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Superintendent’s contract amended; pay increased

Coming out of closed session Monday evening, the Halifax County School Board approved amending Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon’s contract to increase her annual salary by $8,624.

According to the amended contract, the superintendent’s annual salary for fiscal year July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2015 was set at $148,624, up from the $140,000 previously approved when Herndon was hired in July.

Prior to going behind closed doors Monday night, ED-7 School Board member R. K. “Dick” Stoneman said school board members planned to discuss the increase in pay associated with VRS changes.

In July board members had voted to cover any unanticipated VRS costs for the new school superintendent.

In other action Monday night, Dave Strom and his wife, Peggy, expressed concerns to the school board concerning the elimination of the Local Option Retirement Program and other constituent concerns before a standing room only crowd.

Dave Strom outlined how LORP had saved the school system $13,560 per year per teacher retiree and described what the board had done to retiring employees as “a textbook double-cross.”

He also corrected a statement made at a previous board meeting that most of the retirements would have happened anyway due to natural attrition.

“This is simply not true. Virtually none of these people would have retired early without the school board-created LORP early retirement incentive,” he said.

Concluding his remarks, Dave Strom told board members, “As I see it there are only two win-win fair solutions to this situation:

1 – Reinstate LORP as it was formulated or

2- If you insist on terminating school board’s LORP early retirement incentive program, then each and every LORP retiree must be given the option of terminating their early retirement returning to their former job as though they never retired in the first place.

“In my opinion, doing anything less would be at the very least unfair and unethical. I urge the Halifax County School Board and administration to carefully and thoroughly reconsider their decision. To reverse or modify a poor or uninformed decision is admirable, to stick to it is unforgivable,” he said.

Following up on her husband’s remarks pertaining to the elimination of LORP, Peggy Strom clutched a silver retirement bowl and told school board members her relationship with them “feels as cold and empty as this cup” which the administration presented to her upon her retirement in 2010.

A participant in LORP, Peggy said she has many concerns about decisions and the decision making process of the school system and school board.

She asked whether or not board members planned to reconsider their decision about eliminating LORP and if not, why?

She accused board members of operating outside of a balanced budget when they reinstated $367,640 paid to rehire LAN managers whose jobs school board members originally eliminated in an effort to balance the budget, and she questioned the $174,763 in leave payouts for July and August not a part of the budget.

And her third concern was why they chose to eliminate LORP for which school board members had budgeted funds.

“Rather than go through a formal budget amendment process, did you decide to fund these extra-budget items by terminating LORP and applying the LORP funds here?” she asked.

She also questioned board members’ decision to cap leave day accumulation saying, “Limiting the accumulation will, in fact be more expensive.”

She admonished school board members they have a responsibility to ensure they are informed and knowledgeable advisors who must seek out clarification, other opinions and input where there is any doubt and to always be ready to consider new or additional information.

“If I were a school board member and I were not completely comfortable with my understanding and grasp of an issue, I would question and search out information until I was. And if I couldn’t reach that comfort level, I would abstain from voting on it or recuse myself from the discussion and decision.

“I would never do what someone else told me to do or what everybody else is doing. It seems to me that this is your responsibility. The buck stops with you,” she concluded.

Following the Stroms’ presentations, each received hardy rounds of applause from the packed meeting room.

School board members offered no response to the Stroms’ comments.