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Lawsuit filed against Halifax County School Board

Halifax County School Board members have been served. A lawsuit stemming from the termination of former employees’ Local Optional Retirement Plan was officially filed Tuesday in Halifax County Circuit Court against the Halifax County School Board.

A total of 105 former Halifax County Public School employees and Local Optional Retirement Plan retirees filed the complaint. The retirees are seeking to have the program re-instated and for reimbursement of attorney fees.

The legal papers were served Wednesday to former Chairman Karen Hopkins.

After months of frustration and constantly seeking answers, Local Optional Retirement Plan retirees sought legal counsel hiring Blackburn, Conte, Schilling and Click, P.C. in October.

Spokesperson Phyllis Jackson said a committee was formed, and the group spoke with several lawyers before deciding on a firm to represent them.

“We went with them because we were impressed by their stance on the case. We trust that our attorneys and the school board can work together to solve this case and do what’s best for the retirees,” said retiree spokesperson Mike Wilborne.

Speaking on behalf of all the retirees participating in the suit, Wilborne said, “The Halifax County School Board has chosen not to honor their financial obligations … therefore, our attorneys have filed a complaint for declaratory judgment.” 

Bottom line, the retirees want the retirement program reinstated, he said.

According to court documents filed Tuesday, the school board’s purpose in adopting LORP was to encourage early retirement as a budget cutting and cost saving measure.

The suit refers to the school board’s bylaws that were in effect at the time each of the plaintiffs contracted with the school board for the LORP benefits.

 “The school board reserves the right to amend or terminate the program when it appears it is in the best interest of the board to do so. Participants already in the program will not be affected by the amendment or termination of the program,” the legal papers state.

On June 28, school board members deleted the language that “participants already in the program will not be affected by the amendment or termination of the program,” and on July 24 school board members immediately terminated the program by a 7 to 0 vote with ED-8 trustee Walter Potts absent.

The complaint accuses the school board “deliberately, willfully, arbitrarily and capriciously breached its contract with each plaintiff by voting to terminate the LORP for plaintiffs, effective immediately.”

It further states, “That an actual justiciable controversy ripe for adjudication exists between the parties, as plaintiffs, each having relied to her/her detriment on the contractual promises and obligations of defendant, Halifax County School Board, have been permanently and severely financially and monetarily damaged by the school board’s aforesaid breach.”

In the months that followed the termination, LORP retirees attended school board meetings and voiced their concerns, shared figures on how the plan saved the school system money and made board members aware of their “feelings of betrayal.”

“Funding for the LORP program was included in the 2012-13 school budget passed on March 30 by the board. In addition, the board entered into a contractual agreement with each LORP participant for the 2012-13 school year,” Wilborne maintained.

The complaint concludes LORP retirees are asking the court for a declaratory judgment confirming the school board’s contractual obligation to the retirees under LORP and ordering the school board to reinstate the program.

It also asks the school board to perform all its contractual obligations; to reimburse the retirees for their attorney’s fee and costs incurred and for such other relief as the court may deem fit.

Representing the retirees are Benjamin Rand and Stephen C. Conte.

Craig Wood, Esquire, the school board’s attorney of record, has 21 days after service to respond to the allegations and charges.