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Halifax County school retirees keep pushing for answers

Months after the Halifax County School Board abruptly voted to terminate the Local Optional Retirement Plan (LORP) for retiring school employees, disgruntled retirees, feeling betrayed, continue to seek answers from school officials concerning why the program was halted in July.

Former LORP participants have been gathering data since LORP was terminated during a special called meeting July 24.

They are seeking clarification on information provided by the school system.

In an effort to answer specific questions from Dave Strom who has addressed school board members during several recent meetings, Halifax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon penned a letter to Strom on Wednesday that will be printed as a letter to the editor on next week’s editorial page.

According to LORP participant Michael Wilborne, Herndon’s letter contained no new information and offered the same responses the superintendent already had presented at an Aug. 30 work session.

According to the former Sinai Elementary Principal, another LORP participant has done research on the number of school divisions in the state offering Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP). 

The research conducted was gathered from the Virginia Education Association (VEA).

Herndon did not include any of that information in her responses to Strom.

Instead, she asked the Virginia Association of School Superintendents to send out a survey questioning participation in LORP, and 59 cities and counties responded with 47 responding they have no form of LORP/ERIP Plans.

According to the results, Herndon said a number of the divisions had ERIP but discontinued the programs leaving only 12 that had some form of LORP/ERIP.

The VEA information gathered by LORP participants is more comprehensive, they contend, and is based on surveys completed by 131 of Virginia’s 132 school divisions.

“This research indicated that 51 school divisions contributed some amount to retirees’ health care premiums. Forty-five school divisions reported that they offer ERIP, most of them, (31) provide a subsidy for health care costs for some period of time to people in the program,” said Wilborne.

“There is a wide variation in the amounts contributed with about a half of the divisions who do contribute putting in over half of the cost,” Wilborne added.

The reason for offering these programs is to balance the annual budgets by having older personnel retire under the early retirement plan, and it allows the school systems to hire new employees at the beginning of the pay scale or by not replacing personnel at all, Wilborne explained.

“It saves the county and schools money,” he added.

He pointed out neighboring Danville City Schools continues to use their LORP as a means to balance the school budget.

 “In a recent article in the Danville Register & Bee the school board stated that they won’t terminate the LORP program at this time,” said Wilborne.

The Danville school system is facing a $5 million shortfall and are making major budget cuts, he said, “but LORP isn’t one of the programs to be cut.”