City Council and School Board Meeting

Published 6:29 pm Friday, February 3, 2023

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City Council and School Board members, along with City Manager Albert S. Moor II and Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III, held a joint meeting Wednesday to discuss the Capital Improvement Plan and needed renovations at John F. Kennedy Middle School. 

During the Wednesday, Feb. 1 meeting, Suffolk Public Schools Director of Facilities and Planning Terry Naiper gave a presentation focusing on the Suffolk Public Schools approved CIP submission listing 11 projects in the plan. Suffolk Director of Finance Tealen Hansen also provided an overview of the CIP process and literary fund. 

The overview detailed the CIP run from September through April.

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September is when city departments and agencies submit capital requests, which then go to the city manager in October. At this point, staff reviews CIP requests, as well as hold meetings with submitting departments and agencies, and prepare the City Manager’s proposed capital plan. In November, the City Manager’s proposal is presented to the CIP Subcommittee, with it either approving or recommending edits. December has the subcommittee recommending the CIP presented to the Planning Commission and January has the commission recommending any edits and adopts the CIP. In February and March, the Planning Commission’s recommended capital plan is to be presented to City Council with a CIP public hearing being held to gain feedback from the public. Afterwards, capital spending plan is to be adopted by City Council. Finally, in April, the first year of the adopted CIP is to be included in the City Manager’s proposed operating and capital budget.

“I continually remind those who are listening that the CIP is a plan. It is not a budget, and so it is a planning document that is updated through this process on an annual basis,” emphasized Hansen.  

She said it’s a 10-year plan with the focus on the first five years. 

“It does not become a budget until you’re looking at year one of the CIP,” he said. “Once the CIP is approved, and we’re hoping that that happens at the first meeting at March, then year one of the plan and year one only becomes part of the proposed capital improvement’s budget that we present to the City Council starting in April when we present the operating and capital budget to City Council.”

The upcoming meetings for the capital spending plan is Feb. 15, with it being presented to City Council. On March 1, a public hearing is set to be followed by the plan’s adoption by Council.

Hansen then focused on the literary loan application, which gives the city an opportunity to apply for a state literary loan to help provide funding for the first year of the JFK Middle School Replacement project. The state deadline for the application is Feb. 10. Both City Council and School Board then need to adopt resolutions to support the application.

Council approved the resolution approving the literary fund application at the City Council meeting held after the joint meeting. The School Board has the resolution on its Feb. 9 meeting agenda.

City Manager Moor provided the estimate for JFK Middle School’s project cost, which was prepared by RRMM Architects. The total project cost is estimated at $74,760,808 with the construction cost, construction contingency and miscellaneous project soft costs put together with a 5% escalation.

Discussion points also included the reallocation of funding the human resources building renovation ($9.7 million), state school construction grant funding (20% of project costs), the proposed square footage of JFK School (125,000 square fee with a student size of 800), square footage for SECEP facility and data center, the anticipated improved construction environment, and the fiscal year 2024-2033 CIP project adjustments.

“We also have an opportunity for a state grant, construction grant for schools,” said Moor. “We would be competing against some communities that are probably not triple A bonded or not as strong economically as Suffolk is. So it all depends again who applies.”

Superintendent Gordon spoke further on the literary loan application.

“That is going to be based on the actual economic levels of schools and school divisions,” Gordon said. “There are 132 school divisions in the state. We are expecting 100 school divisions to apply for this loan and once that loan application is completed, there is no timetable given from the state on when money potentially will be allocated.”

Members of both the School Board and Council provided their comments after the presentation, each agreeing against the reduction of student size below 800 and the urgency of JFK Middle School’s restoration.

“It is imperative that we move forward with proposed solutions and not get stuck in the traction of the shortfall,” School Board Chairman Tyron D. Riddick said. “We realize that’s the elephant in the room, but I want us to focus on finding a solution.” 

Riddick said he believes it would be unwise to reduce the capacity of John F. Kennedy Middle School below 800 when they look at the pipeline development for the city. 

“Our city is rapidly increasing,” he said. “When you look at Kings Fork Middle School, Kings Fork Middle School is almost over its capacity, and we still have new pipeline development in the school zone for Kings Fork Middle School. If we reduce John F. Kennedy capacity, we will be coming back to you with the same issues that we don’t have enough space.”

