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Money found to pay insurance hike for school employees

Halifax County school employees who only carry insurance on themselves through the school’s Anthem policy will see no increase in the premium they will have to pay out of pocket this year after school officials found money already in the budget to cover the cost.

School Chief Financial Officer Jay Camp shared the good news with a standing room only crowd attending Monday night’s meeting of the Halifax County School Board in Halifax.

According to Camp, former Chief Financial Officer Bill Covington volunteered to work two days last week helping school officials find excess money already in the budget that could be used to fund the $1.1 million increase in the cost of health insurance premiums up for renewal Oct. 1.

Last month School Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon and board members held a work session to inform the public about the proposed 5.1 percent increase affecting employees who carry their insurance through the school system’s insurance company.

The increase amounts to $1.1 million in unanticipated costs due Oct. 1, that Herndon said had not been included in the current budget.

The superintendent also said the school board has been underfunding health insurance for at least the past two budget cycles and contended last year’s premium payment came up short by almost $800,000.

Monday night Camp thanked Covington for returning to Central Office and assisting staff two days free of charge.

“He came in and did this on his own time to basically help the school system,” said ED-3 school board member Kim Farson. “We did not hire him or pay him. I just wanted to make this clear before any questions are asked. He offered to do this.”

Camp said “after further in-depth analysis” the money was found in the budget to cover the full cost of the increased insurance premium so employees carrying employee-only insurance will continue to pay the same $99 out of pocket expense they had paid in past years.

Some 84 other employees who carry insurance on family members will face up to a $50 maximum increase in their premiums, he said.

“After a review of year-end figures for FY 2012, it has been determined there was $760,000 of revenue above and beyond the budgeted amount. These funds became available primarily from excess Title 6B funds which were reimbursements for special education costs, sales tax, dual enrollment as well as other miscellaneous income,” Camp said.

“This excess coupled with funds from the Title 6 rural low-income grant will allow the school system to provide the necessary healthcare funding, therefore, we recommend that the rates be established for the individual employee paying the same amount as the prior year,” the chief financial officer said.

After hearing Camp’s recommendation, ED-7 School Board member R. K. “Dick” Stoneman offered a motion to accept Camp’s analysis and to keep the employee-only premium for single coverage at the same $99 rate employees are currently paying with the school system picking up the 5.1 percent increase.

Stoneman’s motion received a second from ED-5 trustee Roger Long and passed in a 7-0 vote with ED-6 school board member Fay Satterfield abstaining from the vote.

Following the vote, ED-8 trustee Walter Potts asked Camp before the October board meeting to determine how much it will cost the school system to cover the added insurance premium cost for the 84 employees who carry coverage for family members.

“We may be able amend our contract to increase our participation,” Potts said.

In other business Monday evening, Sinai Elementary School principal Kevin Neal told board members his school had “gotten off to a great start” this school year with an enthusiastic faculty, many of which attended Monday night’s meeting.

With an enrollment of 286, Neal said students were being offered opportunities to participate in program such as the 21st Century after school program now in its third year and paid for by a federally funded grant.

Also this year the students are among those in three schools – Meadville and Sydnor Jennings being the other two – who can participate in the United States Department of Agriculture Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

Total program funding for the school year is equal to approximately $65 per student and provides students with fresh fruit each day ranging from apples to watermelons or whatever fruit is in season, Neal said.

On Monday, watermelon was the fruit of choice, he said, noting the younger students ate the fresh fruit with much enthusiasm.

Next, FFA Advisors Trina Vaughan and Bridgett Fallen highlighted high school and middle school students’ accomplishments during the 86th Virginia FFA State Convention. 

Among those accomplishments, high school FFA’ers earned silver awards for public relations and their chapter scrapbook, while middle school students received a silver rating as a National Superior Chapter.

Individual students were recognized for their accomplishments including Rebekah Slabach, who was chosen to serve the state Future Farmers of America as its vice president in the coming year.

For the first time in 40 years and the second time in the history of the county, Halifax County has one of its own serving on the state hierarchy of the FFA organization.

Not since Halifax County native Dick Saunders became Virginia FFA State Sentinel in 1972 has this feat been accomplished, Vaughan told school board members.

Also Monday night, School Superintendent Herndon told school board members the opening of the new school year “has gone well” with 32 new teachers being employed this year.

The student teacher ratio at Clays Mill this year is 9, Cluster Springs is 17, Meadville is 12, Scottsburg is 16, Sinai is 13, South Boston is 17 and Sydnor Jennings is 14, according to Herndon’s report.

Total enrollment for grades K-12 is 5,356 with a total of 409 teaching staff.

The largest class size is at Scottsburg in grade 5 where 25 students are in a class followed by 24 at Meadville, 22 at Clays Mill, Cluster Springs and Sydnor Jennings, 20 at South Boston and 17 at Sinai.

Halifax Middle School has a student enrollment of 1,259 in grades 6-8, while the high school has 1,684 students enrolled in grades 9-12.

Division Testing Coordinator Nancy Zirkle reported on the federal annual measurable objectives Monday night telling school board members, “Our students performed as well as their peers in Region 8 in math.

The annual measurable objectives replace Annual Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind, Zirkle explained.

South Boston Elementary and Halifax County Middle School were the only two schools in the county who failed to meet all objectives, both failing in reading.

Zirkle pointed out South Boston Elementary students only missed the mark by .99 of a point.

In other action Monday evening, Director of Operations and Maintenance Larry Roller reported on custodial assignments at each school explaining one full time custodian is assigned for every 18,929 square foot of space with 54 custodians taking care of the 988,119 square foot of building space in the county’s 13 school buildings.

Vice Chairman Kim Farson presented The Gazette-Virginian and The News & Record with Virginia School Board Association Media Honor Roll plaques recognizing their contributions of covering school news in the community and presented a certificate of appreciation to the school board from Abiding Branch Christian Ministries.

In other action Monday evening, school board members took the following actions:

• Unanimously accepted the new Halifax County Public Schools logo created by Amy Zirkle, daughter of a school employee, featuring the motto “Children First For A Brighter Future;”

• Reviewed the new superintendent evaluation instrument which is very similar to the evaluations used for teachers, principal and central office staff but took no action opting instead to get copies of the current superintendent evaluation and have the Virginia School Board Association look at it before the board’s October meeting;

• Approved allowing Mid-Atlantic Broadband to use the Stem Academy as a launch point for the Town of Halifax’s Wi-Fi pilot project currently under way at no cost to the school system;

• Declared the 20-year-old GED Mobil Lab currently housed at Dollar General as surplus; and

• Approved payment of bills after hearing the chief financial officer give the financial report.

Prior to adjourning, the board went into closed session to discuss personnel and student discipline.

When they emerged, board members granted a religious exemption and acted on four discipline cases by suspending three students until Oct. 18 while offering alternative education services and suspending one student long-term for the remainder of the semester but offering alternative education services.