School division budget unveiled

Published 10:05 pm Thursday, February 14, 2019

Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney unveiled a $173.8 million budget Thursday that provides raises for teachers and support staff while adding state-mandated counselors and money for an out-of-school suspension center.

Whitney’s proposed 2019-2020 budget is an increase of about $5.3 million from the current budget. That includes a $1 million increase — from $59.8 million to $60.8 million — in contribution from the city. He said based on Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget presented in December, he expects about $3.6 million in increased state revenue.

In his proposal, state money would increase by $4.2 million to $90.6 million. Neither the House of Delegates nor the Senate has yet to approve a budget. State money would make up about 59 percent of the proposed budget, with another 39.6 percent coming from the city.

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Whitney’s proposal includes a 2.25-percent cost-of-living raise for teachers at a cost of $1.75 million. Support staff would receive a half-percent raise as well as a step increase on the pay scale, while permanent part-time staff would receive a 1.5-percent cost of living increase, costing $967,500.

The addition of six guidance counselors would cost $550,000, and an additional career and technical education teacher at $57,000.

Whitney is also proposing two additional programs — an out-of-school suspension center with two teacher assistants ($81,499) and the Excel Academy at Driver instructional program staffed with four, 11-month teacher specialists at a cost of $368,372 to help students struggling academically in traditional classrooms.

Dr. Suzanne Rice, assistant superintendent for student services, said it hasn’t been decided whether there would be one or two out-of-school suspension centers — for students suspended from two to 10 days — and how students would be transported to them.

Schools would also receive an additional $95,000 for professional development and instrument repair and replacement at middle and high schools. Whitney is also asking for $150,000 for disaster recovery equipment and another $68,328 for playground equipment replacements.

Whitney had indicated during a School Board work session earlier this month that he would prioritize raises for teachers, bus drivers and support staff.

The school division’s budget has three funds — the operating fund, grants fund and the food services fund, the latter of which is self-supporting.

In Whitney’s proposal, the operating fund would see a 3-percent increase to $153.5 million, the grants fund would rise by 2.6 percent to $11.7 million and the food services fund go up by 4.5 percent to $8.6 million. The operating fund makes up more than 88 percent of the budget.

In initial comments about the budget, School Board member Sherri Story asked for a plan to be developed so school playgrounds could be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She called current playgrounds old, dangerous and in need of money for improvement.

Whitney said the playgrounds are not dangerous but noted that as the school division buys new equipment, the law states it would have to add ADA compliance.

“It’s a matter of looking at the playgrounds that need the most attention first,” Whitney said.

Whitney said a plan could be developed by April.

School Board member Tyron Riddick asked that the school division look for grants to help pay for playground improvements.