Suffolk teachers threaten to quit after Superintendent gets 13 percent raise

(Editor's note: In the last 24 hours, we have received three different sets of salary numbers from Suffolk Public School officials. We have worked with them to try and provide the most accurate information. Our story reflects the most current set of salary numbers provided to us by school officials.)

SUFFOLK, Va. – Teachers and parents came together at a recent Suffolk School Board Meeting to protest one thing: the budget.

“My plate is full,” one third grade teacher told board members last week. “Better yet, it is overloaded.”
Many are upset after they found out the superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools, Deran Whitney, recently got a 13 percent raise, bringing his annual salary to $200,000.
Suffolk school officials say Whitney got the raise because a competitive compensation study done a few years ago recommended it. However, that study also looked at teacher salaries, and teachers say Whitney’s raise is a sore reminder that they are still living paycheck to paycheck.

“Yesterday my Facebook timeline showed memories from five years ago. One post read from 2012: ‘Speaking at the school board meeting tonight. I hope I have a job tomorrow, lol.’ This was 5 years ago,” said Natalie Street, a 3rd grade teacher.

“Not only am I here again fighting for decent pay, but now I’m faced with the question: should I stay in Suffolk?”

Street told board members at a recent job fair she attended, the majority of teachers in attendance were from Suffolk Public Schools.

“After looking at our proposed budget, the increased health care plan, the ongoing to-do list from our budget, the 20 page weekly lesson plans, the lack of promised raises, waiting for buses until 5:30 p.m., and the inconsistencies from year to year, other districts are seeing these problems and have reached out to me [to come work for them].”

Other teachers in the meeting did not beat around the bush: they told board members they were quitting.

“I am done being overwhelmed with the tedious tasks and the micromanaging of Suffolk Public Schools. I will not be returning to Suffolk Public Schools next year,” said one teacher. Her comments were met with applause.

According to Suffolk Public School (SPS) officials, in FY 2015-2016, Whitney made a base salary of $172,725. The next year, Whitney received a raise, bringing his salary up to $177,043. In September 2016, officials say Whitney has his annual evaluation with board members, and that is when they decided to give him the $23,000 raise, bringing his salary up to $200,000.

But that's not all Whitney is entitled to. Additionally. Whitney gets $23,573 for his annuity and a car allowance. Data provided by SPS officials lists Whitney's total salary as $223,573.

Suffolk teachers make considerably less. Data provided by the Tidewater Chapter of Virginia Education Association (VEA) shows starting salaries for teachers in Suffolk begin at $40,677. After 30 years of teaching, teachers will still only make $65,338 a year, meaning a Suffolk teacher will never make over $70,000 during their time inside a classroom.

Gail Pittman is the director for the Tidewater Chapter VEA. She says Suffolk teachers got a 2 percent raise this year, but with increased health care costs on the way, some teachers will still lose money.

“We’re hearing the same concerns,” said Pittman. “‘My insurance is going up more than any raise that they could ever give me, but [the Superintendent] is getting $23,000 dollars!’”

Pittman and her office do not necessarily blame Whitney for his salary raise. They say school board members are in charge of the budget, and think the board members should work from the bottom up, rather than the top down.

During the work session Suffolk Public Schools tell News 3 school board members talked about reducing teacher workload, realizing their anger is coming from discontent with pay and working conditions. Divisional administrators are working to get feedback from teachers on how to help.

The school board hosted an emergency meeting regarding the budget Wednesday at 4 p.m. News 3’s Merris Badcock was in attendance. Follow her on Twitter for updates.