Teachers get 1.5-percent raises

Published 9:47 pm Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A raise approved for Suffolk teachers by the School Board on Monday might not be enough to stop them from fleeing for better pay or retiring early.

At least, that’s the prediction by the leader of the Education Association of Suffolk.

Board members on Monday unanimously approved the district’s 2014-2015 budget with a 1.5-percent raise for all full-time district employees.

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It’s less than Superintendent Deran Whitney’s original proposal of 3 percent for teachers and 2 percent for other full-time employees, but improves upon the 1.5 percent bonuses that remained on the table after the city didn’t fully meet the district’s request to fund the larger raises.

“Right now, I don’t know how they (teachers) will be reacting,” said John Yeates Middle School alternative education teacher Wendell Foster, president of the association’s local chapter.

“At least it’s something. But it’s not enough that it’s going to make any difference in their pay. I’m sure they are delighted that they got something, but it’s not going to be enough to do anything. Teachers are still leaving.”

Significant numbers of teachers leaving for other, better-paying divisions or retiring early compelled the board to provide some kind of a raise. But Foster thinks the 1.5 percent won’t make much difference.

“A lot of them have already put in for moving,” he said, predicting more teachers would be leaving this summer than in previous years.

The board’s decision hasn’t defused the teacher pay issue, according to Foster. “It’s been brewing in Suffolk for quite a few years, and it’s gotten to the point where it’s really going to blow up before long,” he said.

“This is nothing. Things are going to get worse before they get better. I’m praying and hoping that something like that doesn’t happen.”

The board had to go with 1.5 percent after it was unable to find more savings in a budget with a $129 million operating fund, according to board Chairman Michael Debranski.

With a salary study set for the coming months, Debranksi hopes the city will make permanent its one-off funding of $1 million, which, together with belt-tightening, will fund the raise in the next instructional year.

“I’m glad we were able to do that much, but I’m not happy about it,” Debranski said of the 1.5 percent.

“Eighty percent of our budget is salary, and we have cut, cut, cut. There’s only so much (more) we can cut.”

Ahead of the next budget, the district will research where more cuts could be made, Debranski said, adding that officials are working cooperatively with their city counterparts “to find money.”

Debranski expressed disappointment with the state budget, indicating that he thought Gov. Terry McAuliffe would have somehow protected funds for teacher raises that were stripped out after a decline in revenues.

“We need as much help from the state as we need from the city,” Debranski said. “Public education has got to be the No. 1 priority. You can’t have a good community without a good educational system; you can’t have a good state without a good state educational system.”

Suffolk’s economy is strong, Debranksi said, but that’s “not showing up in the school budget.”