School Board takes shots on budget

Published 10:43 pm Thursday, April 10, 2014

School Board members had some strong words during their meeting Thursday for their City Council counterparts, including a parting shot from Diane Foster, who is retiring as Sleepy Hole’s representative.

Foster took aim at the city’s decision to develop a replacement for downtown’s Morgan Memorial Library.

“There’s a time and place to build a $20-million library, and when your teachers have not had a raise for years it is not time to build a $20-million library,” she said.

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After the School Board asked the city for an extra $3.5 million to fund raises for teachers and other school division staff, a city budget proposed by its manager, Selena Cuffee-Glenn, would fund a 1.5-percent, one-off bonus for school and city employees, short-changing the school request by about $2.5 million and leaving educators contemplating yet another year without a raise.

Foster also pointed to the city’s previous expenditure on the relatively new North Suffolk Library, saying, “People can drive across town to get books.”

“I’m not trying to build bad blood … (but) from the time I have been on this board I have never felt that it (the school division) was funded fairly,” she said.

Picking up on her departing colleague’s theme, Judith Brooks-Buck said, “If it weren’t for teachers nobody would be entering any profession, because we teach them to read those books in the library. Supporting the schools has to be a critical element in making the city better than it is.”

Bonnie Wagner, a librarian with the division who last month also addressed City Council, said the teacher pay issue was “doing serious danger to this district’s reputation,” with teachers increasingly finding employment with other school districts or leaving the profession entirely, and morale plummeting among those who stay put.

“This situation cannot and should not be allowed to continue,” she said.

Suffolk citizen William E. Newsome went as far as suggesting the School Board should  “sue the city of Suffolk for adequate funding, so they can operate properly.”

“When you lag behind Isle of Wight County, and they have got 10 pigs, a cotton patch and a peanut plantation, you are in trouble — any way you look at it,” he said.

Michael Debranski, its chairman, said the School Board remained “committed” to a 3-percent raise for teachers “one way or the other.”

“We don’t know how we are going to go about it at this point,” he said. “I’m hoping for a miracle — maybe more practicably, I’m hoping for things we can do, as well.”

Enoch Copeland, board vice chair, encouraged Foster to continue speaking out after her departure from the board. “You can speak now, where you probably couldn’t speak before,” he observed.

Following veteran board member Lorraine Skeeter’s suggestion, Superintendent Deran Whitney said he would see if he could organize a meeting between School Board and City Council members. “It’s communication, I think,” Skeeter said.

The board formally accepted a resignation from Foster, who can no longer represent Sleepy Hole after she moved to a different borough.

It set an April 30 deadline for expressions of interest from Sleepy Hole for Foster’s interim replacement until a special election in November to decide a permanent new member. Letters can be forwarded to board clerk Cynthia Chavis — visit www.spsk12.net in the future for more details.