A pay study without purpose

Published 10:41 pm Thursday, April 17, 2014

It seems it’s getting harder and harder for school and city employees and other citizens to sit through City Council meetings regarding the budget.

There were still seats available in City Council chambers during Wednesday night’s meeting. It was quite an abysmal turnout, and I wasn’t the only one shocked by the apparent apathy.

Spring break may have affected the attendance somewhat, but a likely contributor is that many people just don’t think their protests will make a difference — a reasonable conclusion, considering they haven’t made a difference in past years.

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The City Council’s proposed budget includes yet another year without raises for city employees. It also carved about $2.5 million off the request by the school system, which could hamper the system’s ability to give raises — although the City Council, as members repeated (and repeated and repeated) Wednesday night, doesn’t itself give raises to school employees.

It’s been years since school employees got a meaningful raise. City employees have fared slightly better — a 3-percent increase in fiscal year 2009 and a 2-percent increase in fiscal year 2013, as well as an additional increase for some as part of implementing the first phase of a compensation study.

Now, the City Council has voted to do another compensation study that also includes the school system. Even though they voted unanimously to have it done, some City Council members on Wednesday seemed to question the wisdom of spending money for another study when there’s supposedly no money available to fully implement the first study.

It doesn’t take hours of research by an expensive consulting firm to figure out local government employees, especially school employees, are underpaid. A simple comparison of Suffolk’s pay scale to those of surrounding cities tells all that needs to be said, and many teachers have taken that look themselves in recent years and said goodbye to Suffolk Public Schools.

Even if a study is done, the City Council will insist there’s not enough continuing revenue coming in to implement it, so what good is it going to do to have a study without a significant improvement in revenue? All a study would do at this point is waste more money.

A better use of what limited funds are available would be to give whatever raise is deemed feasible, even if it’s just a small one. A study could then be done later, when there’s actually enough money available to translate it into dollars in workers’ paychecks, rather than just a report on the city manager’s and superintendent’s desks.