Schools propose raises, ask city for extra

Published 10:43 pm Thursday, February 13, 2014

Suffolk Public Schools would ask the city for an extra $3.5 million and raise salaries for all full-time contracted staff in a proposed 2014-2015 spending plan its superintendent presented to the School Board on Thursday.

Deran Whitney’s proposed budget, which he said was “bare bones,” calls for full-time teachers to get a 3-percent raise and other full-time employees a 2-percent boost.

Wendy Forsman, the district’s finance director, said it would increase the twice-monthly paycheck of a teacher making $50,000 by $42.

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Other increased costs would include a state-mandated 1-percent Virginia Retirement System phase-in raise for all employees, increased employee costs in other areas — including some co-payments doubling — and $500,000 toward what Forsman said was $10-million plan to replace aging heating, ventilation and air-conditioning infrastructure.

As well as asking the city for the extra amount, bringing the total request to $52.68 million, the proposed budget also counts on increased revenue from the commonwealth of $2.9 million.

“This would be step one in terms of trying to get salaries increased,” Whitney said. The raises did not represent what teachers and other district staff were worth, he said.

He wished he could have asked for more, Whitney said, but “I also recognize where we are as a (school) system and as a city.”

Later in the meeting, the superintendent said he was “continually amazed” at how teachers “continue to work, considering we have cut and reduced resources. … They continue to work, and they continue to work hard.”

After last year failing in her attempt to have the district pursue outsourcing as a means to provide a 5-percent raise to teachers exclusively, board member Linda Bouchard questioned how much more teacher salaries could be boosted by doing away with the smaller raise for other employees.

“I just feel like we should concentrate on the raise for the teachers,” she said.

Board Chairman Michael Debranski disagreed, saying “all our employees are deserving of raises. … I think without strong administration, the program goes nowhere.”

The debate moved into the territory of school resource officers, which will come at an increased future cost to the district after a state grant ends.

Forsman said the officers, in middle and high schools, would cost the district $525,000 next year, money paid to the city for a service that some cities provide gratis.

Bouchard said the district could stop paying for the officers and “just call the police when we need them.”

Whitney responded that while the officers are not required in schools, “that would not be my recommendation.”

A public hearing on the budget is planned for March.