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Schools ask city for extra $3.5M

Despite indications from the superintendent that seeking smaller bonuses would have a better chance of success, School Board members determined to follow their original plan and ask the city to fund a 3-percent raise for teachers and 2-percent raise for other employees.

The school district budget, to be presented to City Council on Wednesday after School Board members approved it during a special meeting on Monday, asks the city for an extra $3.5 million, which would also go toward replacing crumbling heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) infrastructure.

After they had several discussions on the issue, school district Superintendent Deran Whitney said that City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn “indicated it’s going to be very difficult to give a raise this year,” and that bonuses might be more achievable.

Accordingly, Whitney presented School Board members with options for 1-, 1.5- and 2-percent raises and bonuses, whose costs ranged from $770,000 for a 1-percent bonus to $2.29 million for a 2-percent raise.

The board bridled at the one-off bonus idea; members unanimously deciding to stick to their original claim, albeit acknowledging they’ll likely need to retool when the council rejects it.

“I believe we need to ask for what we believe we need,” Judith Brooks-Buck said. “If people say no, they say no. Then we have to adjust it anyway.”

Linda Bouchard, who recently instigated a study of outsourcing custodial and maintenance services that was soon aborted, said the school district should find a way to give raises by exploring cost-savings measures. “Revisit ways that we can become efficient and get more money within our own system,” she said.

Board Chairman Michael Debranski indicated the quandary — of sorts — that bonuses may not be repeated in subsequent years, but going for less-likely raises would preclude bonus money.

Diane Foster said, “I agree 100-percent that we need to keep looking at ways to cut costs.”

Enoch Copeland said he favored exploring cost-cutting “as long as you don’t hurt the people at the bottom. These are people normally hurt, because they are defenseless.”

Lorraine Skeeter raised the obvious outcome that “we are going to have to come back and change” the request after the city rejects it.

Copeland said, “If we don’t get the funds, we are going to have to come back and make some adjustments.”

Meanwhile, Whitney said school district and city officials had begun “preliminary meetings” on a joint salary study, which its finance director, Wendy Forsman, said would cost an estimated $130,000. “The discussion we had was the city would incur that cost,” Whitney said.

“After we do the study, who’s going to pay the bill for the compensation?” Brooks-Buck asked.