Franklin, Chesapeake, Poquoson, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Hampton, Southampton, and Newport News).

For fiscal year 2012-‘13, the City did slightly better, moving up to ninth place, not because Suffolk gave significantly more, but because other localities gave much less.

For fiscal years 2008-‘09, 2009-‘10, 2011-‘12 and 2012-‘13, City Council did not fully fund the School Board’s requested operating budgets. Consequently, between 2008 and 2013 the School Board had to reduce its operating budgets.

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In the most recent budget proposal to City Council, the City Manager has recommended an increase of $3 million for public education, which is $6 million less than what has been requested and, if adopted by council, will require even more cuts to public education.

If our school division is continually forced to cut the operating budget, Suffolk citizens can anticipate a significant decline in the quality of public education. In a letter to City Council dated April 3, 2013, the city manager wrote, “Some people have said that the City should eliminate positions, make deep cuts to services and programs, and downsize its fleet and equipment. However, balancing a budget by not filling positions and cutting corners is counterintuitive and would significantly impact the City’s quality of life.”

Reason suggests that it too would be “counterintuitive” to “make deep cuts to services and programs, and downsize its fleet and equipment” in public education in a growing city. Making cuts that would significantly impact the quality of life to balance a budget by eliminating teaching positions, enlarging class size and making even deeper cuts to educational services and programs is both counterintuitive in the long run and counterproductive in the short term.

Between 2008 and 2013, Suffolk Public Schools eliminated 57 support positions and five teaching positions and cut $13 million from programs and services. Time and time again, school employees have been asked to do more with less, but they can no longer do more with nothing.

Teacher raises have been put on hold for six years, and their resources have been depleted. Conversely, in the City Manager’s proposed budget there is a 159-percent increase for non-departmental expenses, a 108-percent increase in technology expenses for City Council, a 262-percent increase in copier costs for City Council, a 612-percent increase in salaries and wages for capital programs and facilities, a 153-percent increase for fleet for capital programs and facilities, a 140-percent increase in information technology for tourism, and a 122-percent increase in the fleet for tourism.

In the city manager’s letter to City Council enclosed with the proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-‘14, the city manager stated, “In looking forward, we must ask ourselves what kind of City do we want?” May we not forget to pose the additional question, “What kind of school system do we want?”

Truly great cities have great public schools. Educator bashing is popular, but the public is not fooled by comments about a lack of understanding when budget discussions begin. Our school division budget and the accompanying narratives clearly outline proposed expenditures, and are available for public scrutiny. We have no secrets.

Weeks ago, City Council and School Board members met and talked about working together. I truly hope the spirit of the meeting resonates with the members of council when the budget is finalized. The children of this city deserve better, and they deserve much more than to be educated in classrooms on wheels behind school buildings that have not kept up with city development.

Now is the time for City Council to fully fund public education. Now is the time to move from rhetoric to reality. Now is the time to work together as one city in the best interest of our most vulnerable citizens, the children.

Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck is the School Board representative from the Nansemond Borough. Email her at