Board talks teacher workload

Published 9:50 pm Wednesday, March 15, 2017

See the proposed teacher scale here.

School Board members discussed pay and working conditions for employees and defended the manner in which they gave the superintendent a raise last year during a special work session on Wednesday at King’s Fork Middle School.

After discussing the superintendent’s performance in closed session last September, the board voted in open session to approve the “personnel report,” the contents of which were not made public.

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Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney later received a 13-percent raise, to $200,000, retroactive to July 1, 2016. The move only became publicly known a week ago as the Suffolk News-Herald questioned the 14-percent raise reflected in the proposed budget.

Some of the School Board members appeared unaware on Wednesday that the personnel report is not accessible via the Freedom of Information Act.

“It is done not in secrecy, it is done as all personnel matters issues are done — behind closed doors,” board member Linda Bouchard said. “I will defend what I did as long as I am on the board. I think I did the right thing.”

Board member David Mitnick said the superintendent’s review was moved to September in order to be able to view the results of standardized testing in the prior school year before conducting the review. It was not an attempt to hide anything, he added.

“The raise was deserved and overdue,” he said, adding that a compensation study considered Whitney’s salary to be more than 20 percent below the market rate.

Board member Judith Brooks-Buck echoed the sentiment.

“It’s not at the top of the scale, it’s nowhere near the top of the scale, it’s not the market, but it’s what we have,” she said. “We saw an opportunity to do what was right and what was fair. Everybody has a place in the school system, and we are a team.”

Earlier in the meeting, the board viewed past and proposed raises for teachers and bus drivers and discussed how to improve their working conditions, which were a major point of contention at last week’s public hearing on the budget.

“It was a complex reason for their anger, and it was, I’d say, equally pay and working conditions,” Bouchard said. “I think we ought to as quickly as possible reduce the workload of the teachers, because they keep saying they’re working far more and making less.”

Whitney said Dr. LaToya Harrison, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, is working on getting input from teachers.

Several School Board members said they want to form a committee of teachers and not have concerns filtered through principals or other administrators.

Finance Director Wendy Forsman said teachers and support staff have received raises each year since 2013-2014. The compensation study was implemented in the last two years, resulting in larger raises for some.

Addressing bus driver working conditions also took a large portion of the meeting.

Director of Transportation Keba Baldwin said he started a pilot program this year to give drivers a monetary incentive to have fewer absences. Those who are absent three or fewer days from now to the end of the year will get $250, he said. That could be increased next year.

School Board members also questioned Baldwin about how drivers are paid and how the discipline of children who misbehave on the school bus is handled.

“We need to make sure we are at our best when riding the bus, because it does become a safety issue,” Baldwin said.

No changes to the proposed budget were discussed on Wednesday.

Another meeting of the board has been set to approve the budget. It will take place at 4 p.m. Tuesday at a location to be announced.