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Governor’s School off table this year after heated debate

Halifax County High School students will not have the chance to attend Governor’s School during the next school year. 

Following a heated discussion at Monday evening’s Halifax County School Board meeting, ED-5 Trustee Roger Long recommended the board table Governor’s School until members have budget information that justifies their re-joining the school. HCHS last participated in 2010.

While Governor’s School was not originally on the agenda, ED-1 Trustee Phyllis Smith requested the board add the subject to unfinished business since it had been discussed at the Dec. 6 school board work session with school board members having expectations of new information at the Monday meeting.

ED-8 Trustee Walter Potts asked Chairman Kim Farson, “What additional information have we been made aware of other than what we were made aware of illegally at the last meeting when we discussed this?

“I expect us to be under the understanding that if something is tabled, we can’t use the rules of saying that it’s going to be talked about at the budget to discuss it,” he added.

The chairman said it was discussed as a “budget item” with the details centering on costs.  

During last week’s work session, Long and Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon introduced the board to an allocation of the state budget that is given for Governor’s School. 

In order to receive the allocation, the school system had to join a list by last Friday saying they would attend, and the board agreed to join it, only if their name could be pulled if they were to vote against re-joining.

At Monday night’s meeting, Herndon told the board the allocation was expected to be $13,055 and may not come directly to Halifax but instead to Southside Virginia Community College. 

Herndon also added other school systems participating in Governor’s School had made her aware they had previously received a “significant amount” of money back from SVCC, but “it was not something that was guaranteed yearly.” 

Smith said she was confused about the allocation money, and she was under the impression the money would go toward tuition cost. 

The tuition cost would have been roughly $10,000 allowing four students to attend the STEM strand and one student to attend the health science strand.   

According to Herndon, how the allocation is sent depends on how it goes into the House of Appropriations and whether the school system asks for funds to be sent directly to them or to Region 8.

“All the other school systems in Region 8 have the money sent to Cumberland County, and they act as the physical agent,” said Herndon. 

ED-4 Trustee Terry called the possible appropriation money “hopeful” and a “guessing game.” 

“I am concerned about starting something that we may not be able to sustain,” said Terry. “I am also concerned about this four students for STEM and one for health science. If you do it, you do it for all students. If you do it, do it the right way, or don’t do it at all.” 

Potts also said he had a problem with focusing just on STEM, calling it “unfair.” 

“We have a great need in our area for math teachers, for science teachers, so it only makes sense if we were going to emphasize one section of Governor’s School over another, they are our shortage areas,” said Herndon. 

The superintendent also told the board the main cost would be the transportation cost. 

The original transportation cost of $39,690 could be “cut down significantly” to under $13,000 because “SVCC is willing to work with us,” said Herndon.  

Dr. Paula Gastenveld of Southside Virginia Community College said in an email prior to an earlier work session that they would rent a van to Halifax School System. 

The van would cost the school system $1 for the academic year 2014-2015, and SVCC would maintain the vehicle including gasoline, oil changes, tire rotation and all other maintenance and upkeep. 

The school system would be responsible for hiring and paying the driver at the cost of $70 per day as well as insuring the vehicle, which would cost approximately $300 to $400. 

ED-7 Trustee Dick Stoneman questioned the size of the van, which would hold seven passengers, noting the number of students attending would double the next year. 

Herndon said she had not gone any further in discussion with SVCC but recognized the dilemma. 

Board members also pointed out the high school had a “great” program currently in place with dual enrollment classes. 

Herndon agreed it was a “fantastic program” but said Governor’s School would be another program that gives students more opportunities. 

“Governor’s School would be something very nice to have,” said Terry. “However, we need to be mindful of our needs. There are a lot of other things that we need. We need to make sure our students are prepared for SOLs. We need to have enough supplies to put in our teacher’s hands. We have dual enrollment. I would love to have Governor’s School, but it is not a need.” 

After the board appeared to agree they simply did not have the money, Herndon said she would let SVCC know they appreciated the offer, but not this year. 

In other unfinished business, the board approved the GCBAR2 guidelines for awarding credit for previous experience brought by Assistant Superintendent Valdivia Marshall.  

“At the December meeting you authorized for me to incorporate in our policy for awarding credit how experience would be awarded to retirees wishing to return to teaching, endorse and willing to teach in a critical shortage area and continue to draw their retirement pension,” said Marshall. 

The guidelines read:  “A retired teacher who is endorsed in a critical shortage area and eligible according to VRS guidelines to continue drawing retirement benefits while teaching full-time will be awarded credit for one year for one year of teaching experience up to a maximum credit of 15 years.” 

The identified shortage areas for 2013-2014 are special education, elementary education pre K-6, middle education grades 6-8, career technical education, mathematics grades 6-12 including Algebra 1, school counselor pre K-12, science grades 6-12, foreign language pre K-12, English and health and physical education pre K-12. 

In new business, the board gave Maintenance Director Larry Roller permission to proceed with the first projects in his three-year capital improvement and equipment replacement plan. 

The first projects will be replacing the roof of the C-section and vocational wing of Halifax County High School and to abate asbestos in Sinai Elementary and Syndor Jennings, the last two primary schools in need of abating. 

According to Roller, the roofing will cost $714,00, and the abating will cost $39,000. He said both projects would be covered by capital improvement funds. 

Herndon also offered an update on STEM Center renovations. 

“We have started talking with the Dewberry Company that initially renovated the STEM Center. We have made a list of needs and are moving forward,” said Herndon. 

The board also approved the Youth CareerConnect Grant opportunity brought by Herndon. 

This program will serve a cohort of 40 to 50 students at the Southern Virginian Higher Education Center for sophomore students until their first year of college. It would start with one week in the summer of 2014 in each of the focused areas, allied health, advanced manufacturing and STEM. 

The transportation would include the summer of 2014, summer of 2015, fall of 2016 and spring of 2017. 

Herndon said the only additional cost would be the cost of transportation in the summer because during the school year buses are already traveling to SVHEC from the high school. 

Long made a motion to approve the Youth CareerConnect Grant opportunity, and Smith seconded it. It was approved unanimously by the board. 

Also during the meeting, Chairman Farson and Vice-Chairman Stoneman were re-appointed to their positions. 

The board also accepted a motion to accept the superintendent’s recommendations to appoint Robin C. Mahan as clerk of the board and Joyce A. Townes as the deputy clerk. 

Also recommended was for Valdivia Marshall to be the designee to attend school board meetings in the absence of the superintendent.

The board also adopted the 11th edition of Robert’s Rules as rules of order. 

Prior to adjourning, board members went into closed session to discuss personnel, student discipline and legal matters.

After emerging from closed session, school board members took the following actions:

Approved the personnel report; 

 Approved Melissa Anderson’s request to be released from her contract;

 Authorized the superintendent to accept the resignation of Dearrion Snead effective Feb. 28 with the terms discussed during closed session; 

 Accepted the resignation of Earl Womack; and 

 Voted 7 to 1 to long-term suspend Student 2014-1 for the remainder of the semester with NovaNet provided and expunge her records at graduation upon good behavior.  Potts opposed the motion.