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Raises sliced, jobs to be cut to balance school budget

Halifax County School Board members sliced $2.3 million from the proposed 2014-15 school budget during a special called meeting Thursday evening in Halifax.

Approximately $1 million for teacher raises and proposed pay scale adjustments was eliminated along with another $1,342,326 in budget cuts including personnel positions and LORP/ERIP insurance benefits were axed from the 2014-15 school budget during the meeting. 

Overall, the budget draft that will be sent to the Halifax County Board of Supervisors by April 1, totals $56,958,660. 

This proposal includes level county funding of $13,337,529, the same as in the current school budget, and estimated state funding totaling $34,026,131. 

School board members are using state figures they feel will be the lowest possible amount received since the General Assembly continues to debate the budget in Richmond, and no final figures are available, according to Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon. 

“Hopefully, it will only go up from here,” said Herndon. 

According to ED-5 school board member Dr. Roger Long, the budget should be comprised of 70 percent state and federal budget funding and 30 percent local funding from the county board of supervisors.

As proposed, funding does not fit Long’s 70/30 ratio, so the board had to make cuts. 

Following their closed session, the board re-convened and OK’d roughly $2.3 million in budget cuts voting 5-3 to approve the $56 million budget with the proposed cuts. 

Voting against the budget were ED-4 school board member Cheryl Terry, ED-6 school board member Fay Satterfield and ED-8 school board member Walter Potts. 

Potts said he opposed the budget because he did not agree with cutting the LORP/ERIP insurance for 52 retired participants.

Eliminating the LORP insurance for the 52 former school employees will save $316,680, according to Herndon. 

Also included in the budget cuts were numerous positions including a special education lead teacher position, a special education teacher, eight special education paraprofessional positions and a part-time GED position. 

Secondary positions to be eliminated will be in elective classes in which students show the least amount of interest, Herndon explained. 

Two part-time locally funded cafeteria monitor jobs also are slated for elimination.

Three positions will not be replaced including a Halifax County Middle School LAN manager who is becoming a teacher, an elementary LAN manager who is retiring and an elementary guidance counselor who will be retiring. 

Along with these cuts, $50,000 in expenses were added into the budget.

A total of $5,000 was included to support Halifax County Schools Education Foundation and $5,000 for professional development.

Halifax County High School staff plan to install E-Rate for the school’s wiring at a cost of $50,000, as opposed to $250,000 should an outside company be hired to perform the installation. 

Other additional costs include a 50 percent increase in health insurance premiums for a total of $659,376 and a final mandated increase to VRS of $836,451. 

Following discussion about the teacher compensation study and employee pay hikes, school board members sliced a $1 million chunk from the proposed budget. 

Originally $855,807 had been included in the budget to add a pay scale for teachers. Another $137,000 was in the originally proposed budget for all other employees to receive a 1 percent raise, but both were removed Thursday evening.

Although school board members had not approved the pay scale, the superintendent earlier had shared the proposal with teachers.

Trustee Potts took exception to teachers being given an opportunity to see the proposal before school board members had approved it, and he also was upset the superintendent had included it in the proposed budget before school board members had viewed it.

When the board approved the compensation study, it was believed they would receive the results from the study and then vote on it rather than have it listed in the proposed budget, Potts said chastising the superintendent. 

Herndon told Potts she stressed to the teachers when presenting them with the proposal that it was preliminary and had not received school board approval.

She also explained the scale would only be effective if funding was made available. 

 “The teachers should have never seen the information. It should have been brought back to us only,” Potts told Herndon.

Following the brief heated exchange between trustees Potts, Long, ED-1 Supervisor Phyllis Smith and the superintendent, Chairman Kim Farson said the board had become “side-tracked” and needed to focus on the budget instead of on an idea for which they did not have the funding.  

The board then approved a motion by Vice-Chairman Dick Stoneman to table the discussion on the compensation study, giving board members the choice to bring the item back up for discussion at any meeting in the future.