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School Board adopts budget

After having to make adjustments due to decreases in both state and local funding, the Suffolk School Board voted 6-1 Tuesday to adopt its $178.6 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Board member Sherri Story was the lone dissenting vote.

Suffolk Public Schools was faced with having to cut more than $4.3 million out of its budget for fiscal year 2021. Its overall operating fund budget of $158.4 million is still $5.4 million more than its current year budget. The division’s budget includes $62.3 million from the city, $1.5 million more than the current year, but $2.44 million less than what it had requested.  The other parts of the budget include the grants and food services fund.

“This was plan C,” said Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III. “We had to make budget adjustments based on only receiving $1.5 million (in additional money) from the city, also a $2 million deficit coming from the state caused us to have to pull some things out of the budget in order to still have some high-priority items that were going to be able to make it for the 2020-2021 school year.”

Among the changes include reducing, but not eliminating, staff raises, as well as delaying parts of the SPS Efficiency and Effectiveness plan to the following year. It also reduced or eliminated equipment replacements.

However, the budget will still bring with it a new teacher pay scale, with starting salaries increasing from $43,155 to $45,000, with the top of the scale, for those with at least 34 years of teaching experience, being $75,379. There are also equal percentage increases between steps in the teacher pay scale. Bus drivers also have a new pay scale in this budget, with new drivers starting out at $14.60 per hour.

The division will also add one instructional technology resource teacher, and will increase the professional learning budget for teachers and staff.

Full-time support staff will receive a 1-percent cost of living adjustment, while permanent part-time staff will receive a half-percent cost of living adjustment.

Nurses and nurse assistants are in year three of a three-year salary increase. Athletic coaches and club sponsors will also still see increases to their stipends.

Executive Finance Director Wendy Forsman told the board during its virtual meeting that the division is also preparing for the possibility of more budget cuts that could reach about $6.1 million with projected state revenue shortfalls due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The state has suspended supplemental lottery payments for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. In the approved budget for next year, the division has nearly $3.6 million in such revenues. The division could also lose as much as $2.76 million in sales tax money — which would represent a revenue shortfall of 15 percent — though the state has not yet lowered its sales tax projections for the next fiscal year.

She said if revenue cuts come to fruition, the division would work with the city to potentially re-appropriate current year spending saved from not buying equipment and supplies, as well as possible spending or hiring freezes once actual revenue comes in lower than projections, and then carefully monitor impacts from the lower sales tax and lottery money.