Support for teacher pay urged

Published 10:08 pm Thursday, April 2, 2015

Suffolk School Board members on Thursday urged all citizens who care about public education to appeal to City Council and state lawmakers to increase funding to schools.

Meeting the day after a city budget was proposed that would shortchange their plans to boost pay for all teachers, members particularly targeted their message at teachers, urging them to make their voices heard at an April 15 public hearing on the city budget.

“I hope that the teachers will become involved at the public meeting about the budget, because I’m very distressed that after all of this time, and after the suggestion of the city that we explore the needs of our teachers … now it comes down to — once again — we are not going to be able to take care of the teachers the way we need to, and we are back in the same place,” Linda Bouchard said.

Email newsletter signup

She was referring to a compensation study for school district employees, which the city mostly funded.

The School Board has supported asking the city for almost $3.9 million to boost teacher pay throughout the scale, the costliest of nine study recommendations.

The planned first phase of implementing the study also includes boosting eight positions that are currently paid more than 20 percent below the market.

But the proposed city budget, revealed to council members Wednesday, includes $2.7 million extra for schools, with part of that going toward capital projects. That leaves about $1.9 million less than what is needed for the first phase, according to Suffolk Public Schools Finance Director Wendy Forsman.

Members of the School Board hope their counterparts on City Council will listen to citizens — provided citizens send them a clear message — and alter the recommended budget to fully fund all the first-phase raises.

“We understand the city’s position, but we want to make it clear we need and want that $3.8 million, because if we don’t (get it), we are going to fall farther behind, School Board Chairman Michael Debranski said.

Board member David Mitnick expressed hope that a provision in the state budget to fund heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment will mean money the city proposed for that purpose can be redirected to the school district’s operating fund.

He also asked teachers to remember what happened last year when they didn’t attend public hearings on the proposed city budget in large numbers. “City Council said there wasn’t that much interest,” he said.

“I hope the teachers in each building will get organized,” Mitnick said.

Phyllis Byrum encouraged everyone in the community to appeal to councilmen. “It’s time for our parents to step up,” she said.

Judith Brooks-Buck said folks should appeal to their state representatives for more money for local school systems. Enoch Copeland agreed, saying the state is “passing the buck” to localities, “whereas the state has washed their hands somewhat.”

The proposed city budget would also hike the real estate tax rate 4 cents, costing taxpayers about $80 more per year on a $200,000 home.