Public: Fully fund schools

Published 11:17 pm Wednesday, April 17, 2013

City Council members showed no signs of yielding to the majority of the 36 speakers during a public hearing on the budget Wednesday evening.

Most of the speakers pleaded for full funding of the Suffolk Public School system’s request for a $9-million increase from last year’s allocation.

“Please don’t tell me anymore that education is a priority,” said Melissa Stoker. “I’m disheartened by that statement and I don’t believe it. Prove it.”

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Many educators and parents who spoke during the meeting characterized the school system’s budget as the least possible amount that would allow the system to educate its more than 14,000 students.

Teachers told of having to buy supplies themselves or beg parents to purchase them. Several said they don’t care about getting a raise as long as layoffs can be avoided.

Several students also spoke, including King’s Fork High School senior Fletcher Stephens.

“I’ve seen fellow classmates struggle because they can’t get help,” he said. “That’s when you get your dropouts and that’s when you get another inmate.”

But after the public hearing was over, council members gave no indication they plan to give the school system more than already offered.

“Nine million is a lot of money,” Councilman Curtis Milteer said. “It’s almost impossible to do it. Nobody will leave here with everything they want.”

Councilman Mike Duman dove into the school system’s budget, criticizing expenses like fringe benefits and suggesting the school system had intentionally hiked the amount of its original proposal so it could meet in the middle, like selling a car.

“We need to sit down somewhere and work together and come up with a serious solution,” he said.

City financial adviser David Rose of Davenport and Company said in an earlier work session that he believes the proposed school allocation is adequate.

“The schools may not feel like big winners, but they are getting their fair share,” he said, adding that the city’s budget is “bare-bones.”

Some speakers suggested putting an end to the annual push-and-pull by developing a funding formula that would automatically give the school system a certain percentage of the city’s revenues.

School funding wasn’t the only concern. Many spoke out against a proposed 6-cent real estate tax increase and a hike in the water and sewer rates.

When a government raises taxes, “they’re telling me they know better how to spend my money,” Keith Shoemaker said. “I don’t appreciate that. I think it’s an insult.”

Representatives from several nonprofit organizations also asked for funding of their organizations, including the Western Tidewater Free Clinic, the Endependence Center, Suffolk Festivals Inc., the Suffolk Fine Arts Commission, the Virginia Legal Aid Society and Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia.

The budget document is available at The City Council could adopt it as early as May 1.