Frequently Asked Budget Questions – plus 5-18-17 update

5-18-17 Update:  Open the post, then click here for School Board vote information.



Additional questions about the budget can sent using this CONTACT US form.

2- Why are health care costs rising so much that it will eliminate my proposed raise?

The cost of health care such as doctor visits, prescriptions, surgery, inpatient and outpatient surgery have all been rising across the nation in the double digits annually. SPS has held onto our very rich HMO-90/10 and KeyCare-PPO plans for many years and it is just not possible to sustain them without passing along the “real” cost to employees. It is for this reason, the Health Benefits Committee came up with choices for our employees.  The cost of the plan does not have to eliminate your raise depending upon which plan you choose and how you utilize the benefit. Please remember that you have a choice to pay nearly the same or less for the HMO-80/20 plan or to choose the High Deductible plan and save money toward the health care bills that the deductible would require. Also, remember that this raise is for the entire year whereas the health care increase is only for 6 months of the year. Please utilize the “Alex” tool (available in May 2017) so that you can make the best decision for your particular needs.

1- What happens if City Council only provides $1 million, instead of the $2-million increase requested by the School Board?

The School Board’s budget priority is employee salaries.  Considering the $2 million requested is to go directly to employees’ raises, the percentages of raises will likely be affected.  The board may consider other options.

The City Council will hold its budget public hearing on Wednesday, May 3, beginning at 7 p.m., in City Hall located at 442 W. Washington St.


3- Why does my 2015-2016 raise listed on paper not match what I received?

Any employee with questions about pay should call the Payroll Department at 925-6754.

4- Can’t raises for employees at the School Administrative Offices be frozen and those funds be put to use to increase other employees’ salaries?

Asking for one group to have a freeze to provide another group a raise is unfair on many levels and fosters the mistaken idea that one group of employees is more important than ALL employees.

5- School Administrative Offices is top heavy. Can’t positions there be cut to give employees more money?

Administration, Attendance and Health for surrounding districts.
2017-2018 Proposed Budget Information
Percentage of Operating Budget
Portsmouth                                     5.60%
Norfolk                                              5.40%
Hampton                                            5.29%
York                                              5.10%
Newport News                             4.60%
Suffolk                                          3.90%
Chesapeake                                  3.61%
Virginia Beach                         3.40%

6- Why should our Superintendent earn as much as Superintendents with more students and staff?

All surrounding districts comparable in size are in BOLD ITALIC.


City/County 2016 Students Base Salary Salary per Student
Virginia Beach                       67,890  $            231,400.00                           3.41
Chesapeake                       38,885                215,000.00                           5.53
Norfolk                       29,607                224,000.00                           7.57
Newport News                       27,253                221,723.00                           8.14
Hampton City                       19,749                198,500.00                           1.05
Portsmouth                        14,003                215,000.00                         15.35
Suffolk*                       13,837                200,000.00                         14.45
York                       12,522                188,000.00                         15.01
Williamsburg JCC                       10,272                192,052.00                         18.70
Isle of Wight                         5,314                142,500.00                         26.82
Franklin City                         1,057                111,650.00                       105.63
*This uses Suffolks Superintendent’s 2016-2017 Salary, the data on the other
Superintendent’s salaries for 2016-2017 has not been made available yet.


7- Did the School Board Attorney receive a 10% raise at or around the same time the Superintendent received a raise?

No. The School Board Attorney is a contracted employee and his salary is set annually by the School Board. The published budget document each year is approved with a placeholder of the same raise adopted for all staff, awaiting the letter from the School Board setting the Attorney’s salary. In July 2016, his adopted salary in the budget document was $157,524 — a 2.5% increase over 2015-2016 fiscal year. The School Board set his salary at $161,366 that year so he received an additional 2.5% or a total of 5% increase over the actual salary paid to him in Fiscal 2015-2016.

8- How much do School Board members make and why are they paid anything?

Each member is paid a stipend of $10,000 annually. Virginia Code Section 22.1-32 states that any elected school board may pay each of its members an annual salary that is consistent with the salary procedures and no more than the salary limits provided for local governments in Article 1.1 (§ 15.2-1414.1 et seq.) of Chapter 14 of Title 15.2 or as provided by charter. However, any elected school board of a school division comprised of a county having the county manager plan of government, as provided in § 15.2-702.1 may, after a public hearing pursuant to notice in the manner provided in subdivision 8 of § 22.1-79, set the annual salary of its members at no more than $25,000, except that the annual salary of the chairman, vice-chairman, or both, may exceed $ 25,000.

