SPS School Board holds public hearing for proposed budget

Published 8:18 pm Monday, March 13, 2023

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Citizens came out Thursday night to voice their opinions on the Suffolk Public Schools proposed budget for the 2023-2024 school year ahead of a March 22 School Board vote.

The public hearing on the superintendent’s proposed $226.8 million budget was Thursday, March 9 at City Council Chambers. The budget summary in the budget booklet shows projects a 2.62% decline from the current budget. It includes an operating fund of $187.4 million, grant funds of 29.8 million and food services spending of 9.56 million.

The expenditure assumptions include a step increase plus one for cost of living providing a total 6.14% increase for teachers. Those at the top of the pay scale would receive a 4.32% increase, according to the budget expenditures assumptions outlined in the booklet.

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It also proposes that bus drivers would see a raise of 23% with the step increase and cost of living increase. Support staff would see a step plus cost of living increase of 5%, with those at the top of the scale receiving only the cost of living increase.

The expenditure assumptions also includes adding a net of 56.4 new positions next year. This breaks down to 29 additional safety, security and support personnel, 11 reading specialists at elementary schools, making part-time security officers full-time, an addition in-school suspension monitor at each elementary school, one instructional technology resource teacher, a high school speciality at Lakeland Center for Fine and Production Arts, a Navy cadet teacher, 10 teacher assistants for additional instructional support for elementary schools and a new IT technician, with reduction of one part-time trades position, the document states.

SPS Chief Financial Officer Wendy Forsman started the meeting by explaining  corrections made to the 2023-2024 budget book for the Executive Summary for Operating Fund Expenditures-Line Item totals. She said the changes have been revised and posted on the schools official website.

“It came to our attention that one of the tables in the executive summary had not been updated for the 2022-2023 revised year column. If you would turn to page 23 in the budget book or if you have those two pages in front of you, you will see they both are now marked revised and in red,” Forsman said. “This is a very complicated spreadsheet that has lots of tables, and this particular table did not get refreshed before we hit print.”

She said they have made a change to their process to put a date on those tables so that now it will show them whether they have been refreshed to prevent such an issue again.

“I apologize for the issue,” Forsman told those gathered for the hearing. “I’m very sorry that we gave out a book that doesn’t have not comparable totals, but we have fixed it and it will be online as soon as we can get it online. We’re trying to make sure that everything’s the same as the first printing before we put it out there.”

Citizens followed by making their opinions known on the superintendent’s 2023-2024 proposed budget on a three minute timer.

“Board members and citizens, if you have any comments, questions or suggestions that you are unable to answer or gain clarity tonight, the budget tool is still open on the website,” Chairman Tyron Riddick said. “You’re more than welcome to still email board members or the superintendent. So we don’t want you to feeling like you’ve been slighted, but we have to be responsible and be respectful about everyone’s time. So that’s why you’re being limited to three minutes.”

Valerie Boydkin, representing the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Suffolk Chapter, spoke in support of the budget focusing on safety and pay raises for teachers.  

“We appreciate the educational support built into the budget to help youth catch up on any learning loss,” Boydkin said. “We believe that the increasing safety measures, especially the behavioral interventionist are needed to address the many stressors experienced by youth that seemingly have been compounded by the effects of the pandemic.”

She said these position  provide prevention and intervention assistance that should reduce security needs.

“The pay raises for teachers and support staff are clearly needed to continue to attract and retain the best and brightest of Suffolk Public Schools,” Boydkin said. “We think it’s important to retain qualified teachers and would love to see more than the one percent bonus that was proposed.”

Dr. Deborah Wahlstrom spoke on her concerns on the budget following her studies, mainly on improving student achievement and professional development.

“One of the things that I think could use a little more meat in it is showing us what is being done to improve student achievement in the school division. Right now, there’s nothing really clear in terms of the budget that tells us what you’re going to do, what the plan is for increasing student achievement, especially in the area of reading, which is the foundational skill for everybody,” Wahlstrom said. “When thinking about professional development, I’d like you to consider paying teachers based on their salary versus a minimal amount of money for a days worth of training. Our teachers are the only ones who get paid less to learn more.”

Finally, Chris Dove spoke on the funding for SPS, noting how the budget’s update in 2021 provided Suffolk to be funded “second to last” instead of last previously.

“My concern is that Suffolk is in competition with all the other cities in the area, and the quality of our education, while people don’t like to admit it, money counts. Money pays for teachers, money pays for extracurricular activities, the number of students per teacher is directly proportional to student achievement,” Dove said. “I strongly encourage you to make the largest request that you think you can get out of City Council.”

He cited issues where he believes City Council doesn’t believe SPS budgets properly.

“I think the more transparency that you can do in showing how you organize your budget would be helpful,” Dove told the School Board. “But the bottom line is we do not spend enough money in Suffolk on our children. And I encourage you to do so.”

The Suffolk School Board’s special meeting for the budget work session adn discussion and approval of next fiscal year’s proposed budget is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 22 at City Council Chambers.

For more information on the revised budget, go to spsk12.net/Page/1090.


Editor’s note: Updated fifth paragraph at 10:38 a.m., Tuesday, March 14 to reflect correct spelling.

Editor’s note: Updated sixth paragraph at 5:41 a.m., Friday, March 17 to reflect accurate budget school year.