Don’t blame the messenger

Published 10:10 pm Friday, May 19, 2017

Now that the Suffolk City Council has fully funded a school system budget request for $2 million more in local funding, the challenge falls to the School Board and the system’s administration to begin the important and hard work of repairing the battered morale within the ranks of teachers and support staff.

Judging by the public comments from teachers, bus drivers and other public school personnel during the past month, that’s a tall order, but it should be Job No. 1 for administrators, now that the proposed budget has been funded and across-the-board raises granted.

Even more than the question of salaries within the SPS rank and file, the matter of poor employee morale is one that could prove to be crippling to the system’s efforts to ensure that students receive the best educational opportunities possible within budgetary restrictions.

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Put simply, dissatisfied teachers and support staff will not perform nearly as well — and will not achieve nearly the same results — as content ones. And, as it should be abundantly clear to the SPS leadership by now, there are far too many dissatisfied teachers and support staff within the school system right now.

Teachers are frustrated with the burdensome load of non-instructional duties they are called to perform from one day to the next. Bus drivers are frustrated with a continually insufficient transportation plan that causes them to regularly deliver their charges late both to school and back home. And both sets of employees are tired of feeling they are unappreciated by the administration and the School Board.

The fact that Superintendent Deran Whitney and his assistants have already responded to many of the complaints that have been lodged very publicly in recent weeks — Whitney recently sent staff a long spreadsheet detailing an action plan to address many of the complaints — is a positive development that should not be ignored by either teachers or bus drivers.

But their own public pronouncements suggest that some School Board members still do not recognize just how broken things are within the school system. Judith Brooks-Buck, for instance, continues to blame the media for the recent discord, suggesting in a recent meeting that a Suffolk News-Herald story uncovering a secretive raise for Whitney was the reason that some SPS teachers picketed meetings and many bus drivers participated in a “sick-out” this spring.

The story was surely a catalyst for the public outcry, but only insofar as it shone a light on an action that should have been taken in public, rather than behind closed doors. The cause of the unrest was the action itself, not the unveiling of what had been hidden from the public.

If Suffolk Public Schools are to overcome the poor morale that seems so pervasive judging by the picket signs and earnest entreaties at recent School Board meetings, the board will have to do better than blaming the messenger for the problems it has created or allowed to be created.