Riddick went on to say he believes they need a school equal to the quality of schools that we have built in the northern end with Colonel Fred Cherry. 

“If that school is at 800 capacity, we need a school, in my opinion, I would say of bigger size, but I will settle for 800,” he said.

Riddick said these are challenges that are beyond their control, but because they house SECEP, that’s a savings for the division. 

“The Department of Education released a budget that had an error in it,” he said. It’s a possibility, well no, it’s a fact we’re going to lose some funds from the state.”

School Board Vice Chair Heather S. Howell said they can’t keep kicking the can down the street with JFK.

“I mean, looking at the discussion points here, obviously reducing the size — that shouldn’t be an option,” Howell said. “We have seen a trend in building schools for what fits in the moment, and not for what’s to come.”

Council Member Roger Fawcett said he would stay very much to a 800 seat school

“I’ll go back and I’ll tell you right up front that I really like 1,000 seat schools, but are we realistically going to get there,” he asked. “We are already facing a $23 million dollar for JFK, and we are not going to sit here tonight and figure out how we’re going to do that. I can tell you that right now, it’s got to be addressed and talked about.” 

Fawcett said supply chain issues or not, he doesn’t believe it will hold to that cost range.

“Any cut, fluff or anything else in this process needs to be gutted out and fixed, so that we’re not putting money in a hole that we don’t need to put it in,” he said. 

School Board Member Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck spoke on going to the federal government for help.

“I spent the weekend with Congress before I came here asking for money, because I want to say this and I said this to Mayor Duman when he first became mayor and I said to Mayor Johnson before him, we have in our SECEP program, and Dr. Gordon gave you some indication on how much that cost,” Brooks-Buck said. “We are supposed to receive 40% of our cost for special education from the government. That’s what they promised us in 1975. We got, not 40%, but $3.8 million dollars. I went to ask Congress ‘Why are you not giving us the money that you promised us,’” Brooks-Buck said. 

“I believe that all children in America should get a free and appropriate public education. But why are you keeping that money?” she said.

Vice Mayor Lue Ward expressed his shock over the $21 million difference and spoke on being more involved in the process of building schools.

“I think we should get more involved in what’s going on when we’re going to build these schools,” Ward said. “It’s not fair for a councilman to see there’s a big $21 million difference, and we got projects besides the school.”

Mayor Michael Duman addressed the issue.

“The school problem can not really be fixed without serious state and federal assistance,” the mayor said. “We’ve got old schools, Virginia Beach has 100 year old schools, Norfolk has a 100 year old school. So it is a problem. It is a problem that we need to understand.” 

Duman said they have to be pragmatic about the situation because there’s only so much money. 

“The city has a lot of needs. Our citizens have a lot of needs. I don’t think any money is spent and is not spent in a fiscally responsible manner,” he said. 

Duman wrapped up the meeting with another meeting set for March and gave Dr. Gordon the final word.

“We definitely want to eliminate the perception that you all don’t talk, and we definitely want to eliminate the perception that the city manager and I don’t talk,” Gordon said. “I text him all the time. He runs things by me, just to make sure that everyone is on the same page and I really do appreciate the relationships that I’ve built with all of our city council members.”

Gordon said he hopes that everyone understands and knows that they are always going to fight for these children. 

“I am really aggressive when it comes to our children. I’m not going to back down on that,” he said. “And it’s a point in time right now where I really believe that some action is going to occur. We’re going to have a plan for you soon. We’re going to move forward with JFK as if we have the money, because every day that we delay it, it’s going to cost us more.”

Mayor Duman thanked everyone for coming and made one final comment.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that these two bodies have to work together. We serve the same constituents; we serve the same tax payers,” he said. “I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again — our city will reach a plateau and will not be able to proceed any higher until our schools achieve and will be perceived as one of the best school systems in the Hampton Roads area.”

School Board member Phyllis C. Byrum, who was unable to attend the meeting, was absent.


Editor’s note: Updated sentence 13 at 8:34 p.m., Friday, Feb. 3 to reflect spelling corrections.