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Behind closed doors

Halifax County School Board members knew last week’s decision to discontinue the Local Option Retirement Plan (LORP) would not be popular with school system retirees.

And it hasn’t been.

Former school system employees feel betrayed. And it’s not so much by the decision to end the program, but the manner in which it was done.

We find it disappointing the board would take such a step behind closed doors and with no notice to the public or those involved providing no opportunity for them to speak to the issue.

Obviously, this board feels that public comments are not necessary in order for them to make their decisions.

Sadly, it displays a disregard for the commitments made by the board to a group of dedicated individuals, many of whom have given more than 30 years to the young people of this area.

Granted, the retirees knew when they opted into the LORP plan it would be evaluated on a yearly basis and could be terminated at the pleasure of the board at any time.

However, as recently as early this summer, school employees were assured if changes were to be made in LORP, the changes would not affect those already in the program.

The ones who feel cheated the most who we have spoken with are those who retired in June of this year with the promise of LORP intact — for at least this year — since the money already had been budgeted.

Now less than 30 days after they retired, the program is terminated with no warning or discussion.

This whole situation has not been handled in a professional manner. Business that involves recent promises made should be as open as possible.

School  board members said they went behind closed doors July 24 to consult with legal counsel. However, legal counsel did not attend the closed-door session.

One school board member said instead legal counsel opted to send an email outlining the legality of terminating the LORP program.

Once school board members were apprised of the lawyer’s determination, they should have come out of closed session to discuss the merits of the LORP program or why it should be terminated at this time.

If specific people were not being discussed, and only the merits and drawbacks of the program were, then it becomes a matter for open discussion and public information.

Last week, school board members spent almost seven hours behind closed doors over a two-day period. 

On July 23, they spent almost five hours in secret before coming out to announce new principals and other positions as well as a restructuring of central office.

We question why, once the personnel issues were resolved, they couldn’t discuss the reorganization of central office in open discussion so the public would have an understanding of why a realignment of positions was necessary.

Instead, when they came out at close to 10 p.m., motions were made with little or no discussion, leaving the public in the dark.

Then, again on July 24, the same thing happened. This time it was only two-plus hours behind closed doors, but when they emerged, little or no discussion took place. Only a vote to terminate the Local Option Retirement Plan was taken.

Regardless of whether or not the board has the legal right to stop the program, morally, the public should have been given notice that this decision was being considered.

Former school employees, especially the ones who just retired in June, are left feeling they have not been dealt with fairly and honestly. It has left a sour taste in the mouths of many who gave the best years of their lives to the county school system.

The public has elected this group of individuals to serve on the school board because they said they were concerned with our children’s education. A part of that process should involve going to the general public, board of supervisors and state legislators to say that no one can run a school system without money.

It should not involve breaking promises made earlier this year to school employees who they encouraged to leave simply because they needed money to balance a budget.

These retirees, and we are speaking only of the ones who retired at the end of the 2011-12 school year under the presumption LORP would be available this year, retired to save the system money in exchange for promises of support to help them make ends meet until social security is a choice for them.

They deserve better than meetings behind closed doors and decisions made without input from the public.

If such lengthy closed-door meetings persist into the new school year, and the public continues to be left in the dark on other important decisions being made, school board members may find themselves on a slippery slope come Election Day.

The Gazette-Virginian