School Board grapples with budget

Published 9:47 pm Thursday, March 13, 2014

Amid resignation that the city probably won’t grant their request, School Board members debated Thursday whether to stick to their guns on the superintendent’s proposed budget or devise some other options.

The superintendent’s budget asks the city for an extra $3.5 million and would give a 3-percent raise to teachers and a 2-percent raise to other employees.

After a public hearing on the plan drew only one speaker, who argued extra funds for special education, board members filled the canvas afterward, and other citizens spoke on it later in the night.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

Last week, City Council signaled that bonuses for school as well as city employees might be possible, but not raises. The School Board’s Lorraine Skeeter argued that the school district thus needed to present the city with “other options” or miss out entirely.

“We understand that the income in the city this year isn’t what we would have hoped,” Skeeter said. “I guess we just need to have the superintendent and the city manager have some conversation, and come up with a plan.”

Enoch Copeland agreed, saying the school district needs to keep its options open. “I’m a firm believer that we need to work with City Council,” Copeland said. “They control the purse strings.”

Linda Bouchard also appeared to be in the options-open camp. “We should be working together, hand-in-hand, with the City Council … for this entire city,” she said.

Phyllis Byrum agreed, saying, “We need to talk to them diligently, and come up with a plan.”

Meanwhile, Judith Brooks-Buck and Chairman Michael Debranski argued that Superintendent Deran Whitney’s “bare-bones” budget asks City Council for precisely what the school district needs.

“I don’t believe in shaping the budget on what we think we might not get,” Brooks-Buck said.

Debranski detailed the number of meetings that have occurred between the two entities. “We have been making it known for the past four months,” he said.

“The only thing I wanted for us was to give our teachers a 3-percent raise. Apparently I didn’t say it right, or I wasn’t understood.”

Debranski noted how the school district has been trying to save money, such as by cutting transportation costs. He took offense at comments made by city councilmen during last week’s meeting, particularly those of Charles Parr.

“I was dismayed when one of the City Council members” said the city could do a better job building schools than the school district.

Debranski, who did not actually name the councilman, also criticized Parr’s comment last week that the city should fund the school system categorically, rather than with a lump sum, if it cannot be more realistic in its requests.

“For somebody to say that, and threaten me — I’m deeply disturbed,” Debranski said. “I will tell you this: It is not going to happen.”

March 31 was set for a special meeting to decide on the final budget that will go to the city.