Teachers union blasts Norfolk School Board over lack of public comment before budget vote

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Posted at 1:57 PM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-16 23:42:17-04

NORFOLK, Va. - The president of the Norfolk Federation of Teachers is blasting the school board and division for not giving the public more opportunities to weigh-in on the superintendent's proposed budget for the next school year.

The school board was scheduled to vote on Wednesday on the proposed budget, but Thomas Calhoun believes the public should've had more of a chance to comment on the budget ahead of time.

"It's been really bothering me. It's a really big deal," Calhoun told News on Monday.

Superintendent Dr. Sharon Byrdsong presented her proposed budget to the school board on March 2, but the school board is not holding a budget specific public hearing between that date and Wednesday.

"If they do this, it shows that they have, as far as I'm concerned, nowhere near enough concern for public input or employee input," said Calhoun.

The rest of the school boards in the seven cities are holding or held budget specific public hearings before voting on the budget. Last year, the Norfolk School Board held a public hearing. In December, a budget presentation made to the school board said the public would have the chance to comment on March 9, but that didn't happen.

"If you don't have any say-so about the money, you don't have any say-so about anything because the money determines what happens in the school system," said Calhoun.

News 3 reached out to every school board member and the school division.

Board chair Dr. Adale Martin replied that there was a public hearing on budget priorities in December, which she said satisfies a state law requiring a public hearing before a budget vote. She says the public could've also commented during public comment portions of board meetings and says they can comment on Wednesday.

Another school board member, Rodney Jordan, said the board should've scheduled a hearing ahead of Wednesday's vote.

"The limiting of public input is [a] growing trend I am observing on our board agendas," Jordan said.

Calhoun says he's encouraging employees and citizens to attend Wednesday's meeting and confront the board.

"I don't care what excuse they give. There is no excuse for not giving a public hearing on the proposed budget that was sent out," he said. "I hope the entire City of Norfolk shows up."

Passionate teachers spoke out at the school board meeting. Wednesday night.

Board members were set to vote on next year's budget, which includes pay raises.

Some of the teachers were fighting back tears as they spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.

"For as long as I have worked for Norfolk, I have also worked a second job just to make ends meet," said Natalie Ferrara, a teacher at Norview High School.

Teachers, bus drivers and community members got up at tonight's meeting to speak on the proposed budget for next year.

The spending plan includes a provision for increasing teacher pay 5.8%, classified employees with a pay increase averaging 7.5%, and a 4.2% pay increase for administrators-along with providing funds for additional school psychologists, social workers, safety and security measures, building repairs and maintenance among others.

Emotions ran high as teachers asked members of the board to invest in them as they invest in our children.

"Every time we teach a child to read, we're taking a child off the street,” said Granby Elementary School kindergarten teacher Toni Johnson. “Every time we teach students character, they learn how to cooperate with others. They learn how to tolerate different viewpoints and to respect the needs of others. Who else has that platform every single day except for their parents?"

Previously, there had been concerns about there not being enough time for public comment. But Wednesday, more than 20 speakers got that chance.

They were supposed to vote on the budget, but some want to put off voting because some teachers have expressed that the proposed raise still isn't enough.

The meeting is still going on as of 11 p.m.

We'll continue to monitor it and update you as soon as a decision is made.

Related: Chesapeake School Board approves pay raise for all employees including 10% raise for teachers