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Comer to lead Halifax County School Board

ED-7 school board representative Stuart Comer was elected chairman of the board Monday evening during the organizational meeting of the Halifax County School Board.

By a five to three vote, Comer was chosen chairman over fellow board member ED-5 representative Dr. Roger Long.
Comer voted for himself along with ED-1 representative Devin Snead, ED-3 representative Kim Farson, ED-4 representative Joe Gasperini and ED-6 representative Fay Satterfield.

Dr. Long cast a vote for himself along with ED-2 representative Karen Hopkins and ED-8 representative Walter Potts.

Gasperini was elected vice-chairman by a 5 to 3 vote besting Hopkins for the second-in-command post.

Gasperini voted for himself along with Snead, Farson, Satterfield and Comer.

Hopkins cast a vote for herself along with Long and Potts.

After accepting the chairmanship Monday night, Comer said, “I appreciate the confidence, and I look forward to working with fellow board members and forward to having a successful year.”

Comer said he was asked back in December if he would be willing to serve as chairman.

“I want to maintain lots of open communication,” the newly elected chairman added.

Board members voted to keep Robin Mahan as clerk, Amy Throckmorton as deputy clerk and Larry Clark as the designee to attend school board meetings in the absence of the superintendent.

In other business Monday evening, trustees voted 6 to 2 to accept the retirement incentive package for 2011 as presented by Deputy Superintendent Clark and Chief Financial Officer Bill Covington.

The retirement incentive package will be the same one offered to school employees in 2010, school officials said.

The purpose in offering this incentive to employees during a time of budget cuts, according to Clark, is to reward retirees for “their loyalty and good service” rather than to fire newly hired employees who have no seniority and for which the school system would be responsible for paying unemployment compensation.

“Financially, it has proven to be a cost savings to offer incentives to employees eligible for retirement who are paid at a higher rate than those recently hired,” said Clark.

Some highlights of the local retirement incentive package include:

• The retiree must be at least 55 years old by Oct. 1, 2010 in order to participate or be a classified employee with 30 years of Virginia Retirement System (VRS) service (no age limitation);

• Local Optional Retirement Program (LORP) benefits are subject to federal, state and social security withholding;

• Payment for LORP participation is based on 20 percent of the employee’s final contracted salary;

• The work responsibility for LORP participants requires 10-month contracted employees to work 20 days, 11-month contracted employees to work 22 days, and 12-month contracted employees to work 24 days a year for not more than seven years dependent upon the participant’s age at retirement;

•  LORP earnings may be paid out in either 10 or 12 month intervals, and pre-tax dollars may be used for health insurance premiums only (LORP participants are responsible for the entire health insurance premium should they choose to continue with the school board’s health insurance plan); LORP earnings will be paid out on the basis of two days worked per month;

• Early Retirement Insurance Program (ERIP) participants must be LORP participants and be at least 55 years old by Oct. 1 and not Medicare eligible (age 65); and

• Sick leave reimbursement of $100 per day from day one to a maximum of 180 days-reimbursement not to exceed an employee’s per diem pay rate; days in excess of 180 will be reimbursed at the rate of $25 per day.

A roll call vote was taken with ED-4 representative Gasperini and ED-6 representative Fay Satterfield voting against the proposed retirement incentive.

Both expressed concern over the cost involved with the retirement plan, but Covington assured trustees they would save money and avoid laying off “young and eager teachers.”

In other business, the board adopted a school board travel policy that states reimbursements on meals “shall be claimed for actual expenses as indicated on meal receipts not to exceed $50 per day.

“Hotel reservations for board members will be made by the clerk of the board. If room upgrades are made or requested by individual board members, any increase in the ‘group reservation rate’ will be the responsibility of the board member requesting the upgrade.”

The policy further states, “Mileage for travel by board members for official trips will be reimbursed at the rate per mile approved by the school board. Odometer readings are required.”

Clark added the rate per mile is 43 cents.

ED-8 representative Walter Potts asked board members to amend the policy to also reimburse members for tolls and parking.

The policy states non-reimbursable expenses include alcoholic beverages, entertainment and lodging upgrades.

Also during Monday night’s school board meeting, Covington presented a report on the governor’s proposed budget reminding board members the budget is subject to change during the General Assembly session.

The chief financial officer said Halifax County is facing about a $2.5 million budget cut including $1.5 million due to the “hold harmless” provision granted by the General Assembly last year and $1 million in VRS payments formerly paid by the state but now being designated to be paid by the locality.

Board members accepted the proposed school board meeting dates for 2011 as presented by Superintendent Paul Stapleton.
All meetings will be held on the second Monday of every month except in Oct. when it will be held on Thursday due to Columbus Day.

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Joe Griles informed school board members at the end of the meeting that fifth grade history books containing erroneous information have been removed from the classrooms, and students are now being taught from previously used texts.

The school board’s next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 14 at 7 p.m.