Suffolk School Board votes to approve budget as is, despite public outcry

A crowd rallies for teacher pay raises outside the Suffolk School Board's budget meeting on March 21, 2017. (Liz Kilmer/WAVY Photo)

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) —  A controversial vote sent Suffolk teachers storming out of a school board meeting Tuesday.

Board members voted 6-1 to adopt the budget proposal for the 2017-2018 school year, which includes an average 2.4 percent raise for teachers.

Many had been demanding more than that, citing heavy work loads and a substantially higher pay rise for the superintendent.

Board member David Mitnick voted against the budget, arguing that teachers should receive an additional one percent.

“I’m thankful we have one school board member that voted for us, that spoke his conscience,” said Sid Neighbours, a teacher at John Yeates Middle School and union representative.

A crowd of teachers and supporters gathered outside the meeting Tuesday, holding signs supporting a raise for teachers. They later packed the meeting, shouting at the school board after the vote.

Board Chair Mike Debranski told 10 On Your Side that they had already requested an additional $2 million from city council to go towards teacher pay raises. He added that teachers have received raises over the last several years.

“I feel that we are doing the best considering the funds that we are receiving,” said Vice Chair Enoch Copeland.

Board member Judith Brooks-Buck noted that board members will not be receiving a raise at all. But Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney is seeing a spike in pay.

As 10 On Your Side reported a few weeks ago, a 13 percent pay raise had already been approved for Whitney in a closed school board discussion. That vote occurred last fall, and brought his salary to $200,000. Budget documents indicate that Tuesday’s vote will raise his compensation to $202,000.

When approached by 10 On Your Side after the vote, Whitney would only say he is “very much a teacher advocate” and will “continue to put raises in our budget each year.”

Whitney ignored additional questions and walked off. Some teachers say that’s their next move, too.

“I do think there will be an exodus of teachers,” Neighbours said. “Morale is extremely low.”

Kristen Sherrick, a third grade teacher at Creekside Elementary School, said she has already decided to leave the division.

“I had already made up my mind before today’s meeting that I will not be returning next year,” she said.

More than the pay issue, Sherrick said she feels overworked, spending 11 hours a day at the school.

“I’m there until after the sun goes down… Five days a week… Trying to get things done that are required by the district, as well as just preparing things for my students — incentives — I’ve put together as a good teacher.”

Mitnick told 10 On Your Side’s Stephanie Harris that the superintendent is working on ways to lighten the work load for teachers. Many have expressed concern about mandatory 20-page lesson plans and paperwork that other districts do not require.

State data from the current school year shows that on average, Suffolk teachers earn about $50,000 annually.

Data reveals that even with Whitney’s raise, his six-figure salary is still on the lower end of what other superintendents earn in the seven cities.

This is a developing story. Stay with WAVY.com for updates.