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UPDATE: Decision shocks school retirees

The Halifax County School Board emerged from its second lengthy closed meeting in as many nights on Tuesday and voted unanimously to terminate the Local Option Retirement Plan.

The vote was 7-0 with Trustee Walter Potts absent from the meeting.

LORP benefits were based on 20 percent of the final contracted salary earned before the effective date of retirement, with the school board reserving the right to change the percentage annually.

LORP participation was available for not more than seven years, and the employee’s share of social security, federal income tax and state income tax was deducted from LORP pay.

Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon estimated the LORP plan cost over $1,433,000 last year and recommended the board terminate the program.

“I do want to mention with the recommendation if people in the program have health insurance, we would continue to pay the employer’s health insurance,” Herndon told trustees.

Reaction to the board’s decision to terminate LORP was swift, particularly from employees who had announced their retirement from the school system as of the end of the current school year.

“From the conversations I’ve had with current year retirees, and I’m only speaking from that group retiring June 1, they just felt like they’ve been betrayed, because they signed the LORP paper with intent to participate in LORP and signed by central office personnel,” said Halifax County High School Associate Principal Deborah Griles, who retired this year.

“Before the 30 days were up (as of July 1), they (school board) had gone back against the budget and eliminated it.

“We were all concerned about that, that we were not contacted and given the opportunity to withdraw our retirement and go back to work.”

Griles added most of the current year retirees were counting on the income provided by LORP participation to start adjusting to retirement.

Had they had any inkling LORP would have been terminated, the most recent retirees may have decided not to retire, she indicated.

“The budget had already been approved, so I think there are a lot of questions in peoples’ minds as to how this can be done retroactively,” said Griles.

“I can understand if they do it for the 2013 year, but to make it retroactive and not show employees any consideration for decisions they were told had been in place was really unfair to us.

“I was stunned like everyone else.  There are a lot of questions as to how this could be done, and we have not been given the courtesy after all the years we’ve given the school system of being told it was not going to be available for us.”

“Everybody knows LORP is for one year, but this was our first year,” Griles added.

I knew when I retired, it would be evaluated on a yearly basis,” said Kathy Debiec. I wish we still had it, but I retired knowing it could end.”  

Debiec also noted she had signed up for LORP this year, as she has every year since her retirement in 2009.

“I would still be doing it if they had it.  I enjoyed it, and it did help out the people I worked for. I was disappointed when I found out we weren’t having it, and I was really surprised,” she added.

 “I wrote letters to my board member and tried to explain my position, and why I did it the way I did it when I retired,” added Debiec. “I was just waiting for them to make a decision, and at first I was surprised.”

Another recent school system retiree, Peggy Crews, had also taken advantage of LORP since her retirement.

“It came as a shock, and I wasn’t aware of it.  I really didn’t know about it, and that probably was because I’ve been doing other things and haven’t kept up with what was happening,” said Crews.

“I paid attention to who the new principals were, but this was quite a surprise.”

Crews said LORP has given her the opportunity to work in a lot of different areas.

“As a fifth grade teacher, it was very eye-opening to go back down to kindergarten and to work at the early learning center, and I especially enjoyed working with the gifted program,” explained Crews.

“I was a long-term sub in the gifted program, and I enjoyed that tremendously.

“I do understand things have to be cut, and I guess this is just one of the casualties of cutting,” she added.

“Everybody has to be prepared to give up something, and I would certainly like for these teachers to get a raise, those who are teaching now,” Crews said. “I wouldn’t want anything that I’m doing to take away from that, because they deserve it.”

Two trustees noted the decision to terminate LORP was a difficult one.

“I’ve lost sleep over it,” said Trustee Roger Long (ED 5), who added he had “agonized over this issue more than anything I have faced during my time on the school board.”

“I’ve looked at it and studied it.  Children are all we’ve got, and children are our future. My responsibility is toward the students, and as part of the responsibility of the school board, that money should go toward the students.”

“We have to make a choice whether we’re an educational agency or an employment agency,” added Long.

“We’re not social security, and we’ve undergone a massive reduction in resources. We’ve had people whose jobs have been cut and services for children have been curtailed.

“I regret having to make this decision, but I know it’s in the best interest of the school system, and therefore I support it,” Long said.

ED 3 Trustee Kim Farson said it was a hard decision to make but agreed with Long that the decision was in the best interest of the children.

“When you look at the people in our school system who have gone so long without raises, people who are thinking about the next meal on the table, I think we have to get back to thinking about what’s important for our children and the success of all our children in the school system,” said Farson.

“I feel like at this time it’s in the best interest of the school system, and I commend the school board for keeping insurance benefits for those who have retired.”


Hale new food services coordinator

Upon a recommendation by Herndon, trustees unanimously approved the appointment of Clarksville resident Lori Hale as the new food services coordinator for Halifax County Public Schools. 

Hale, served as food service director for Colonial Beach Public Schools in Colonial Beach from Aug. 2011 through July 2012.

Hale also worked with Pittsylvania County Public Schools as a cafeteria manager from 2002-2009, and she worked at Virginia International Raceway as general manager for one of their restaurants from February 2009 through February 2011.


Other action

Trustees approved a (one-time) 5.075 percent pay raise for school system employees to help compensate for the newly required 5 percent member contribution to the Virginia Retirement System.

 Trustees approved a change in sick leave policy, capping sick leave allotments at $25 a day with a cap of $5,000, whichever is less, when employees retire.

 Trustees unanimously approved a change in vacation policy. 

Trustees approved a motion allowing employees earning vacation leave to accumulate a maximum of 60 days (as of June 30).

Accumulated days include unused vacation leave from the prior year in addition to vacation leave earned for the current year.

According to the new vacation policy, at retirement or resignation employees with accumulated vacation leave will be reimbursed at their per diem pay rate.