18 speak on school budget

Published 10:24 pm Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dozens of teachers, bus drivers and other Suffolk Public Schools employees applauded and cheered during a public hearing Thursday evening on the school system’s proposed budget.

Some of their colleagues, as well as some parents, students and volunteers, made up the 18 speakers during the public hearing on the proposed $161 million spending plan. Employees pleaded for raises for teachers, bus drivers and others, and speakers took aim at raises proposed for administrators.

“Please ensure that we provide above-average compensation for the above-average staff with whom we trust our children every day,” said Sid Neighbours, a John Yeates Middle School teacher.

Email newsletter signup

Many of the speakers complained about a raise proposed for Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney. The budget document released by the school system reflects a 14.1-percent raise, from $177,043 to $202,000.

However, the Suffolk News-Herald learned on Thursday that Whitney already has received the majority of that raise. The School Board raised his salary to $200,000 in conjunction with a performance evaluation in July 2016, school Finance Director Wendy Forsman stated in an email.

“If there is a change, it always comes after the adopted budget has been printed,” she said, explaining why the new salary was not reflected in this year’s budget documents.

School Board members sought to justify the raise in Thursday’s meeting. Member David Mitnick said the superintendent’s raise took place during the last phase of the implementation of a compensation plan.

“The last person to get what they were due was the superintendent,” he said. “We were completing the plan. That was the board’s desire.”

“Such an increase in pay is unjustified,” Nansemond River High School teacher Angela McElroy said during the budget hearing.

Many teachers complained about the workload they carry that colleagues in neighboring divisions don’t have.

“I am done being overwhelmed by the tedious tasks and micromanaging of Suffolk Public Schools,” said Kristen Sherrick, a third-grade teacher at Creekside Elementary School. “With all the other things I am asked to do, it is my students that suffer the most.”

Christina Klein, a John Yeates Middle School teacher, spoke on behalf of the many teachers who were not in attendance.

“I understand why” they were missing, she said. “We don’t feel respected. We don’t feel appreciated.”

There was a large contingent of bus drivers at the meeting who also said they deserve better pay. Several said they would not be able to afford to do the job they love if it were not for their spouse working a good military or corporate job.

“If I didn’t have a husband who was in the military, I wouldn’t be able to drive either,” said Mary Chandler, vice president of the bus driver association. “We need, we want, we demand a raise from you guys.”

The budget includes an average 2.4-percent raise for school system employees, with higher adjustments at the bottom of the teacher scale to aid recruitment efforts. But several teachers on Thursday said that is inadequate, especially with higher health care costs.

The budget proposal has increased about $4.2 million from last year.

An additional $2 million is requested from the city of Suffolk, which provided $53.8 million last year.

The School Board will hold a work session at 4 p.m. March 15 to discuss the budget. The place is yet to be determined.