City budget needs more oversight

Published 9:54 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2017

By Kevin Alston

It’s interesting how little City Council members know about budgets.

Some of the members of council are saying that the school system isn’t spending its money wisely. This is the council discrediting the school system with “fake news” to justify providing less local support than any city in Hampton Roads.

Email newsletter signup

According to the 2016 state superintendent’s annual report, the only school division in the surrounding area to spend less per student is Isle of Wight County. Even Southampton County and the City of Franklin spend more.

Comparing city and school budgets for human resources, you will find that both departments are slated to employ seven people. The city pays its seven $513,870, with $31,088 budgeted for part-time work. The school division pays its seven $425,355, with no part-time employment. The city’s budget for human resources is $1,142,414, while the school system’s is $690,785.

The real eye opener is that the school system employs 600 more employees.

How can council members continue to point fingers at the schools for being unwise in their spending when the city isn’t penny-wise?

The city’s budget calls for $30,000 for tuition assistance. Suffolk Public Schools stopped offering tuition assistance, even though teachers are required to take college courses every five years to be recertified. The city provides $18,000 for travel and training, while the school system allots $6,000. Is three times the amount really needed?

One will find more fat in the city’s budget than in the school system’s, yet council wants more oversight of the school system’s finances.

I encourage all citizens to examine the city’s budget. There is more waste in it than the $2 million extra requested by the school system.

Councilman Tim Johnson said he didn’t think extra money would fix school system problems. He believes the system has the resources.

There are non-mandatory programs the school division could cut, but they were spared for the good of the students and the citizens of Suffolk.

Many such programs — things like full-day kindergarten and Turlington Woods Alternative School — have been retained at the expense of raises for teachers.

Lack of funding by the city has also affected allocations to teachers, causing many teachers to use their own money to provide materials for classroom instruction, so it’s not surprising that teachers are leaving Suffolk.

The City Council and the School Board should work as a team.

I wonder sometimes if the members of City Council ever played high school sports. If they had, they would have learned the valuable lesson about pointing fingers at teammates. When you do that, three fingers are pointing back at you.

By the way, athletic programs are not required by the state. I wonder if they are an example of the school system not spending its money wisely.

Kevin Alston is retired from the Suffolk Public Schools administrative offices. Email him at