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Supes, school board members talk budget savings, future projects

Halifax County School Board members and the Halifax County Board of Supervisors shared budget needs and possible future projects during their annual joint planning session Thursday morning in the school board conference room at the Mary Bethune office complex in Halifax. 

Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon opened dialogue with discussion on early financial projections for the upcoming school budget. 

“We don’t know a lot at this point. We will know a lot more when we know the governor’s budget to be announced Mon., Dec. 16,” said Herndon. 

Currently, the budget, which was built on 5,219 students, is facing an expected projected decrease of $780,933. 

The composite index is expected to increase from .2943 to .3010, which equates to about a decrease of $335,000 from state funding, she told supervisors. 


Efficiency study

Herndon also updated supervisors on different aspects of the efficiency study. 

Recently, the board has contracted the Virginia Association of School Superintendents to work with them on a compensation study in hopes of establishing a new compensation plan. 

 “The problem that we have now is that this current plan does not have steps. We have teachers with zero experience making the same as first year teachers which is just not right,” said Herndon. 

The study remains to be seen but is being worked on, according to Herndon.  

This study may result “in teachers receiving raises or giving a small step to everyone.” 

Another component of the efficiency study involves developing a closure plan for at least two elementary schools. 

 “If you ask my opinion, when you start closing small community schools like a Clays Mill or Meadville, it closes down the community,” said Herndon. 

Herndon also spoke of previous conversations concerning the 87 students at the Cluster Springs Learning Center and the option of turning that into a satellite program. 

 “What I want parents to understand is that their students would continue to get the pre-K experience, it just may be in another building,” said Herndon. 

 “Also, with lunch, we would do like we do with our alternative education program and deliver the food,” Herndon added. 

If it were to close, employees would not lose their jobs due to openings in other areas, she said. 

County Administrator Jim Halasz asked Herndon if she had any numbers concerning savings that would be generated if the two facilities were closed.

According to Herndon, the board looked at numbers last year but “did not put everything on paper.” 

ED-6 Trustee Fay Satterfield said she felt the closing of small schools had not offered any savings but also pointed out that no one actually knew at this time. 

ED-8 Trustee Walter Potts said, “Projections were given at the time the project was done but no one has sat down afterwards to get the actual savings. It is going to take a leveling timeframe to see where your savings are actually going to take place. We can now possibly look to do that.” 

Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Bryant Claiborne said he felt a savings projection “would be good to aid justification for future designs.” 

Herndon said the board would look into that to see what they can do.  

In another board update, Herndon told supervisors Donna Henderson recently was promoted to finance department business manager and received a raise. 

Also, a new food services procedure manual has been developed and put into place. 


County budget

The county administrator followed Herndon’s remarks offering information on the county budget and early financial projections. 

The county budget for 2014/15 budget year is looking at a total of $87,218,030 with $37,348,858 in general fund revenues and $57,075,159 for schools. 

 “It’s important to understand where the money comes from and what we have available to work with,” said Halasz. 

Some $15 million of the general funds get transferred out to other funds and is the only fund used to allocate to schools, animal control, the sheriff and parks and recreation, he explained.  

There is also the Personal Property Trade Release Act which provides $1,505,089 in funds. 

 “These funds can be used anywhere, but it will never increase,” said Halasz. 

Major local revenue comes from areas such as real estate taxes, personal property taxes and motor vehicle licenses. 

Halasz said these may look like good sizes, such as the real communication taxes at $1,200,000, but these have capped out. 

A large percentage of the communication taxes must go to the emergency communication system, explained Halasz. 

Taxes for motor vehicle licenses, business licenses, animal licenses and meal tax revenue has maxed out. 

The county administrator also pointed to other county budget needs. 

The emergency communications center is in need of center radio consoles, which will cost approximately $400,000. 

The board of supervisors plans to finance that with $100,000 a year, he said. 

Also, the staff there is experiencing staffing issues and plans to present to the board ideas of what can be done to fix that. The cost of that is unknown. 

A fee of approximately $800,000 will go toward replacing three sheriff’s vehicles, and $200,000 or more will go toward new voting machines due to new state requirements. 

The most costly project will be to fulfill the P25 narrow banding federal regulations, which will involve changing all emergency center’s radio equipment and towers. 

The projected cost is between $4 million and $6 million, Halasz said. 

According to Finance Director Stephanie Jackson, this project is federally mandated which raises the question of possible federal money being available. 

“There are small grants for some communication equipment,” said Halasz. 


Facility renovations and staff moves

The county administrator also gave a report Thursday morning on the projected schedule for facility renovations and program and staff moves resulting from these mandated renovations. 

This month the Halifax County Health Department will release space on the first floor of the Mary Bethune that will be used by the school’s special education program. 

Herndon said she will be “glad to have all of our team on one hall.” 

Renovations on the STEM Center will begin in March of 2014. The alternative education program will then occupy space in the back of the STEM Center in August of 2014. 

In April of 2014, renovations will begin on the county administrative building, and the county administration staff will move into the Mary Bethune basement. 

The sheriff is expected to occupy new offices in October. 

Court renovations will begin in March of 2015, and the completion of the courthouse is expected to be sometime in 2016. 

“This project may seem a little overwhelming, but we are going to take it one step at a time,” said Halasz. 


School capital improvements, equipment replacement

Halifax County School’s Maintenance Director Larry Roller gave a report on a three-year plan for capital improvements and equipment replacement within the school system. 

Immediate needs include replacing the roof of the C-section of Halifax County High School, as well as the roof on the vocational wing and HVAC controls and equipment upgrades, which are expected to begin in 2014. 

“When we complete these two roofs, we will have completed our 10-year re-roof plan which should mean no more roofing for another 20 years,” said Roller.  

Also in 2014, faculty will abate asbestos in Sinai Elementary and Syndor Jennings, which are the last two primary schools in need of abating. 

Future needs include renovating Halifax County High School, Meadville Elementary, Sinai Elementary, Clays Mill Elementary, Scottsburg and Sydnor Jennings. 

Also several capital needs were addressed with the most expensive one being upgrades to the 50-year-old high school football stadium and athletic fields at roughly $6,000,000. 

At the STEM Center, there are plans to clear woods behind the building to construct additional parking. 

 According to Roller, there will be some capital improvement funds available for these improvements. 


School insurance plans

Herndon provided a “short version” of Halifax County Public School’s insurance plans. 

Three plans are provided to employees, Key Care 300, Key Care 30/100 and Key Care 30/2000. 

Key Care 30/2000 provides an option to the employees that does not cost them anything. 

Key Care 300 costs employees $99, and Key Care 30/100 costs employees $32. 

Herndon pointed out these plans are just for this year, and it is unknown what health insurance costs will be next year.  

According to Herndon, the school system pays $609 for every employee. 

Health insurance coverage is provided for full-time permanent employees with dependent coverage available. 

Vision insurance coverage is an additional $6 per month for full-time permanent employees with dependent. 

In looking for ways to reduce the budget, ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis said, “One thing that always rises to the top in looking at how we can save money is in health insurance.” 

ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman pointed out the boards share the same health insurance consultant, and Jackson added the board of supervisors provides similar insurance plans. 

Herndon suggested Finance Director Jay Camp and Jackson talk to the consultant together. 

 “I would very much support if these two boards would ask us to work together,” said Halasz.

”Let’s have these conversations because if we don’t, we lose the possibility of creating some incremental savings.” 

Davis called the meeting refreshing and said he hoped for more open dialogue between the two boards. 

Herndon said she would be happy to host the boards anytime.