Suffolk superintendent’s proposed $232.5 million budget provides raises for school employees

Published 10:44 pm Friday, February 25, 2022

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Emphasizing the retention and recruitment of teachers, support staff and bus drivers while providing relief for overburdened staff, Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III has proposed a $232.5 million budget that calls for pay raises and adds 28 new positions.

The raises for teachers would range from 7.46% to 8.26%, and for support staff, they would be 5% to 5.5% and bus drivers 5.84%, which would have their minimum pay increase to $15.30 per hour.

Gordon said the raises are needed, not only to be competitive with other school divisions in the region but to keep people from leaving for higher pay elsewhere. If adopted, the pay scale for teachers would increase by about $3,000 at the low end of the scale, from $46,350 currently to $49,316. At the upper end of the scale for more experienced teachers, it would increase by about $5,000, from $77,641 to $82,610.

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His budget calls for a $2 million increase in local money, from $65.3 million to $67.3 million, and it projects state funding at about $106.3 million, about $7.9 million more than the division has from the state in its current budget. However, the final amount the division will receive from the state won’t be known until the General Assembly passes a budget and Gov. Glenn Youngkin signs it, expected sometime in May. The state’s portion of the budget has a 5% raise for teachers in each year of its biennium budget.

“The 5% coming from the state is really driving our budget,” Gordon said.

City Council will vote in May on the city’s allocation to the school division, then the School Board will meet again in a special meeting to adopt the budget.

The proposed budget also includes about $1.1 million in federal revenue, consisting of reimbursement from JROTC and impact aid, along with $806,880 in other funds, made up of rents, interest, tuition and fees.

The proposed positions for the fiscal 2023 budget include 10 new teachers — six at the secondary level, three specialists and one for the new Center for Performing and Production Arts program that will start at Lakeland High School at the beginning of the next school year. It also includes four elementary in-school suspension monitors, five school assessment assistants at the elementary and middle school levels, two school counselors – one each at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School and one for auxiliary programs – and one instructional technology resource teacher.

“The school counselors have basically been the unsung heroes for our instructional department,” Gordon said. “And they’re not only working with students, they’ve been working with staff. It’s tough being an educator right now. … So we want to be able to not only increase the overall allotment of counselors, but just to take that piece off their plates as much as possible. It’s not completely off, but it’s going to be a lot more time for them to be able to have one-to-one conversations with kids, working with the master schedules to make sure we’re giving the kids the electives of their choice. We think in doing this, it’s also going to be able to increase our advanced diploma students because they’ll have more opportunities for sequencing (and) I made some changes in study hall. These are things that we think are needed.”

Gordon also wants to hire a chief of schools and a supervisor of auxiliary programs, both new positions for SPS, along with a master trades-plumber, a media and communications technician and administrative assistants for the two new administrative posts.

The 28 new positions — 22 of which Gordon noted would be straightforward instruction positions — would cost the division about $1.8 million, while the raises for current staff would cost about $6.7 million and operating costs increases would total close to $1.4 million.

“One of the things that we really wanted to take a hard look at is, the first year that I was here, the pandemic hit, and so I had asked the city for $3 million, and the city manager at the time, Patrick Roberts, just gave me $1.5 million because that’s all he could afford. The revenue streams, they got shut down. So then last year, I put the positions back in there I was originally asking for in year one. So this year is really about us getting back on schedule. … The main thing I’m really, really excited about is our ability to be able to make us competitive with four salary scales in one year.”

School Board members who spoke following the budget presentation from Gordon and the division’s Chief Financial Officer Wendy Forsman — Karen Jenkins, Lorita Mayo, Heather Howell, Vice Chairwoman Phyllis Byrum and Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck — said they were pleased about the proposed pay increases and that issues they raised were addressed. Sherri Story, who was in Richmond at the General Assembly and attended the meeting virtually, appeared via Zoom but said later on her board Facebook page that she could not understand what anyone was saying during the budget presentation. Tyron Riddick was not at the meeting.

The board will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at its March 10 meeting. Gordon has also asked the board to vote on his proposal for a chief of schools at that time, so that person can be in place before the end of the current school year and get a jump start on the next year.

He said he and Forsman are tracking what the General Assembly is doing, but is excited by how the budget will address the division’s employees.

“We feel good about it,” Gordon said. “Our 2,300 employees are really excited because you can see we took care of everybody. That’s a rarity. We took care of everybody.”