No excuse for failure

Published 9:33 pm Wednesday, June 25, 2014

After years of going without, teachers in Suffolk Public Schools will finally receive a pay raise this year as a result of a decision by the School Board this week. That’s the good news. The bad news, on the other hand, is that it will be hard for most of them to tell much difference in their paychecks.

Bucking against a suggestion by the City Council that teachers receive a bonus of 1.5 percent, Suffolk’s school board chose to budget a 1.5-percent raise this year. To put that number into perspective, a teacher earning $40,000 a year (and many Suffolk teachers do not earn that much) will get an extra $600 — before taxes — as a result of the increase. It’s likely that nobody will be running out to buy a new car based on the raise.

In fact, reports indicate that the bump in salaries may not be enough to stem the tide of teachers considering a move to other school systems. Wendell Foster, a middle school teacher in Suffolk and president of the Education Association of Suffolk, said this week what many teachers must be thinking: “At least it’s something.” But he followed up with a statement that should have the School Board and the system’s administrators worried: “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.”

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School Superintendent Deran Whitney had proposed a 3-percent raise in the budget request that was submitted to the City Council for funding, but council members chose not to fully fund that request, so the School Board trimmed the salary increase.

It would be easy to blame City Council for not fully funding the School Board’s request, and many teachers will follow the School Board’s lead in doing so. But the school system has a $129 million operating budget this year, which includes about $50 million from Suffolk taxpayers.

It strains credulity to suggest a spending plan so large has been pared to the point that Whitney and the School Board could not trim enough fat to provide more than the pittance teachers will be getting this year.

And yet the real challenge lies ahead. In order to stem the tide of teachers leaving the school system, administrators and the School Board must find a way both to sustain this year’s small raise and to provide another increase next year that will make teaching in the city’s schools an affordable and rewarding option.

Accomplishing that task will require some serious sacrifices and a great measure of political will. It will be a demanding process, but failing to accomplish the goal will be an inexcusable slight to a group that has been offered nothing but excuses for years.