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Confusion dominates school board meeting on retirement changes

After much discussion and confusion, Halifax County School Board members unanimously defeated a motion to change employee retirement policy and tabled further action until they can meet with the county school board attorney during a special called meeting to be held in July.

Several board members publicly stated they were confused Monday evening during the board meeting and said they did not feel comfortable approving changes to the Local Optional Retirement Plan until they can talk it over with School Board Attorney Craig Wood of Charlottesville.

Confusion centered on the impact these changes could have on current employees.

 “You may want to meet with the school board attorney and get legal advice,” Superintendent Paul Stapleton cautioned board members.

The school superintendent said any action could be “detrimental to employees and have an untold impact on the budget.” 

He added school board members were making a wise decision to postpone any decision until July.

By waiting until next month, the policy changes will not affect any current retirees, Stapleton said.

During Monday night’s meeting, ED-5 trustee Dr. Roger Long distributed to school board members and the superintendent copies of changes he was proposing to the retirement policy.

Long said he proposed the changes after discussions with the attorney who led him to realize the school board may have not been following state law. 

Included in Long’s proposal are the following:

Changing the title from “Local Optional Retirement Plan” to “Early Retirement Incentive Plan.”

 Bringing policy in compliance with federal and state early retirement standards;

 Bringing policy in compliance with state law; (Current school boards can not commit future funds.)

 Change wording to assure that board may change, modify or delete the plan for any reason; and

 Change wording to assure exceptions to procedures will have prior approval of the school board.

 “I have years of experience in finance and personnel, and it’s my duty as a board member to keep the board legal,” said Long. “The attorney’s advice was to terminate or at least amend the plan as to any new participants.”

According to Wood, “The school board has had a policy in place for several years that it has published to employees, employees retired in reliance on it, and retirees anticipate benefits from it. That policy has a legal error, because by its own language, it allows the boards to amend or terminate, but it says ‘Participants already in the program will not be affected by the amendment or termination of the program.’ That sentence should not have been in the policy…The question becomes what do we do about it? Roger Long is correct that a current board cannot contract with employees in a manner that binds future boards.”

At a special called meeting that has yet to be scheduled for July, board members will meet with Wood and review the proposed retirement policy changes.

Renewable energy partnership 

In other action Monday night, Stapleton updated board members on ongoing negotiations for the renewable energy project partnership between the school board and the Town of South Boston.  

Board members approved the partnership at their April meeting.

Essentially, the agreement between the school and town makes methane gas generated at the former South Boston landfill available to South Boston Elementary School for generation of energy, thermal and/or electricity.

The town intends to build a pipeline from the landfill to a delivery point located near South Boston Elementary School.

Under the agreement, the town would deliver and sell up to 58 mmBTUs of landfill gas produced from the landfill per day to the elementary school for a fee of $1 per year during the terms of the agreements.

The initial terms of the agreement are 15 years for the school with the school being granted the option to extend the agreement for an additional period of five years following the expiration of the initial terms, provided that the gas flow from the landfill is sufficient to permit the buyer to continue generation of energy at the renewable energy facility.

Since receiving board approval to proceed with the partnership in April, Stapleton said, “We have been working on it ever since. I took the project and turned it over to the county attorney … and he’s done a very good job making some changes and adjustments. Mr. Roller began negotiations with Butch Joyce with Joyce Engineering to make sure the board received what the board was told that night...that negotiation is still going on at this time,” added Stapleton.

The superintendent told board members he has not and will not sign an agreement until he is assured the school receives what the town has promised to deliver.

He told board members both parties were getting close to either having an agreement or not having an agreement.


Performance evaluation system

In other business Monday night, Executive Director for Instruction Dr. Melanie Stanley and Supervisor of Elementary Education Linda Owen presented the performance evaluation system to the board for approval.

“This document is a living, breathing, instrument,” said Owen explaining it will be used in employee evaluations in the upcoming year.

The document will continue to be refined, and changes will be made as deemed necessary, she added.

However the board decided to take an extra week to look over the document and tabled action until the June 18 meeting.

 

Fair and balanced reporting

Vice Chairman Kimberly Farson recognized The Gazette-Virginian and The News & Record for each newspaper’s fair and balanced reporting and added the two newspapers names to the Virginia School Board Association’s media honor roll with all school board members approving the resolution.

At a later date the Virginia School Board Association will publish the media honor roll in the association newsletter and issue a press release. Personalized certificates will be presented to both newspapers at a future board meeting.

 

Feed the Hungry

Farson presented the Community Feed the Hungry program and asked, “What can we do” to address childhood hunger. She asked all board members, school employees and community groups to form a standing committee to make a difference in the school system.

“If you have any questions or would like to serve on the committee just contact me,” said Farson.

 

School finances

Chief Financial Officer Bill Covington gave the financial report through the month of May, stating that the month of June is very busy.

He commended the finance department for what they have done this year and every year.

ED-8 trustee Walter Potts said, “Thank you Mr. Covington for what you’ve done for this school system and for all the years.”

 

Closed session

Board members then convened into closed session to discuss personnel.

When board members emerged they approved one employee who was retiring to participate in the Local Optional Retirement Plan even though they had missed the March 15 deadline, denied one employee who wanted to wait until Dec. 1 to retire and still wanted to receive LORP benefits and tabled discussion of retirement policy changes until a special called July meeting can be scheduled with the school board attorney.