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Trustees To Begin Process For Efficiency Study Review

An efficiency study of the county school system came one step closer to becoming a reality Monday night when the Halifax County School Board approved a motion to begin the process of conducting a review that could cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

During its monthly meeting held at the South Boston/Halifax Early Learning Center, Dr. Roger Long, chairman of the board’s efficiency study committee, proposed a motion that was approved on a 6-2 vote with Devin Snead and Stuart Comer dissenting.

In his report to the board, Long recommended the school system explore an efficiency study through the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget (DPB) with the local school system paying 25 percent and the DPB picking up the remaining portion of the review costs.

DPB states, “Given the costs of previous reviews, this portion of the financial obligation may be in the range of $20,000-$30,000. This amount is determined at the time of the contract.”

Also, if the school division does not initiate at least half of the recommendations in the review, the school division would pay another 25 percent of the costs, according to the DPB.

Long submitted data provided by DPB on 34 school systems that have gone through reviews since 2004 with average savings of just over $1 million with 91 percent of the recommendations of the studies implemented.

Long said school systems are scheduled for reviews by the DPB on a first come-first served basis, but due to several events that will occur in the immediate future, Halifax County should be a high priority:

• Halifax County will face deeper cuts than most other Virginia counties due to the loss of approximately $1,487,000 in reversion funding over the next two years.

• Also, in light of impending retirements of top-level administrators, succession information needs to be available to the board for consideration so it can make prudent directions and decisions.

“One of the chief goals of school board members is to be certain that the school system is run efficiently, and I agree with that whole-heartedly,” Long said.

Board member Stuart Comer, who was a member of Long’s committee, said he is not in favor of an efficiency study.

“The bottom line is it’s going to cost the taxpayers money, and it’s time to stop spending excess money,” he said. “Two, it doesn’t guarantee us any savings, and three, you’re paying for someone else’s opinion.

“It’s the citizens’ tax money in this county that’s paying for someone else’s opinion on how to run the school system,” he added. “The state gives us strict guidelines to follow, and what we’re doing is not guesswork. And if it involves going out and spending more taxpayers’ money, I’m 100 percent against it.”

Board member Joe Gasperini, who also was a member of the committee, recommended enlisting a private company to conduct the efficiency study, saying it could be done quicker than going through the DPB. He said probably the earliest time the school system could begin an efficiency study through DPB would be fall of 2011.

Gasperini suggested putting out a Request For Proposal (RFP) for what the school system is looking for in an efficiency study. He said the cost of the study would be about $100,000, and savings could be great.

“We could be doing the same thing as DPB, but we would be moving the schedule up one year,” Gasperini said. “And I think it makes a lot of sense.”
Long said he opposed going about the study independently, and the school system should go through DPB. He said the board needs to act now to get on the list of school systems requesting review by the DPB.

Long proposed, and Karen Hopkins seconded a motion that the superintendent and chairman contact the Virginia Office of Planning and Budget to volunteer to begin the process of conducting a review. The motion also emphasized that a review for Halifax County should be a high priority.

Gasperini asked if the board could get a time frame from the DPB, and if it is more than a year away, then consider using a private company for the study. Long said his motion is not for the board to commit to a study, but to go through DPB to explore the possibility of a study.

Hopkins said having a team come to Halifax County to help the board and administration with decisions regarding finances would be a win-win situation for the entire school system and the children. Snead expressed concern about tying up employees with the efficiency study when their time could be used elsewhere, such as obtaining grants for the school system. He also said he was concerned about the cost of a study.

Chairman Walter Potts said he is concerned about the anticipated cost of the time factor for school personnel to be involved in the study. Also, he said he is totally against an RFP because it would have to be put out for bid.

Superintendent Paul Stapleton said the board has three options, including going through the DPB which is a state agency, going through another organization such as the Virginia Association of School Superintendents who would do the study for a cost of less than what the state procurement law requires to be put out to bids, or the board could write its own RFP. He said most of those studies are in the range of $120,000-$150,000.

Following the vote on Long’s motion, Potts reminded the board there is no commitment by the school system to spend any money on a study, merely to explore the possibility.

In other business, Chief Financial Officer Bill Covington reported on the Virginia Group Life long-term care insurance plan. The insurance is available to school system employees at no cost to the school board, and it will be a tax benefit to employees because premiums will be paid through pre-taxed payroll deduction. The board unanimously approved Snead’s motion to participate in the insurance program.

The board also unanimously approved Gasperini’s motion to allow school system employees who have 403B plans to make adjustments to their plan four times a year. Currently they are able to make adjustments in September, January and April. With the board’s approval, employees also will now be able to make changes to their 403B plans in June.

Covington also reported on the school system’s finances, saying the Average Daily Membership figure of 5,650 is higher than the projected figure of 5,600 which should result in additional funds from the state.

At the beginning of the meeting, Program Director Priscilla Price welcomed the board to the South Boston/Halifax Early Learning Center, and students treated board members and those attending to three songs.

The next meeting for the school board is Monday, June 14, in the public meeting room at the Mary Bethune Complex.