A good time to talk schools

Published 8:44 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2014

With another budget in the books, now’s the time for Suffolk’s City Council and School Board to stop the blame game, come together and figure out long-term solutions for some of the worrisome trends that threaten the quality of public education in the city.

Budget-setting season next spring isn’t the time to do it. This being an election year for both City Council and School Board members, neither is the fall. The time for an unemotional, solution-driven discussion is right now, before campaign rhetoric starts flying and the glare of the spotlight of another budget season arrives.

The stakes are high. Suffolk’s long-range economic health and quality of life for its citizens will be determined in large part by the quality of its public schools today. Put another way, today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce.


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So Suffolk would be wise to nip in the bud problems like an extraordinarily high turnover rate among teachers.

Issues beyond pay scales almost certainly contribute to Suffolk teachers’ decisions to leave for jobs in other school divisions, but competitive pay must be part of the solution.

As it stands, Suffolk is lagging badly against the neighboring localities against which it competes for the best teachers. Among 11 Hampton Roads school divisions, Suffolk teacher pay ranks as follows:

  • One year of experience: 10th
  • Three years of experience: Ninth
  • Five years: Eighth
  • Six years: Ninth
  • Seven years: Ninth
  • Eight years: 10th
  • Nine years: 11th
  • Ten years: 10th
  • Eleven years: 10th
  • Fifteen-25 years: Eighth

It’s troubling that a nine-year educator — in the prime of his or her career — can go to Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Williamsburg, Portsmouth, Isle of Wight, York County, Virginia Beach or Franklin and get a pay increase.

Entry-level salaries are a bad place to rank next to last, because they hurt your ability to attract the best and brightest teachers out of college. Ranking dead last in pay for more experienced teachers is even worse, because it means your proven educators are constantly leaving for greener pastures.

A nine-year educator, who makes $40,790 annually in Suffolk, can instantly earn a 13-percent pay increase by taking a job in Portsmouth, York County, Isle of Wight or Chesapeake. And many are taking the leap.

In the scope of city and school budgets that together exceed $300 million a year, that’s a crisis that surely can be fixed with a little statesmanship from elected leadership.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is steve.stewart@suffolknewsherald.com.