School budget fully funded

Published 9:41 pm Thursday, May 18, 2017

Teachers and support staff in Suffolk Public Schools will receive 2.5-percent across-the-board raises after a vote by the School Board on Thursday morning.

The meeting happened about 12 hours after City Council approved an amended budget on Wednesday night that cut some planned city positions and made other changes to provide the extra money to the school system.

At its meeting on Thursday morning, the School Board adopted a budget with 2.5-percent raises for all teachers and support staff up to the highest step levels — 29 and 18 years, respectively. For those with longer service, the raises are 1.5 percent. Permanent part-time employees will receive a 1-percent raise.

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The city’s original proposed budget had provided for $1 million in increased funding to the school system, rather than the $2 million the schools had originally sought.

However, City Council instructed City Manager Patrick Roberts two weeks ago to look for a way to provide the extra money without a tax increase.

Roberts said Wednesday night he had looked for ways to make it happen without cutting into services provided by the city.

“We’ve just pulled back a little bit and made sure we didn’t cut into existing service levels,” he said.

The amended budget eliminated three new positions that had been proposed in the assessor’s, commonwealth’s attorney’s and treasurer’s offices. It also eliminated funding for a Unified Development Ordinance update, an IT data update and a police department staffing study.

However, Roberts said he was optimistic that the police study could be funded later in the calendar year, perhaps with savings from the current fiscal year.

A small amount of the $1 million gap was filled with new revenue, including updates to real estate tax projections and new state revenue.

City Council members praised the changes and supported the amended budget unanimously, but a couple of them still voiced reservations about how the money will be spent when it is turned over the schools.

“I’m still somewhat apprehensive that the additional funds provided this evening will indeed be appropriated prudently,” Councilman Mike Duman said. “But I believe we have a duty to assist in an effort to resolve current school issues.”

Duman lauded the plan to give across-the-board raises, especially to more experienced teachers. The schools’ original plan had been to boost the lower levels of the pay scale to aid recruitment efforts.

“I implore you to follow through with this concept, as I believe we can ill afford to neglect those experienced teachers who are the heart of your instructional staff,” Duman said.

Those concerns were echoed during Thursday morning’s School Board meeting, when School Superintendent Deran Whitney suggested the administration would be looking in the future into how the system could afford to give larger raises to its most veteran teachers.

Under the budget adopted by the School Board, teachers with 30 or more years of time in Suffolk, as well as support staff with 19 years or more of Suffolk experience, will receive raises of just 1.5 percent, compared with the 2.5 percent their colleagues will receive.

Finance Director Wendy Forsman described the practice as “very common,” and board member Enoch Copeland suggested that teachers with 30 years or more experience would soon benefit from retirement, anyway.

Member David Mitnick, however, expressed his hope that those teachers — there are 88 of them teaching in Suffolk today — would be better taken care of in the future.

“I am concerned that our most loyal employees are getting shortchanged,” he said.

Looking ahead to future years, including the opening of two new schools in 2018, Councilman Tim Johnson on Wednesday encouraged the school system to consider limited resources.

“I encourage our schools to recognize that our resources are not a bottomless pit,” Johnson said. “We all need to recognize that we have limited resources, and we need to use them wisely.”