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Speakers lash out at school trustees

Three citizens expressed their frustration and confusion to Halifax County School Board members concerning recent school administration decisions Thursday night before a packed room.

During the board’s regular monthly meeting, Dave Strom of South Boston lobbed question after question at board members regarding the Local Optional Retirement Plan and why it was terminated.

“It appears the budget is being largely ignored. Certainly many of the expenditures are not in line with it. What are both the school administration’s and the school board’s responsibilities with regards to operating within the approved budget?” asked Strom.

He also questioned board members about the $900,000 “found” to cover rising health insurance costs wondering aloud should the public expect more money to be found.

“Where and how was it ‘found’? Where was that money originally included in the budget? Where did the other $200,000 come from?” questioned Strom.

An admittedly “confused” Margaret Coleman, parent and employee of Halifax County Public Schools, asked board members how the shortfall on employees’ checks from the 5.075 percent increase to the Virginia
Retirement System is supposed to help employees.

“It was stated no decrease would appear,” said Coleman. “After talking to some of my colleagues, many expressed substantial shortfalls. How does the shortfall of this economy help us to recoup money that we were led to believe wouldn’t come out of our checks?” questioned Coleman.

Teachers are only given a minimal amount to start up their classrooms, she added, and a large number of teachers spend money out of their own pockets. Coleman said she has already spent $500 and is still spending on classroom supplies.

“We spend, and we spend, and no one seems to want to acknowledge it or compensate us for what we do. Teachers in Halifax County deserve more,” she concluded.

The Rev. Frank Coleman following his wife to voice concerns about the LORP program and why it did not work in this county when it seems to work in others. 

A “totally confused” Coleman asked the board for a response whether it be public or behind closed doors.

“When it’s done right, LORP is a win-win situation, period,” said Coleman. “Who messed it up, because somebody messed up big, and with all due respect, whoever messed it up, if they are not already gone you need to fire them. The reality is this thing was supposed to work, and somebody really messed up.” 

In other business Thursday night, Clays Mill Elementary Principal Sherry Cowan presented a power point presentation on activities and student life at the school.

“It has always been said a picture is worth a thousand words. We are proud to showcase our school in 70,000 words,” said Cowan.

Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon presented board members the Virginia School Board Association Academy Awards including ED-4 trustee Cheryl Terry who received the certificate of recognition for hard work. Bronze awards were presented to ED-1 trustee Phyllis Smith, ED-7 trustee R.K. “Dick” Stoneman, ED-8 trustee Walter Potts and Chairman Karen Hopkins.

ED-3 trustee Kimberly Farson received the honor award, and the highest level, distinction award was presented to ED-5 trustee Roger Long and ED-6 trustee Fay Satterfield. 

Long was absent from the meeting.

“Congratulations to all of our board members for their work from the VSBA,” said Herndon.

Division Testing Coordinator Nancy Zirkle presented the state accreditation scores and presented each principal a plaque in recognition of their school receiving full accreditation.

Director of Maintenance and Operations Larry Roller gave the annual energy consumption report and told board members county schools are outperforming 86 percent of similar schools nationwide.

Upon request by school trustee Potts, Director of Finance Jay Camp presented a health insurance analysis that showed a premium increase of $50 to 34 employees who carry a child on their insurance, 15 who carry a spouse and 24 who carry the entire family currently costs the school system $486,370. 

Camp told board members “in the event we just pick up everybody” and pay the additional $50 for the 73 employees, the school would pay $510,980 which amounts to an additional cost of $24,610.

Potts suggested school board members discuss the issue further at the work session to be held Thursday, at 5 p.m.

Chairman Hopkins asked board members if there were any other topics to be added to the agenda for the work session before asking for approval.

Already removed from Thursday’s meeting and added to the work session agenda was the classified evaluation instrument, superintendent evaluation instrument, reduction in force, class sizes and health insurance.

“I’d like the board to consider having disciplinary meetings at a different date,” said Stoneman, noting the late hour that board members and students now leave meetings.

Trustee Terry said she’d like the board to consider making a public response when addressed during board meetings.

“Especially when people stand up and speak, we should respond,” said Terry to a round of applause from the audience.

However, several board members pointed out the board follows Robert’s Rules of Order that prevents them from responding out of order without a motion on the floor.

Farson added an item involving school property to be discussed in executive session at the work session next Thursday.

Camp presented the financial report and told board members the last new buses purchased several years ago have been paid off.

“So we should start looking into buying some new buses,” said Farson.

After receiving payment of the bills, board members went into closed session to discuss student discipline, personnel and consultations.

When board members emerged, they approved five children from two families for religious exemptions, expelled a student for 365 days, permitted two long- term suspended students to return to school Friday and one expelled student to return Monday.