Portsmouth council approves budget without increase for schools

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth City Council voted Tuesday to approve next year’s budget without any increase for the Portsmouth Public Schools.

The district originally asked for $5.4 million in additional funding. In recent weeks, school officials have amended their request to nearly $1.1 million to fund a two percent raise for all school district employees. After weeks of budget workshops, the city and schools couldn’t reach an agreement about where to find the money.

Mayor John Rowe says he wanted the city and schools to combine their risk management funds, two separate reserves, to come up with the money for the raises.

School Board Chairman Claude Parent rejected Rowe’s proposal in writing on Monday. Parent and other school officials have expressed their concern about the money not being able to fund the raises in the years to come.

Councilman Mark Whitaker, who has advocated for a boost in school funding, agrees with the board chairman.

“It uses a one time source to fund a recurring expense,” said Whitaker. “I think it is a sad commentary on our part that we would minimally look to fund the request of the schools.”

Councilman Paige Cherry surprised some of his colleagues when he made a last-minute proposal to add $1 million to the city’s share of the school’s budget for the raises.

Whitaker, along with Elizabeth Psimas and Bill Moody, expressed concern about where the money would come from in the budget.

“I think it’s bad politics for us to be trying to play the school system in funding here at the last minute for political gain,” said Whitaker of Cherry’s proposal.

School officials slighted over proposed education funding in Portsmouth

In a 4-3 vote, the council approved the spending plan to give the schools level funding at roughly $52 million.

Whitaker, Cherry and Lisa Lucas-Burke voted against the plan.

“I had hoped we would find some kind of way of fund the two percent for our teachers as we have done for our public safety, fire and police and with our city employees,” said Lucas-Burke.

Even with level funding, the school system has said they are able to add 10 addition K-6 teachers, 13 additional kindergarten instructional assistants, six technology support positions and more money for instructional supplies.