Councilman says ‘we have the funds’ for education, yet others say Portsmouth is strapped

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Councilman Dr. Mark Whitaker says he believes there’s additional funding available in next year’s budget to help the struggling Portsmouth Public Schools, but the mayor and his other colleagues say there’s no where else to turn for the cash.

“I just think we are not putting the funding into our schools that we do have the funds to do,” said Whitaker. “It’s just the choices we are making.”

Last month, the school system asked the city for $5.4 million in additional funding. The budget unveiled by City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis-Patton in late March proposed level funding, or no increase, for the schools.

School officials slighted over proposed education funding in Portsmouth

In recent budget work sessions, the council has been working to find $1.1 million to fund a two-percent raise for all school employees. The proposal includes merging the city and school’s risk management funds into one pot of money to start paying for the raises starting July 1.

Mayor John Rowe says “several school board members” have told him teacher raises are the top priority.

Superintendent Dr. Elie Bracy says raises are important for keeping and attracting qualified teachers, but he’s skeptical of using the one-time emergency fund for a reoccurring expense.

“When those funds run out, how do you propose we cover those raises in the future? I do not believe that is a sound financial plan,” said Dr. Bracy to the council Tuesday night.

Mayor Rowe says the city is “working hard to come up with the two percent.”

Whitaker asked city staff members about savings from more than 100 vacant positions in Portsmouth. Staff members told him they are planning to use the money for overtime and other unexpected costs for the current year.

“I hope that we realize that we can’t kick the can down the road on our children,” said Whitaker.

Claude Parent, school board chairman, said at Thursday night’s meeting he asked the city to put in writing that they will cover any shortfall in their projections that estimate there will be enough money in the emergency risk management fund to pay for teacher raises in the coming years.

A spokeswoman for the schools says the city has not yet agreed to drafting the letter requested.

Meanwhile, Dr. Bracy said school programs could be cut if the city doesn’t fund the staff raises.

The council will vote on a final budget in May.