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Reema Amin @reemadamin
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At the Newport News City Council work session, things have become interesting about city funding to the school division. Budget Director Lisa Cipriano presented this chart, based on what she says are school figures, since 2008.
Both Cipriano and City Manager Cindy Rohlf said there have been charts presented by school officials and being circulated on social media that misrepresent funding.
One of those charts is apparently this one. Most of that shows the city’s funding for debt payments + operations. But that last bar doesn’t account for debt. Not a level comparison, but was presented to the public at some point (I think during a School Board meeting)
This one is a bit more jarring. Based on school budget figures, the school system has overbudgeted personnel costs since at least FY2014. Cipriano says the money was used on other things in those budgets.
Councilwomen Scott asked if that’s legal. City Attorney said state law requires school system must return a surplus to the School Board.
Councilman Harris asks legally what the council can do. City Attorney says there is a section in the state code that would allow council to break funding into categories for the school system. Mayor Price: "It is my hope we don't get to that." Rohlf says it's not a recommendation
Another chart, but just for teacher salaries. Cipriano notes that teacher salaries are usually known because of contracts, so the school staff should know who they have and what they’re going to be spending.
Probably important to note that no one here has said Newport News Public Schools did something illegal when it crafted the budget. The point they've reiterated is that the school system appears to have the funding for teacher salary raises, but they've used it elsewhere.
Mayor Price: "Hope that out of this we can come together for the future and do what I think all of us want -- sit down and have an open discussion about truth about funding for all of our kids."
Councilwoman Saundra Cherry: "Sometimes when information goes out, I don't care how wrong it is, people believe what they want to believe."
Cherry: "They can believe what they want to believe, but we have to hold fast on what we know is true." I think when she said they she's talking about the teachers/others in the community.
Clarification on this presentation -- this was presented to the School Board without the red bar. Someone is circulating THIS presentation, with the red bar, on social media (without the yellow-barred explanations).
All of this is being presented before the budget hearing tonight, expected to have a large number of teachers in attendance. It will be interesting to see their response.
.@byjanehammond has contacted the school division for some initial comment. Waiting to hear back.
Standing room only at City Council tonight. Teacher pay is likely to dominate this hearing.
Former Commissioner of the Revenue Priscilla Bele got a standing ovation from the crowd as she accepted a resolution honoring her service with the city.
And now the public hearing begins. They're going to present basically what they presented at the work session, including the questions about personnel costs. Acting Superintendent Brian Nichols is here and said he hasn't seen the chart yet.
That chart over the difference between budget vs. actual spending on teacher salaries was just shared. Heard some groans, but am also hearing some people behind me say that there must be something wrong with those numbers.
"It is our hope that this information will allow us to have a discussion with the School Board in an open environment" to reach a consensus, Mayor Price says. Here we go with public comments.
Non-teacher from Texas says teachers deserve a 4 percent raise. Second speaker, a bus driver, says the same. "No teacher should have to go and have a second job, at all."
Third speaker says more investment from the city in the schools would bring more people and increase overall revenue. So far, it seems the city's presentation has sort of fallen on deaf ears.
I spoke too soon. This next teacher: "I'm very concerned about the disconnect in the information that's being presented here and at the school board....Not our jobs to be in the go-between between the people who are governing the city." She wants both bodies to meet. Claps, woos.
It is starting to get....ugly. Vice Mayor Tina Vick apologizes to this speaker, but that she does not see "your school board members" here, and that it appears they don't want to meet with council. The speaker -- Melinda Hodgkiss -- said elected officials need to figure this out.
To be clear: Vick lobbed her complaints against the School Board, not this speaker. That they are not here, that they don't want to meet with the council, and that they are spreading misinformation on social media.
Speaker 8: Asks for the 4 percent raise, to vote "prior to May 1" (that's the election). She says the city has no problem giving tax breaks to big corporations to keep HQ here. Does not acknowledge presentation.
Teacher Mary Vause, who has sort of taken the lead of this charge, said Cipriano's presentation was a "creative use of data," and that she needs to review everything herself. She also said teachers are demanding an up or down vote before election.
"How so many council members and school board members could play the blame game is beyond me." -- Speaker 10.
Greg Roth, speaker 11 who is running for City Council's central district, says that the city should fund the school system's entire request.
Earlier, South District candidate Latonya Wallace said she supports increased funding for the school system but said there needs to be a clear conversation about where the funding is and what the real numbers are.
We're on speaker 17 now in support of more funding for teachers. Both she and her mother, Justine White, speaker 16, said there needs to be clearer information and less hostility between the School Board and the council.
We got to about 21 speakers tonight, and this room cleared out pretty fast post-public hearing. People want one, two or all of three things: more funding for raises, the truth on what the city budget says vs schools budget and they want no more hostility between both bodies.
State politics and Newport News hats are combining right now: a speaker is talking about pretrial services and complimenting some bills that @cToddGilbert presented this year.
One, HB 997, didn't make it out of the Courts of Justice committee. It would have repealed the act that sets up pretrial services, which helps judicial officers make bail determinations. Northam signed HB996, which requires an annual state review of each pretrial agency.
Bateman says no one likes "this open disagreement we've had" between the council and School Board. But council members also wonder if they know the figures in and out, or if they're just acting on what's presented to them at their meetings.
Here is the final write-up of tonight:…
Packing it in, but stay with me tomorrow if you want the latest on budget talks in Richmond. Lawmakers reconvene tomorrow for the special session.
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