Council approves $2 million for SPS Repairs

Published 11:06 pm Monday, October 23, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Suffolk City Council votes to provide $2 million to Suffolk Public Schools. The City Council approved an ordinance authorizing the City Manager to transfer $2 million from their FY 2023-2024 Capital Projects Fund to SPS’s School Operating Fund for the school’s operational needs during its meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 18. These needs include the hiring of 28 safety and security staff as well as repairs for sinkholes at various school facilities.

Suffolk City Manager Albert S. Moor gave a background summary of the ordinance.

“On Oct. 5, I received a written request from the Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. [John] Gordon to place on tonight’s agenda an ordinance for city council’s consideration to transfer $2 million into the Suffolk Public Schools Operating Budget,” Moor said. “The purpose of this request is to fund two items: item one is requested funding for 28 safety, security and support positions previously identified in the school’s FY 2024 operating budget request at a cost of $980,000. Item two concerns sinkholes appearing around storm drain facilities on three school sites: Kings Fork High School, Mack Benn Elementary and Colonel Fred Cherry Middle.”

Email newsletter signup

Moor continued, noting that 13 sinkholes needed to be repaired.

“The total quoted cost for all 13 repairs was $1,671,660. As of Aug. 8, Suffolk Public Schools had directed the contractor to complete five repairs of the sinkholes at a cost of $694,000. The remaining sinkhole repair costs are quoted at $977,660,” Moor said.

The vote saw a unanimous vote of 8-0. During closing comments, Mayor Michael D. Duman expressed his thoughts on the ordinance.

“We’ve been doing sinkholes every time we turn around, and this is a lot of money. Another million and some change is going toward sinkholes. So somebody’s got to figure out what the issue is and try to get a handle on it,” Duman said. “This fully funds and takes care of some safety initiatives, hiring some more people, but when we do that we’ll be funding those people again next year. Those are recurring expenses. So everybody keep that in mind … but fortunately and very fortunately, like they say ‘money is not everything, but it sure helps.’”

Likewise, Duman also took a moment to comment on the SPS School Board’s vote on a resolution to appoint a board member to serve on the City of Suffolk’s Education Committee Education Committee. The resolution failed with a vote of 3 to 4, with School Board Members Judith Brooks-Buck, Phyllis Byrum, Karen Jenkins and Board Chair Tyron Riddick voting in opposition.

“I was encouraged by this because the School Board prior to this in April of 2022, passed a resolution that they would not participate in the Education Committee, but once again, I was dismayed that the School Board would not agree to participate in a city standing committee that was originally created in December 2009,” Duman said.

Duman read that the purpose of the Education Committee is to “serve as a formal channel of communication regarding issues of shared concern between city government and city school system. The committee will strive to strengthen the relationship between the city and schools by discussing noninstructional issues, including but not limited to budget, capital improvements, operational savings, safety and joint uses.” He continued with his comments.

“Much of the School Board discussion suggests that the joint meeting of the full bodies, that is, City Council and School Board, would be more productive and that meetings with a limited amount of committee members would not provide effective representation of all citizens and borough. I particularly find these statements quite misleading and counter to common practice that is used by most organizations both private and public,” Duman said. “It’s widely recognized and accepted that committees, due to their reduced size and flexibility, can be more efficient and productive than full boards. The committee has no approval authority but only serves to provide as a forum to gather and discuss relative matters pertinent to both bodies. Results would be reported by members to their respective parent body for further consideration and any action should they choose so.”

He asked the School Board to reevaluate their resolution vote regarding the Education Committee.

“I implore our school board to reconsider their position and agree to participate in the Education Committee. Be assured the city council and staff — based on our actions this evening, for one — are committed to our education system and will continue meetings with or without participation from the school system. It should be noted that these meetings are advertised and open to the public,” Duman said. “I believe these meetings will further promote transparency and accountability.”

Duman ended with his quote of the night from United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack:

“People working together in a strong community, with a shared goal and a common purpose can make the impossible possible.”