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Efficiency study offers ‘path’ for school officials

What’s next for Halifax County Public Schools? The efficiency review completed in March by Prismatic has given school administration a “path,” according to Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon.


Among Prismatic’s 122 recommendations, the efficiency review suggested closing two schools, eliminating LAN manager positions, establishing and publishing a new compensation and pay plan, as well as adopting a new central office structure.

Prismatic representative Tatia Prieto outlined for Halifax County School Board members the 122 recommendations and 38 commendations Thursday afternoon during a school board work session, while Herndon updated board members on the continuing processes throughout the presentations. 

While at Halifax County Public Schools, Prieto admitted she felt she was back in 1972 as the school system is mostly “paper and pencil.”

Prieto presented the “tipping point” recommendations that Prismatic believes to be the most important. 

Of the recommended items, the school system already has adopted a new central office structure, identified sources of data beyond tests scores and continually uses them to inform decision-making, and reestablished technology leadership through both a director of technology and instructional technology position. 

According to Herndon, several items are being reviewed including the comprehensive development plan that addresses student needs, division needs and content area deficiencies, establishing and publishing a new compensation and pay plan, analyzing class size and its impact on staffing needs each year, upgrading CMMS software and developing a comprehensive updated food services procedures manual.

Herndon and Executive Director for Administration Valdivia Marshall informed board members several employees were not in the correct pay scale for the number of years they had been employed, with some people making more than they should, while others were making less.

“We have literally been going by file by file,” said Herndon.

Prieto told board members the school system is primarily “paper based” that leads to critical concerns.

Herndon and Marshall said each personnel file is being reviewed to determine the correct years of experience and salary level. 

Herndon added once the school system makes the corrections, some employees may see a decrease in salary next year.

However, a “major budget meeting” will be held this week, and discussions will begin as budget plans are being developed to include a request to the board of supervisors for a two and a half to three and a half percent pay raise for all employees, said Herndon.

The most unpopular recommendation is to develop a closure plan for at least two elementary schools. Prieto added Halifax County is not in a growing district.

“This is a major area that will require time, careful study and community input, and we’ll have to move with thoughtful consideration to the ‘unintended consequences,’” said Herndon.

ED-5 trustee Roger Long said, “This would require massive rezoning.”

Prismatic suggested the transportation office adopt a full-time router position and staggered bell times or combine schools on bus routes to make routes more efficient.

Herndon said Director of Transportation Dave Guill told her at this time the addition of that position doesn’t seem necessary considering more critical needs exist including the purchase of new school buses and the hiring of mechanics. 

South Boston Elementary is currently the only school that uses staggered bell times.

Prieto told board members studies have indicated if high school students start at a later time, it significantly impacts academic performance.

“For those who have a high school student, you know that they just are not awake until 9-10. One of my favorite studies shows that it not only improves academics, but it shows a decrease in a number of student accidents,” said Prieto.

Concerning cuts proposed to custodial staff, the Prismatic study suggested reassigning custodians to schools based on the ASBO standard of 20,000 square feet of work per eight-hour day which would eliminate seven positions for an annual savings of $185,360.

What the county school system already has implemented includes reassigning and reducing custodial staff by 5.4 positions for an average of one full-time custodian per 18,929 square feet at a savings of $142,922 per year, Herndon explained.

A director of finance (Jay Camp) was hired in July, but Prismatic suggested a business manager also be employed to be responsible for all daily financial processing and financial reporting.

Herndon said since she and Camp have been working together, they have found it might would be more beneficial to have someone else in the human resources department rather than in the finance department.

According to Prieto, the reason the Prismatic team suggested the elimination of the LAN manger positions is because computer labs are becoming an outdated source.

The LAN manager positions, originally eliminated when the current budget was approved, were later reinstated due to what Herndon described as information being “misinterpreted.” 

ED-1 trustee Phyllis Smith questioned Prieto about the Local Optional Retirement Plan.

“I only found one reference in the whole study…I want to know if it was presented to you as something to look at,” said Smith.

“We didn’t find anything that was being done contrary to policy,” said Prieto.

Prieto added Prismatic felt the larger issue wasn’t the money spent on LORP, but rather it was the complete lack of succession and transition at any level in the district.

At the conclusion of the work session, Herndon said the documents presented to board members are a “work in progress” as school administration builds for their presentation to the board of supervisors in February at the annual retreat.

Absent from Thursday’s work session was Chairperson Karen Hopkins and ED-7 School Board Member R.K. “Dick” Stoneman.