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School board ponders capping vacation

Halifax County School Board members are discussing lowering the cap on the amount of vacation time school employees are allowed to accumulate from 60 days to 30 days.

During a lengthy work session held Thursday evening, school board trustees discussed limiting accumulated vacation time and covered a wide range of other topics including out of zone students and how to respond to the public’s questions and concerns presented at the last school board meeting — namely questions about why the Local Option Retirement Plan was terminated and health insurance increases.

Currently the vacation policy has vacation time capped at 60 days, an issue that was approved during the board’s July meeting.

Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon said she had recently learned several different school districts had much lower caps than 60 days after asking the Virginia Association of School Superintendents to send surveys out to other districts questioning their caps.

Admitting the numbers here in Halifax weren’t as bad as she had originally thought, Herndon said currently the school system has 171 employees who are eligible for vacation, seven have over 100 days accumulated, and 47 have over 60 days. 

“The highest is 143 days,” added Herndon.

However, many of the school districts Herndon said she heard back from were capped at 30 days or less.

Herndon asked the board to think about two options going forward with vacation usage.

“So two things, do we want to consider giving those individuals this year who were notified they had one year to get down to 60 days a longer period of time to use vacation days ... second topic, overtime ... new hires or at some point we say alright what we’re going to get to is the cap of 30 days... We want to encourage them to take their vacation days along the way,” said Herndon.

Adding long term, “do we want to use a more, I don’t want to use reasonable, but I can’t think of a better word, cap of 30.”

ED-8 trustee Walter Potts suggested the school board give employees until retirement to take their vacation days and present new hires with the new cap of 30 days.

No action was taken on the issue, and further discussion is anticipated at the November school board meeting.

In other business, ED-3 trustee Kimberly Farson brought to the attention of board members the large number of students attending schools out of zone and the lack of policy enforcement.

The current policy, last revised in August 2004, states a student may be granted permission by the superintendent or the designee (the principal) to attend a school not in the attendance zone in which the student resides. 

Permission is contingent upon the submission of an application, availability of space in the grade level, extenuating circumstances of the family and prior discipline record, if applicable, all of which will be reviewed annually for continued enrollment.

At present time 215 students are attending school out of zone, Farson said suggesting a committee be formed to look at the situation and hopefully have it worked out before the next school year.

Potts suggested the school board enforce the policy already in place saying he sees no need to “micromanage” the situation.

“With over enrollment, we may have to hire new teachers,” ED-1 trustee Phyllis Smith pointed out.

With emphasis on the recommendation from the recently completed efficiency study that suggested closing two schools, ED-7 trustee R.K. “Dick” Stoneman said, “If we can’t get attendance up, we may have to close two schools in the future.”

Herndon said the numbers provided were one-sided, adding, “We don’t want to play shell games with the children.”

Central office staff plans to present additional information on this issue at the November school board meeting, the superintendent said.

Also Thursday evening, Chairman Karen Hopkins told board members she had contacted the Virginia School Board Association concerning how to appropriately address questions presented from the public during regular school board meetings.

Specifically, David Strom of South Boston asked a series of questions concerning the retirement program, health insurance increases and other questions concerning school administration decisions at the last school board meeting, Oct. 11.

“The main thing is getting the facts,” said Farson.

ED-4 trustee Cheryl Terry suggested the board could answer the questions in the local newspapers.

In other business, board members took the following actions:

Discussed allowing the school superintendent be responsible for getting answers to the public’s questions and then relaying those answers to Chairman Hopkins who will present answers directly to the public;

 Decided to vote on classified and superintendent evaluation instruments at its November meeting;

 Discussed employee tuition assistance guidelines after more information is provided;

 Discussed further the possibility of having separate meetings for discipline hearings rather than holding them at the conclusion of the regular monthly school board meeting;

 Discussed purchasing technological equipment so the board can have paperless board meetings;

 Discussed eliminating use of middle and high school gyms unless fees are paid and an administrator is present to supervise the gym; and

 Discussed having a new school board table designed and created for future school board meetings.

 “Mr. Pennick and our students, and the students would be able to earn some compensation to help redesign the board table… basically it would be a modified horseshoe more like a crescent so everyone can see each other,” said Herndon.

The project would be a joint effort with the board of supervisors, and it will be discussed at the board of supervisors’ November meeting, according to Herndon.

Board members then went behind closed doors to discuss personnel. When board members emerged, no action was taken.