Everyone remembers the budget battle of April 2012, especially the teachers. The School Board used the teachers to force the City Council to find 5 million dollars for the school system. The teachers’ outrage was real enough in light of the proposed salary increases to upper level city positions, including a 21% increase in pay for the City Manager, Ms. Selena Cuffee-Glenn. The council responded by raiding the transportation fund to buy off the school board and tabling the pay increases, which they ultimately approved in January 2013, after months of Mayor Johnson repeating on the campaign trail that said raises were never in the budget.
This year, the school board is looking at a 6% increase in the budget overall, equal to 9 million dollars more than last year. Suffolk City supplies about 43% of the school system’s operating budget, 57% is provided by the state of Virginia, with the rest of the funds coming from the Federal Government. There is a possibility that Sequestration will hit the School Budget as well, but that was not counted in this proposal as the impact is unknown. The fact that the school system in our city is dependent on money from the Federal Government should trouble us, as Federal Money ALWAYS has strings attached.
Most cities in our area, fund more than 100% of the requirement for school funding. Suffolk City only funds the school systems at 75% of the requirement. The City of Portsmouth (comparable in size to Suffolk) funds their schools 176% of the required funding. Suffolk only supplies 75% of the required funding. This is incredibly interesting in light of the massive pay raise the city just handed out to it’s upper echelon. Suffolk City typically finds about 50 million a year for the school system. The school board will ask for 55 million this year. One board member asked “Why is our city not able to fund schools more when cities like Portsmouth are funding their schools fully?” Superintendent Whitney’s response, “I don’t know.” However, he has requested a joint meeting with City Council next Wednesday afternoon (Feb 20) to discuss this situation. A better question might be, if not to the school system, and certainly not to the roads in Suffolk, where is our tax money going?
As part of the budget, the school system is hoping for a 2% cost-of-living pay raise, as well as a 1% Compliance VRS (Virginia Retirement System) raise. As a cost-saving measure, the School Board is looking to stagger the bell schedule & cut the bus department by $700,000 in order to save money. This reduction has been included in the proposed budget even though the board has NOT voted to approve the staggered bell schedule. The board voted to hold three meetings, one at each city high school, in order to discuss the idea with parents. Superintendent Whitney is to determine meeting dates and times soon.
There will be a School Budget Development Meeting with City Council in Chambers on Feb 20, at 4pm. After that, the next Budget Development Meeting will be March 4th.
An interesting tidbit that was run past the school board last night – actual operating costs are only about 15% of school budget. The rest is compensation and benefits for everyone the school system has hired.
Read more at the Virginian Pilot:
Schools seek another $9 million from Suffolk