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Trustees argue over call to oust Bullock, Thornton; lawyer intervenes
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Halifax County school budget gap cut to size
SoVaNow.com / March 14, 2013The shortfall in the new Halifax County school budget has shrunk from nearly $2 million to $449,779 as the Central Office administration pares back various spending items, but achieving balance is not likely to happen without cutting staff.
Superintendent of Schools Merle Herndon declined to say yesterday how the school division intends to close the remaining funding gap, noting “there’s more to come very soon,” but layoffs remain a distinct possibility unless the School Board receives more money from the county.
Herndon indicated she will ask the Halifax County Board of Supervisors to turn over meals tax revenue — some $250,000 — that could bring the school budget deficit to manageable levels. The meals tax was originally pitched as a potential source of funding for education, she noted.
But with the supervisors struggling with funding issues of their own — and with the meals tax revenue already spoken for in the county’s budget — the School Board faces the prospect of making layoffs, a step the trustees have long avoided.
“I hope it’s not over with the Board of Supervisors. I hope the meals tax can help us out. I’m an optimist,” said Herndon.
The School Board has revised its reduction-in-force policy to change the way layoffs would be handled, if necessary.
The guidelines no longer call for first idling employees with the least amount of experience, the “last-in, first-out” option. Instead, teachers will be evaluated on the basis of whether they’ve completed their certifications on time, their classroom performance, and, further down the line, their level of experience.
“There’s a plan that is different than what we’ve had in the past,” said Herndon. “To me, it’s much more appropriate.”
Experience becomes a lesser factor in deciding whom to lay off, she said, because “the problem is, some of the very best, bright shining stars are teachers who are just coming out of college, who are ready to be hard workers.” The new RIF policy makes it possible for the school division to keep those teachers even as the workforce shrinks, Herndon added.
Meantime, the Central Office also expects to wring some savings in the budget by identifying payroll disparities among employees with similar work histories and, where appropriate, lowering the pay of those who make more.
Herndon said compensation levels can be a sore subject among employees who are paid less to do the same work as peers with less experience and professional training. But while the School Board tackled the issue mostly because of the impact on morale, the budget savings from a potential fix could be “fairly” substantial, the superintendent said.
“We didn’t go into [the issue] looking at it as a budget item, we went into it from the standpoint of being fair and equitable,” Herndon noted.
She said administrators Valdivia Marshall and Jay Camp, who manage personnel and finances, respectively, will begin talking with teachers today about payroll disparities, and recommend which, if any, salaries should be adjusted.
“Some of them [teachers] are looking at losing salary, some of them are gaining salary,” she said. “But we’re going to have conversations with these individuals.”
Once all the funding and spending numbers are sorted out — a process that could take weeks — the School Board will need to make further decisions on how to balance the budget, which goes into effect July 1.
One feature appears set: a two percent pay increase for all employees.
The bulk of the cost of the teacher salary hike is funded by the state, although the School Board is required to put up a local matching amount ($94,939). For employees not covered under the state-funded Standards of Quality — their ranks include bus drivers, cafeteria workers, secretaries and administrators, and other support staff — the cost of the two percent increase is $308,961. That money must come from the local contribution to the schools.
The School Board sought $965,297 in additional local funding from the Board of Supervisors, which has countered with $360,000. With some adjustments, the resulting deficit is roughly under half a million dollars.
That number represents a major comedown from the initial estimate of a $1,965,297 budget shortfall, which reflected a number of priorities that since have been shelved. Chief among them was the desire to extend a three percent pay hikes to employees, who have not seen increases for the past five years. The General Assembly funded a two percent pay increase, with the School Board following suit.
Herndon noted that two other items on the cut list — the high school’s resource officer, and new security equipment, which together cost $145,000 — are not being abandoned, although the School Board has taken both expenditures out of the operating budget. The Sheriff’s Office will pay for the resource officer out of its budget, and the security equipment will be purchased out of the capital outlay fund, said Herndon.
Other budget cuts include teacher tuition reimbursements ($77,945), reducing allocations for equipment and school-based budgets ($55,000 and $232,000) and restructuring instructional coach positions to handle technology duties ($180,000). Other cuts come from dropping planned purchases of computer software for professional development and the food service department.
CommentsSounds like Herdon, was hired just to cause trouble. Fire the ones with the most experience, who are settled in the county, own homes an pay taxes? But keep the lower paid ones who rent and will move when they get a better offer. How was this lady hired? ALot worse then stapleton, but Halifax has the rep for getting the most ignorant people to run the county.
- By allpolitical2 on 03 / 18 / 13
CommentsHave Ms. Herndon and her peers at the top said anything about downward adjustments to THEIR salaries and benefits? Hell no they haven't, and they won't.
When Herndon et al take a 10% pay cut, then I will believe HCPS system is in the dire straits they claim.
Scott Fitzgerald said it best: "The rich (insert: educrats) are different from you and me... They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves... They are different."
Can you believe that reference came from a Halifax County High School education?! I would lay odds no current HCSHS student is remotely familiar with Fitzgerald, much less any other great American author. Under Stapleton and now Herndon, I doubt they will be. Teach to the test and cry broke all the time.
- By powerhouse on 03 / 18 / 13
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