Board approves proposed budget

Published 10:15 pm Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The backlash came swiftly against Suffolk School Board members Tuesday, mere seconds after they voted to approve the superintendent’s proposed budget.

Teachers made their disapproval of the budget known as they filed out of the standing-room-only room at the Pruden Center following the 4 p.m. meeting.

“Your numbers are wrong.”

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“They all need to go.”

“Clean house.”

“2018” — a reference to the next School Board election.

And finally, “Isle of Wight just opened up their application process,” a statement that was met with cheers and applause.

Many teachers came to the meeting with signs to protest the proposed budget, which includes a 14-percent raise for Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney. Most of that raise was already approved by the School Board in a closed meeting last fall and implemented retroactively to July.

On the other hand, the budget includes only an average 2.4-percent increase for teachers and other staff.

The budget has included an increase for teachers and support staff the last four years in a row, but many teachers said Tuesday they have not seen that in their take-home pay because of increasing retirement and health insurance costs.

“Do not call it a raise,” said Eszter Murayni, who teaches algebra and physics at King’s Fork High School. “Please do not call it a raise. If you call it a raise, you’re offending me.”

Teachers and support staff received a 1-percent increase in 2013-14 and a 2.5-percent increase in 2014-15.

In 2015-16, the raise was at least 2.5 percent. Some teaching positions saw an increase of as much as 11.75 percent, and some support positions up to 28 percent, due to the implementation of a compensation study.

In 2016-17, further phases of the study were implemented for support personnel, some of whom saw a 10.5-percent increases. Teachers also received a 2.4-percent increase this year.

During Tuesday’s meeting, School Board member David Mitnick said he would not vote for the budget.

“I feel like we’re overlooking our greatest resource, which is our teachers,” he said.

Over the weekend and on Monday, he floated the idea of asking the city for additional money to fund another 1-percent increase.

“I know the answer if we don’t ask for that additional 1 percent,” he said Tuesday. “If we do ask, it will be on the city to decide if they see fit to help us at this juncture.”

Mitnick cast the only vote against the budget, earning him a round of applause as he left the meeting room later.

Chairman Michael Debranski noted that the proposed budget includes funds for raises.

“This budget is one that provides for raises across the board,” he said.

Many teachers carried signs criticizing Whitney’s raise and referencing the fact that only 12 of the division’s 19 schools — 61 percent — are fully accredited.

“Sixty-one percent doesn’t cut it for us,” said Sherri Story, who teaches International Baccalaureate biology at King’s Fork High School. “He needs remediation and tutoring. They want us at 80 percent, yet he did an outstanding job at 61 percent of his schools accredited? Students are losing out at our non-accredited schools.”

As School Board members walked past a crowd of teachers outside the Pruden Center, some talked with teachers, and some responded to criticism — and some did not.

As Chairman Michael Debranski stepped off the curb, one teacher yelled, “Can I get a raise for a 61-percent pass rate?”

Debranski turned and said, “I don’t know. Can you?”

The local funding portion of the school system’s budget request now will be included in the city’s budget process. The $161 million budget includes a request for $2 million more than the $53.8 million the city provided last year.