9- Why isn’t there a teacher in every class instead of long-term subs?

There are many reasons that a school division may need a long-term substitute teacher. Teachers are allowed to be absent for Family Medical Leave under (FMLA) and in such cases a long-term sub is procured as SPS is required to hold the teacher’s position. Recruiting new teachers is essential to any school division. Our Human Resources Department goes out every year to regional colleges to recruit new teachers. In addition, with a shortage of quality teacher applicants, it is not uncommon for school divisions to have a long-term substitutes especially for hard-to-fill positions such as Math, English, and Special Education.

10- Why is the School Board just a rubber stamp of what the Superintendent wants?

Actually, the Superintendent is hired by the School Board and works under their direction. In the case of the budget, the School Board tells the Superintendent their priorities annually and he incorporates them into his proposed budget. The Superintendent does make recommendations based on the data and state/federal guidelines regarding compliance. It is the School Board that votes based upon the information. Many times, School Board members ask questions, gather information, and consult their attorney in order to make the best decision possible for the good of all students and staff in the school division. The School Board meeting is the culmination of all the work that goes into gathering, consulting, and learning about issues.  The board has Work Sessions as a way for information exchanges and in-depth discussion prior to the formal meeting.

11- Why aren’t left over funds from June 30 used to increase pay the following year?

There are many expenses that we are not able to cover in the budget. It has been 10 years since equipment replacement has been a part of our normal budget.  HVAC repairs, replacement of equipment that is over 20 years old, and roofs systems that are out of warranty have not been included in the budget. There is usually some money left at year end but this fluctuates greatly depending upon emergency repairs of aged equipment as described above. Those are one-time expenses. However, payroll expense is a recurring expense and if we do not have budgeted funds guaranteed to cover the cost of contracts, it could result in a reduction of force.

12- Does the School Board give back money every year?

The short answer is yes, a small amount usually less than $30,000. In years where it has been more, a negotiation takes place with the City to re-appropriate it to Capital Improvements or a specific project agreed upon by the City Council and School Board. By law, School Boards are not allowed to keep a fund balance that is unassigned. Assigned fund balances include encumbrances for contracts for goods and services such as textbooks, buses, HVAC summer work, and contracted work that has begun but is not complete by June 30.

13- Did the School Board really give back $600,000 to the City of Suffolk last year?

In late June 2016, the School Board received from Medicaid a letter indicating that they were releasing reserves held for several years. At about this same time, the Virginia Department of Education sent the final numbers for several programs based on participation. Both added together meant that SPS received $661,379 above the Appropriation approved by the City of Suffolk for fiscal 2015-2016. Legally, SPS is not allowed to spend any money that is not appropriated to us. Therefore, since it was too late to get all the approvals, the money was required to be turned over to the City of Suffolk. In late July, SPS received word that the State had not met their revenue projections and the money that was supposed to be given to SPS from the state for our raise in 2016-2017 would probably not materialize. The Superintendent wrote a letter to the City Manager requesting that the $661,379 be re-appropriated to SPS to make up for the shortfall. The City Council approved the ordinance and in February 2017, the School Board approved the decrease in state funding of $616,665 and the increase in city appropriation of $661,379 with the $44,714 difference being budgeted into the materials and supplies line item of the General Education program.

14- Why is the School Board not standing up for teachers and other employees when it comes to raises?

In 2014, the School Board and Superintendent worked with the City of Suffolk to have an outside firm evaluate the pay of ALL Suffolk Public Schools employees. The results of this study were published in February 2015. The School Board and the Superintendent then worked hard to convince the City to fund the more than $3.86 million it would take to fund the first phase of the plan for teachers. State money was prioritized and used to fund support staff phase-ins. Every year for the past six years, salary increases have been the priority of both the School Board and Superintendent. In five of the last six years, there have been raises included in the budget. It is important to point out that SPS is still receiving $3 million LESS money in Fiscal 2017-2018 than we received in Fiscal 2008-2009 from the State. New money from the State and City are not nearly enough to fund appropriate raises. Please see below the magnitude of money it takes to provide even a small raise.

1% Raise $1,254,033
1.5% Raise $1,881,050
2% Raise $2,508,066
2.5% Raise $3,135,083
3.0% Raise $3,762,099


15- What other budget adjustments has the School Board made without Public knowledge?

