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State to provide more money for city schools

Suffolk Public Schools will get more than $4.3 million in additional state money as part of Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III’s proposed fiscal year 2021-2022 budget.

The increase, which takes the proposed budget to $196.3 million, is roughly $2.5 million more than what the division initially proposed, but Gordon, along with division Chief Financial Officer Wendy Forsman, had cautioned during the introduction of the budget that it could, and would, likely change due to what the state allocated to localities.

The operational fund under the proposed budget moves from $163.1 million to $165.6 million.

Forsman said that as part of the budget, teachers would get anywhere from a 2.83% to a 4.58% raise depending on their experience. The state budget required local divisions to provide a 5% raise over two years. With this year’s proposed raises for teachers, they would receive anywhere from a 7.83% to a 10.58% raise over the two-year budget.

She said the city needs to provide the raises in order to keep pace with other school divisions in the region, with Suffolk sixth of 11 in Region II in starting teacher salaries, paying beginning teachers with a Bachelor of Arts degree $45,000 per year. Region II includes all South Hampton Roads school divisions, as well as the Western Tidewater school divisions in Isle of Wight County, Southampton County and Franklin, and school divisions on the Peninsula. The 2.83% cost of living raise proposed, she said, would allow the division to keep pace.

Teachers from 0 to 10 years of experience would also get a 1% step raise, while those with 11 to 34 years of experience would receive a 1.75% step raise. Starting teacher salaries would, as a result, increase to more than $46,700 per year.

Bus drivers would receive a 1% step raise after being moved to a new pay scale in the current budget that saw starting pay increase to $14.60 per hour.

The initial increase of more than $1.8 million was based on Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget. The new amount is based on the General Assembly’s approved budget earlier this month.

The approved budget from state legislators includes a requirement to add school counselors and specialized student support positions, and a 5% raise over two years for all staff.

The division’s proposed budget calls for a $3 million increase in city money to $65.3 million, which is about $160,000 less than what the city approved in its current budget.

During a public hearing on the budget, principals from Nansemond Parkway Elementary, King’s Fork Middle and King’s Fork High schools all outlined initiatives at their respective schools that have been able to be completed thanks to previous budget allocations, while a trio of speakers continued to call for the board to adopt line-item budgeting, something that Forsman and Gordon say is already done.

And Board Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck took issue with those who have said the board and the division are not being transparent in the budget.

“This is a year’s worth of what we purchased,” Brooks-Buck said, standing up and holding a stack of printouts. “We’ve hidden nothing from anyone.”

She said every month, board members get a printout of everything the school division has bought, and that information is posted to the division’s website, noting down to the pencil, paper clip and people hired what money is being spent on.

Gordon, following the public hearing, said he hoped that after that, the public would see that teachers get what they need for their classrooms, and that teachers and administrators work together to support students with instructional resources.

“Our teachers can speak for themselves,” Gordon said. “In the Educate and Innovate survey … our teachers prove that they do not have a problem informing us of what they want.”

The budget still calls for adding 23.6 full-time equivalent positions at a cost of $1.7 million, including eight new teachers and other school-related positions, a special education adaptive PE teacher specialist, a social worker, two required elementary school counselors, two high school in-school suspension monitors, a security monitor/crossing guard, a nurse assistant and a part-time nurse assistant.

The Board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. March 25 at Col. Fred Cherry Middle School for a budget work session, where it is expected to vote on whether to adopt the proposed budget.