Council, School Board collaborate for budget discussion

Published 9:00 am Sunday, April 28, 2024

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Suffolk City Council and Suffolk School Board held its first joint meeting of the year on Wednesday, April 10, at City Hall. Both parties engaged in fruitful discussion. 

Both council and board members expressed positivity on the results of the nearly four-hour meeting and the information they received, which included topics on the city’s FY 2024-25 budget and SPS budget request, elementary school rezonings, enforcement camera revenue being used towards school safety projects, and relocation of the SPS Operations Facility. Council Member Shelley Butler-Barlow commended both board and council members for the meeting.

“…This felt so much more productive, and interactive, and more valuable than our previous meetings where we were up against a deadline,” Butler-Barlow said. “I feel like we’ve done something tonight and I haven’t felt that in our past joint meeting. Thank you for arranging this and I look forward to the next one.”

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Due to an illness, Council Member LeOtis Williams was not in attendance for the meeting.

Proposed City Operating/Capital Budget and SPS Budget Request

Both the proposed Suffolk City Manager FY 2024-25 Operating and Capital Budget and the SPS FY 2024-25 Operating and Capital Budget request were presented to the council for discussion. SPS Chief Financial Officer Wendy Forsman detailed the SPS FY 2024-25 budget request of $4,000,000, with total city funding of $75,332,201. The proposed budget for 2024-25 is $242,729,721, which sees a 6.59 percent increase compared to the previous year. Forsman also detailed that Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposed budget was $6,047,712.

“…And that 6 million was used as we talked about in the budget process. So, that money is helping with raises, it’s help with security, it’s helping with all the things that we talked about,” Forsman said.

The city of Suffolk’s Director of Finance Charles Meek presented the city’s proposed 2024-25 budget, which prioritizes maintaining service levels in the growing city with no tax increase, critical personnel needs and employee compensation, and quality of life through capital improvements, among other things. The proposed budget across all city funding totals $882,100,325.

“A majority of city services including the local contribution from the city to schools come out of the general fund, which is proposed at $324,213,302. And the school’s fund budget in total, as Ms. Forsman noted, $242,729,721,” Meek said.

Both the board and council were in agreement with both budgets with Mayor Michael D. Duman calling each “a good news story.”

SPS Elementary School Rezoning

The topic turned to the SPS rezoning of seven elementary schools for the 2025-26 school year, with both Elephant’s Fork and Kilby Shores Elementary Schools being discussed. On EFES’s current conditions, 526 was listed for the seating capacity with a 638 population, including 10-11 trailers. Moor discussed the safety issue of peak traffic backing into Route 10.

“Elephant’s Fork, where it’s located, creates, in our opinion – the city’s opinion – safety issues. Because when the kids are being picked up, the cars are backing up,” Moor said.

The EFES future proposal lists the FY 25-26 redistricting population at 523 with a new elementary school in FY 28-30 and 800 proposed seating for the new school with an excess capacity of 200. Current conditions for KSES list seating capacity at 533 with a student population of 473, which includes eight trailers and peak traffic backing into Kilby Shore Dr. Its future proposal would have the redistricting population at 437 with a new elementary school during the FY 2030 or later. The proposed seating for the new elementary school is listed at 800, with an excess capacity of 300.

Three future considerations were brought to the table: Option One lists building two 800-seat replacement schools, which would currently cost $110 million in the Capital Improvement Plan. Option Two details building one centrally located 1,000-seat school, with a capacity similar to Northern Shores Elementary School’s 1,112-seat expansion, costing 70 million. Option Three lists building one centrally located 800-seat school while considering a 200-seat addition to Southwestern Elementary School or other abutting elementary schools, costing $91 million.

SPS Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III expressed his support for Option One of the considerations but provided a caveat.

“All of us, I don’t mind speaking for the board here, all of us have had concerns about the location of Elephants Fork for the traffic side. That’s something that we would definitely be willing to look at having a potential different location,” Gordon said. “When we had our “Take Your Legislator To School day,” we also had a conversation with Mr. [Timothy] Johnson about, once we begin to rebuild Kilby Shores and Forest Glen, the possibility of putting both of those on the same site because there is more room there. That would also save the city funds in doing that.”

Gordon continued.

“That would be, in my opinion, a good compromise instead of combining Kilby Shores and Elephant’s Fork, is taking a look at how much money we could save by having one location for Kilby Shores and Forest Glen, two separate buildings on the same campus-style site, we believe that we can probably save the city at least $10 million in doing that,” Gordon said. “So that potentially could be Option Four up there for future considerations…”

Council Member John Rector expressed concern about the schools’ location in the middle of growth zones and the development that has occurred within the zones.

“If we don’t figure out a solution to this problem, the projects that come before the city run into the obstacle of the adequate public facilities, and when they fall into these schools’ areas, even though the developers offer the proffers to mitigate the additional students to the schools, it does create a continued perception that we’re just crowding people in the schools for the sake of growth,” Rector said. “But if we cannot continue growth at some level, then we’re not going to increase the tax base, which is going to help bring in the money that we need to fund all these projects that we’ve been talking about. So it’s a bit of a self-perpetuating problem…”

Board Member Tyron Riddick recommended that Moor’s and Gordon’s team work together to develop a formula for determining school capacity.

“Because I believe we have two different formulas that we’re using…,” Riddick said. “The City Manager and the Superintendent, whomever from their cabinet, needs to first get in the room and determine what formula we’re going to use to determine the school capacity. So realistically, when you plan and when we plan, we’re pulling from the same source.”

Reflecting on her 16 years on the School Board, Board Member Phyllis Byrum says both EFES and KSES were not built “in the right place to begin with” during the 1970s.

“It is a safety issue,” Byrum said. “I’ve had concerns from my constituents who have children that go there for Early Start and all types of classes that have said that it’s a problem in the afternoon… the children being picked up. That’s going to become more and more a problem in those areas. So this needs to be addressed immediately.”

For more information on the SPS Elementary School Rezonings, go to To watch the full meeting, go to