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Food services coordinator position cut

Less than one month after Halifax County School Board members voted to partner with Sodexo Quality of Life Services to provide food services in the county schools during the upcoming year, trustees voted 6-1 to eliminate the position of food services coordinator currently held by Lori Hale.

Sodexo is one of three major food service management companies that manage over 480 school districts in the United States. Nearby they provide services at Halifax Regional Hospital, Carlbrook and Liberty University. 

The food service management company plans to provide age appropriate menus while meeting all Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act nutritional requirements at all the schools including the early learning centers.

Through this partnership, school board members are expecting Sodexo to drive participation and student satisfaction by increasing lunch choices. Three choices will be provided to students at the elementary schools, five to seven provided to Halifax County Middle School students and up to eight for students to choose from at Halifax County High School. 

At the meeting when the decision was made to partner with Sodexo, school board members assured food service staff currently in place they would remain Halifax County Public School employees. 

Many of the food service employees packed that meeting leaving standing room only for some, and the school board opened the floor for questions. Most employees were concerned with salary, benefits, training and attire. 

School board members stressed the salaries and benefits that each employee currently receives would remain the same for the upcoming school year. 

However, Sodexo will bring in its own general manager and administrative assistant that eliminates the need for the food services coordinator position, said School Board Chairman Kim Farson Tuesday after the 6-1 vote.

ED-5 trustee Dr. Roger Long cast the dissenting vote.

“We need more of a liaison between Sodexo and the school system,” Farson added. “The food services coordinator position is not a need with the program we are going to.”

However, the school board chairman said Hale could be offered another position in the school system.

“We do not feel like it is fiscally responsible to keep this position when it is not needed,” she concluded.

Title grants also were a topic of discussion Monday evening when school board members received an update on a local consolidation application for federal funds from Supervisor of Federal Programs Pam Eakes.

Eakes detailed monies that will made available for the upcoming school year through Title I, Title II, Title III and Title VI grants.

The Title I grant of $1,727,784 provides financial assistance to local educational agencies to meet educational needs of children who are failing or most at risk of failing to meet the state’s challenging content and student performance standards in schools with high concentrations of children from low-income families. 

The local school division will use funding under Title I to support pre-kindergarten, parental involvement, instructional coaches and supplement reading and math.

 The Title II grant totals $265,585.83 and will be used to support class size reduction, instructional coaches and recruiting activities. 

The Title III grant totals $4,342.75 and will be used to meet educational needs of the English (as a second) Language Learner students and to provide staff development. 

The Title VI grant of $99,604.13 provides funds to rural school divisions that serve concentrations of children from low-income families. These funds will be used to support existing activities authorized under Title I, Part A, Improving Basic Programs.  

Also included in the local consolidation application of federal funds is the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI).

This $656,301 grant will be used to support nine pre-kindergarten classrooms; the remaining classrooms will be supported by Title I, according to Eakes. 

In other business, school board members authorized Director of Finance Jay Camp to pay the end of fiscal year bills. 

Under unfinished business, the school board approved the agreement between the South Boston/Halifax Early Learning Center and the Town of South Boston. 

The yearly memorandum of agreement describes the mutual goals and responsibilities with regard to the sharing of the Washington-Coleman Early Learning Center facilities by the Town of South Boston and Halifax County School System. 

Changes include the Town of South Boston assuming responsibility for non-routine building maintenance and repair at the early learning center, while the school system will be responsible for janitorial services and routine maintenance issues. 

Director of Operations and Maintenance Jay Jennings will coordinate the need for non-routine maintenance actions reported by the early learning center staff with the South Boston public works director. 

Assistant Superintendent Valdivia Marshall provided the board with a Virginia School Board Association May 2014 policy update for review with the final format to be presented in July. 

Marshall pointed out several changes to the policy.

 “In deciding whether or not to approve a board member’s request to participate from a remote location, the board shall not consider the identity of the member making the request or the matters that will be considered or voted on at the meeting.” 

The policy will now include acceptance of electronic signatures and records policy, a policy Marshall referred to as the next “up and coming thing.” 

“There shouldn’t be any type of problem having this. I think it’s a good thing,” said Marshall. 

Under student suspension/expulsion, the firearms section and the drug offenses section have been altered to allow the school board to set guidelines for special circumstances to authorize the superintendent or its designee to conduct a preliminary review of such cases to determine whether a disciplinary action other than expulsion is appropriate. 

“I guess they want us to look at some way to help our children stay in school. Look at the circumstances,” said Marshall. “They are pushing rehabilitation to help out students.”

Many school board members were leery of this change in the policy, especially in the firearms section. 

ED-8 trustee Walter Potts said, “What it is doing is setting us up to discriminate against someone depending on who it happens to be that particular day.” 

Vice-chairman R. K. “Dick” Stoneman added, “Let’s say we say this poor kid made a mistake, then he goes back and kills three or four.” 

ED-5 trustee Dr. Roger Long responded saying, “We have to err on the side of safety.” 

Potts rebutted, “We cannot afford to err when it comes to weapons. I can see us erring when it comes to drugs. I cannot see erring when it comes to weapons.

“We cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into thinking there is some special circumstances where it’s okay to bring shotgun shells to the school grounds. No it’s not. This thing about weapons, I don’t need any leeway.” 

The assistant superintendent told the board she would seek “some further guidance” she would email to the board members on those policies. 

Another change involves the distribution of information materials policy that states any literature distributed to students will include, “These materials and the activity described herein, are not sponsored or endorsed by the Halifax County School Board.” 

The Tobacco Use Policy has been altered to prohibit electronic cigarettes in addition to tobacco products. 

Marshall also brought policy IKFB-R revisions, the promotion/retention policy, for the board to review, and the assistant superintendent will bring a “clean copy” of the policy back in July. 

The policy has been changed to say Language Arts instead of English/written composition and instead of saying E, S, NI or U on report cards, it will read 1-(Excellent), 2-(Satisfactory), 3-(Needs Improvement) or 4-(Unsatisfactory). 

Regarding possible failure, the policy states “Conferences should be held with parents during the first and second nine weeks to discuss student progress,” and under recording grades it has been changed to say, “A copy of the student’s report card should be placed in the cumulative folder at the end of the school year.” 

The school board also approved the Halifax County Public Schools Comprehensive Plan for 2014-2020, a six-year plan composed by a team of parents, teachers, administrators and school board members, which was presented by Dr. K. Jeanie Hawks, supervisor of instructional technology. It will become effective July 1. 

Prior to adjourning, the school board went into closed session to discuss personnel and legal matters. 

After returning to open session, the board voted 6 to 1 to follow the reduction in force guidelines eliminating the school food services coordinator position. 

School board members also unanimously approved a personnel report. (See related story.)