Residents discuss SPS budget proposal at town hall

Published 6:18 pm Friday, March 10, 2023

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The public had the opportunity to discuss and provide input on the proposed 2023-2024 Suffolk Public Schools budget during a town hall meeting held by Holy Neck Borough School Board Member Dawn Marie Brittingham.

The 183 page, $175 million.49 million budget provided information funds the district in areas including security and safety, food services revenues, and career and technical education.

The town hall drew more than 20 citizens, along with Suffolk Mayor Michael Duman, Councilman Timothy Johnson, Del. Clinton Jenkins and Planning Commissioner Johnnie Edwards.

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“I’m here because I want to know what you want me to know. So what questions do you have about the budget,” said Brittingham opening the public forum. “The question is, for me, where the proposals are for the budget where the money is going to be placed, is that ‘Where do we need to place the money?’ And I want to know what you guys think about it. I want to know if you agree with where the money is being proposed. And if you don’t, I need to know where so that I can take those questions back to the Superintendent.”

Early comments were made on the importance of the Saturday Academy program for student achievement with another asking on the breakdown data on permanent teachers versus substitute teachers. 

On the slide on Instruction – High School General Education, one citizen discussed the “Professional Learning Alloc” number being raised from $14,204 (actual for 2021-2022) to $15,000 (both revised 2022-2023 and proposed 2023-2024).

“That’s for training teachers, is that for their professional development,”  the citizen asked. “And where’s the money that should be going towards that? Because, in my opinion, we spend a lot more money for the professional development for our teachers.”

Brittingham acknowledged the issue, sharing her opinion of more money being allocated toward the school-level educators and professional development.

“That is a question I personally have, is why aren’t we investing in our educators? If we want student achievement to go up, we need to invest in our educators,” she said.

Likewise, as the citizen connected the issue to long range substitutes versus permanent teachers, Brittingham also said she wants to know that herself.

“Why are we not filling these positions with highly qualified educators? Why do we keep filling these positions with long-term subs?” Brittingham said. “If we want our students to thrive and grow, we need to have educators in those positions that are qualified.”

On the slide on Instruction – Career and Technical Education, Brittingham discussed expansion in the specific area.

“I don’t think every student is geared for college right out of high school and so, if we invest well in our career and technical program, we can equip our students with a trade when they step out of high school,” Brittingham said. “They could probably make pretty good money stepping out of high school and work a job, if that’s what they want to do, and do that for a while and then go back and get a college degree if they want.”

Another citizen raised a question on the Powerpoint of the Superintendent’s Proposal Budget from February.

“One thing that caught my eye is the CTE is actually removed a teaching position. And that is according to the powerpoint,” he said. “So if I read that right, he is wanting to remove teachers from the Pruden Vocational Center. And again, that’s one of my targets also. I don’t know why we’re not putting more money into that center.”

Brittingham acknowledged the loss of a couple programs, but also noted the placements of new programs in the center. She said she supported the idea of expansion to the center.

“I think we need to expand it. I think there’s not enough going on at the career and technical level. Because we got students that would benefit from this,” she said.

Another citizen spoke out on the Instruction – The College and Career Academy at Pruden (CCAP) slide, focusing on dues and subscriptions rising from $1,000 (2022-2023 revised) to $18,154 (2023-2024 proposed).

“As the taxpayers here, we all have a right to see where every penny of this is going… and we’re not getting it,” he said.

When Del. Clinton Jenkins asked why there wasn’t a School Board financial advisor that was able to answer their questions, Brittingham said the town hall was a good place to start asking questions.

“But until we put this information out for the public to look at, we won’t know what questions that we already have,” responded Brittingham. “And I want the good questions and hard questions. I want them all. Transparency and accountability is really important. And we’re talking about kids. We’re talking about their lives and their education and making sure that we’re molding them into strong adults that are going to go out in the world and be good citizens.

She said she wants to make sure they’re doing everything possible to make sure that happens by that graduation date. 

“So, to me, this is part of that process. Let’s put our eyes on the budget and let’s ask good questions,” Brittingham said.

Speaking as a citizen and business owner, Mayor Michael Duman said due to the economy and the city today, workforce development should be at the top of the list.

“I’m going to go back 10 years. I got a 2013 budget looking at a 2023 budget. In 2013, the school’s budget was $142,810,562,” the Mayor said. “10 years later, it was proposed $226,836,452. Now let’s look at Career and Technical Education. In 2013, the 2013 budget was $3,490,000 million. Today, it’s actually down 22%. How can this school allocate such a miniscule amount of resources to career and technical education? That’s what we need to create the workforce and have those students that are not going to higher education.”

Another citizen expressed her appreciation for the presentation of the information.

“I don’t know of another forum, if there’s another opportunity to go through something like this? It’s helpful hearing some of the citizens’ feedback and stuff like that. Because I am just a mom that’s extremely uneducated in all these things,” she said. “And I am interested in seeing the best for all these kids, so I really appreciate this and having this look because I do think it’s important that we all are keeping an eye on it. And not to be critical, but to give some feedback.”

Jenkins also praised Brittingham for holding the town hall, but noted his wish for having a vehicle in place where someone could speak to what the data shows and provide answers to the related questions.

“I’m sure that there were persons who put the budget together, and if anyone has persons here that can speak to what they put together, it’s kind of hard to get answers where we’re just guessing and making a lot of assumptions,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins also noted the idea of a work group similar to the town hall with school officials attending who are designated to answer the public’s questions. 

One citizen agreed with his idea and stated that it should be an acceptable practice with each School Board member, along with support from a chief financial officer to come out to their borough to answer the public’s questions.

“I think that every borough should have something like that moving forward. And that would be a better practice,” the citizen said.

When asking for a comment following the meeting, Brittingham declined stating that she was not allowed to.