The School Board adjusts the budget very rarely. All adjustments to budget are reviewed annually by an outside auditor firm which audits all the financial information of the schools and School Administrative Offices. Results of these reports are published annually in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) that can be found on the City of Suffolk’s website. The School Board has the right to transfer budget from one line to another. In the case of the Superintendent’s salary, a budget transfer was done. Savings from turnover in and restructuring of another executive position was used to fund the increase. This was all done legally and in line with School Board policy.

16- How do I know what Suffolk Public Schools’ is spending their money on?

Each year in the budget document, the first column to each page show the detail by line, object, and program what was actually spent the previous year. In addition, an annual external audit is performed and the results of that audit are published in the City of Suffolk’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report under the Discrete Component Unit section. These external auditors are measuring internal controls to make sure proper authorization is documented before budget is spent, variances in budget versus spending, and compliance with state, federal and local laws and policies. In addition, monthly bills and payroll are a published and are available on the School Board’s agenda by vendor, amount and description.

17- Why are loyal employees at the top of the scale being given the smallest raises? We should be rewarded for our loyalty and service.

All positions within the school division have a salary range, a beginning salary and an ending salary. Once an employee achieves the highest salary paid for a position, it is common practice to supply a Cost of Living (COLA) to that top salary. It is not a matter of value but of market. SPS greatly values ALL of its employees and recognizes that giving step raises every year leaves those at the top of the scale with only a COLA. For this reason, SPS tries to balance years with steps and years with COLA’s.

18- Why isn’t the state raise from the General Assembly enough to cover a raise for Suffolk Public Schools employees?

The state provided funds for a raise of 2% over the two-year biennium budget. The amount in revenue is the prevailing cost (average across the state) of only state Standards of Quality (SOQ) positions (minimum number of mandated positions) to receive a raise no later than February 2017. The revenue provided by the state to SPS is $400,458. The actual cost of a 1% raise for all employees is $1.25 million.

19- Why did Career & Technical Education (CTE) High School get cut so much?

This is not actually a cut. The CTE High School program used to have a budget to help support The Pruden Center. Isle of Wight County Public Schools has decided not to participate in the center so, SPS has evaluated the programs at the Center, renamed it The College and Career Academy at Pruden and will be adding to the programming available in the coming years to meet the needs of our students. The budget was moved to its own page and a detailed budget, much like the other programs, is provided in the budget document to show how the budget will be spent.

20- Why were there so many positions added to the budget?

The change to The College and Career Academy at Pruden accounts 30.6 positions added as those employees become SPS employees as of July 1. The other positions come from changing some part-time positions to full-time, reducing a Dean of Students position, and hiring an Assistant Principal position. Two Physical Therapists were added and the budget transferred from Purchased Services where they were previously outsourced. The special education program added a teacher to meet student needs, and two teacher assistants.

21- Why do benefits make up almost 25% of the budget?

Benefits for public school employees are almost entirely mandated by the state or federal governments. The Federally Insured Contributions Act (FICA) is federally mandated. Retirement employer contributions are set by the General Assembly and next year, will be 17.55% for professional employees (teachers group). Group life insurance is also mandated at 1.32% of salary by the General Assembly. The cost of health care is skyrocketing across the nation and SPS is not immune. SPS is making several changes this year that we believe will make the plans offered more sustainable for the division to offer.

22- There is a line item for Non-departmental. What kind of items would fit under that category?

Non-departmental refers to items that do not fit in a single department or program and need to be allocated over many departments or programs. One example is annual and/or sick leave pay-outs for employees who are leaving or retiring. We do not know which departments/programs will be affected and since we do not have enough money to budget for each one, we budget the approximate amount here and allocate the funds after we make the pay-outs. Unemployment costs are another area where it is not known which departments/programs will be affected and we do not budget each one but wait and allocate at year end. School Specialty purchasing cards for classroom materials that touch every program of instruction are budgeted here. The Community in Schools program that isn’t specifically instructional is also budgeted here. A small equipment replacement on emergency basis for copiers is also placed here as we do not have enough to budget equipment replacement on a rotating basis.

23- Why is so much being spent on Textbooks?

The state mandates a specific amount each year for the purchase of textbooks, workbooks, and consumables used in the classroom with regard to textbooks. This item also covers lost/stolen books, any new adoptions, replacement textbooks, and additional textbooks needed if class sizes for a particular book are higher than expected. If we do not spend this amount plus the amount we are required to match it, then we must refuse the state revenue funding.

24- Explain Alternative Education on page 73 “Share Joint Operations”

The budgeted amount of $70,000 is for the SECEP alternative education program costs due when children are assigned to this SECEP program. SECEP is the Southeastern Cooperative Education Program for certain special needs students.