School superintendent answers budget queries

Published 10:13 pm Saturday, May 3, 2014

Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Deran Whitney has circulated a memorandum to School Board members to “clarify some misconceptions” regarding the district’s budget.

Whitney handed out the three-page document, along with two other budget-related documents, during a School Board meeting Thursday.

Tensions have been building and commentary flying since the city manager’s proposed budget turned down the School Board’s request for an extra $3.5 million to provide 3-percent raises for full-time teachers and 2 percent for other employees.


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The city’s proposed budget instead proposes about $1.5 million to fund a 1.5-percent bonus for all school division staff. City employees would also receive the bonus.

Councilman Mike Duman and others have argued the school system could save enough money to fund teacher raises by reducing health benefits and cutting its budget in other ways.

Whitney pointed out that the 2014-2015 budget actually has a decrease in the division’s health insurance costs, despite a nationwide trend of increasing costs.

The division’s health costs have fallen, Whitney stated, due to hiring of part-time employees that don’t receive health insurance instead of full-time workers that do, for positions such as bus drivers and custodians.

Costs also have been passed on to employees, he stated, with doubled co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses, added deductibles, 29-percent premium increases for family and spousal coverage and a 200-percent increase for the employee-only premium.

Other points included in Whitney’s presentation include the following:

  • Next year’s allocation for part-time/overtime wages is $2.3 million, a line item that includes summer programs, remediation, homebound instruction and other necessities.
  • Suffolk Public Schools have reduced 276 positions since fiscal year 2010, including 122 teachers, 79 teacher assistants, 18 professional positions, 10 clerical positions and 57 trade/non-professional positions.
  • The district’s funding has been reduced $6.5 million since fiscal year 2009, while costs have continued to rise.
  • Rates for retirement, group life and Virginia Retirement System health care are set by the state.
  • Unfunded mandates and added reporting from state and federal governments have almost doubled since 2009.
  • Non-personnel operating costs are estimated at almost $20.6 million for fiscal 2015. These items “are all essential to maintain a conducive learning environment,” according to Whitney.
  • Other budgeted expenses include $2.9 million for services, including general education, special education, career and technical education test scoring and various other costs.
  • Materials and supplies is $2.6 million, and Share Joint Operations (such as Suffolk’s share for the The Pruden Center) is $5.4 million.

Whitney invited School Board members, who did not discuss the memorandum during the meeting, to contact him with any questions.