Specialists are another budget casualty

Published 10:15 pm Monday, May 12, 2014

When they met last week, some School Board members asked tough questions of nine instructional specialists under the superintendent’s co-called Strategic Staffing Plan.

Deran Whitney announced his executive decision to replace 13 instructional support positions with 19 new ones early last year. The board didn’t vote on it.

The plan was developed by reviewing student performance data, up-to-date teaching strategies and instructional challenges, “in an effort to work towards getting all schools fully accredited,” Whitney stated at the time.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

The first batch of hires under the plan, who stood before the board Thursday, will not be added to for the next school year. Officials had hoped to find money in the 2014-2015 budget to implement a second phase, but no money is proposed.

While a Suffolk News-Herald analysis last year indicated that filling all 19 positions after eliminating 13 likely wouldn’t be cost-neutral — despite Whitney’s assertion it would be — it would seem that until more of the plan is executed, support for regular teachers is likely to be reduced from what it was under the former arrangement, and possibly not enough to get the job done.

That places a lot of burden on the shoulders of the nine specialists to help turn around Suffolk’s six schools without full accreditation. The task is more than they would have bargained for when they threw their proverbial hats into the ring.

Whitney’s job, like the School Board’s, is to improve student performance in Suffolk’s public schools, and that was his intention introducing the staffing shakeup.

Positions under his plan that have not been filled, and, because of a tight budget, won’t be in 2014-2015 either, include two English specialists, three math specialists, two history/social studies specialists, two science specialists, a professional development specialist for teacher/administrator mentoring, and a coordinator of accountability.

There has been some grumbling from teachers over the new positions, because they are being told they need to do their jobs differently. No one likes being told what to do, but test scores are evidence that change is needed in at least some classrooms.

The stalling mid-execution of the superintendent’s plan is another result of the budget problems. If its full implementation would help teachers teach better, resulting in more fully accredited schools and increased pride in our system, then this particular casualty is more tragic than the others.

Now we can decide whom to blame: The city, for under-funding the schools; or Suffolk Public Schools, for not using what they do have wisely enough; or some combination of both.