Debranski: ‘Get new council members’

Published 10:56 pm Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Seeking to retain his School Board seat amid a former fellow member’s challenge, Chairman Michael Debranski, 71, defends the division’s reputation and takes aim at the city’s approach to funding public education.

Debranski’s education career spanned 34 years, most of them in Suffolk. He taught physical education and also served as a department head, head football coach, athletics director, assistant principal and principal.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from the College of William and Mary, his master’s degree and certificate of advanced studies in educational administration from Old Dominion University, and his doctorate from Virginia Tech.

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Debranski, who has served 8-½ years on the School Board, also ran his own business for 10 years, selling graduation products.

The district can reduce its budget, Debranski said, but only minimally. “Our budget reflects 73-½ percent of payments to our employees already,” he said.

Therefore, according to Debranski, the majority of funding for meaningful raises needs to come from the city.

Asked how City Council could be convinced of this, Debranski replied, “Get new council members.”

The School Board’s focus is educating Suffolk children, Debranski says, but that’s not a priority for the current City Council.

Debranski said city leaders should “put their focus on the most important resource in the city — the kids. Period.”

Since 2006, the School Board has been able to provide a raise of only 2 percent, he noted. Debranski also referenced cuts to administrative positions, while “we put all our extra money in curriculum and instruction.”

According to Debranski, the city achieved a AAA credit rating by placing into its reserves almost $9 million annually for seven years.

That money came from the operating budget, he said.

“Why do you do that when you have a school system that’s struggling?”

“I think I would have to sit down with the mayor and say, ‘Here’s where we are,’” Debranski said. “She seems to be the push behind it.”

Regarding School Superintendent Deran Whitney, he said, “Right now I feel fully confident in the work he’s doing, because he’s following the needs of the city.”

After the number of district schools falling into the category increased this year to 10 of 19, Debranski believes the meaning of “accredited with warning” is misunderstood.

For instance, he said, Forest Glen Middle School became accredited with warning simply because 25 kids in one English class “didn’t do well at the test.”

“I think it’s been blown out of proportion and not understood,” Debranski said.

“When you have people that look at things in a negative way and report them in a negative way, it’s hard to overcome that.”