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Halifax County school retirees sue to reinstate LORP benefits; trustees respond

SoVaNow.com / January 21, 2013
A group of 105 recent school retirees has sued the Halifax County School Board to restore the Local Option Retirement Plan, an incentive program that trustees cancelled in July 2012, citing its high cost.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, claims that the School Board altered the terms of LORP one month before cancelling the program in order to deprive retirees of benefits that had been promised to them. The lawsuit charges the School Board breached its contract with LORP beneficiaries “deliberately, willfully, arbitrarily and capriciously.”

Asked to respond, newly elected School Board Chairman Kim Farson said over the weekend, “We believe we acted in the best interests of the children of Halifax County Public Schools, and we look forward to a court ruling that the Board acted appropriately and legally back in July.”

The employees — some of whom retired last year in the expectation of receiving payments under the program, only to see it cancelled months later — have turned to a Richmond attorney with local ties, Ben Rand, a Halifax County High School graduate and son of former juvenile court judge Michael Rand. Rand is an attorney with the Richmond firm of Blackburn, Conte, Schilling & Click, PC. He is listed as co-counsel with Stephen Conte, also a member of the firm.

The lawsuit, filed in Halifax County Circuit Court and served against recent School Board chair Karen Hopkins, demands that the School Board reinstate the LORP program, under which recent retirees were able to earn 20 percent of their salary at the time of retirement in return for filling in for work at the schools on a part-time or temporary basis. The program was designed to pay benefits over seven years.

Describing LORP as “a budget cutting and cost saving measure,” the lawsuit alleges the School Board changed the terms of the program in June 2012 to give trustees the right to cancel benefits to those who had received prior promises of payment.

The by-laws at the time the plaintiffs contracted with the School Board for LORP payments stated that “[p]articipants already in the program will not be affected by the amendment or termination of the program,” the lawsuit alleges.

It was on July 24, 2012 in a surprise move that trustees voted to cancel the entire program.

The lawsuit alleges breach of contract on this basis: The lawsuit demands that LORP benefits be reinstated and the plaintiffs be reimbursed for their legal and other costs. It does not seek damages.

Among the plaintiffs are several teachers and other school employees who retired in 2012 and have been prominent in public debates on the LORP issue. They include former Sinai Elementary principal Mike Wilborne, HCHS teacher Becky Donner, HCMS teacher Phyllis Jackson and HCHS assistant principal Deborah Griles, who have spoken at School Board meetings to protest the program’s cancellation. They are among a number of recent retirees who have said they decided to retire early in the expectation of receiving future income from LORP, only to see it yanked away.

Not among the LORP plaintiffs is retired Superintendent of Schools Paul Stapleton, who was succeeded by current school chief Merle Herndon. According to information provided by the current Central Office, Stapleton was in line to receive $221,000 in LORP payments over seven years prior to the program’s cancellation. Deputy Superintendent Larry Clark, who also retired last year, was declared ineligible for benefits after leaving in the middle of the year.

Two recently retired administrators, Joseph Griles and finance director William Covington, are among the plaintiffs.

The cancellation of LORP is the first major move by the School Board during Herndon’s tenure. The new superintendent advised trustees that the program, which was projected to cost $9 million over the next seven years, was draining the budget and robbing money from other school priorities. The School Board vote to cancel LORP was taken July 24.

Critics have questioned Herndon’s assertions on the budget, however, saying the program saved more than it cost. As the lawsuit notes, the program was designed to encourage senior staff nearing retirement age to retire early, thus allowing the school division to hire younger, lower-paid replacements.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are as follows:
Donna A. Adams
Wanda M. Anderson
Jacqueline L. Armistead
Corlys B. Ballou
Robin W. Baskerville
Rita Best
Leni M. Blackwell
Gail W. Bosiger
Mary L. Breeden
John M. Brown Jr.
Catherine E. Burrell
Betty P. Carr
Kathy B. Campbell
Nancy Chappell
Carolyn P. Childrey
Pamela M. Clark
Charlie B. Clements
Chester D. Compton
Valerie M. Compton
Brenda C. Conner
Carol L. Conner
William R. Covington III
Deidre J. Crews
Diane J. Crews
Margaret J. Crews
Nancy W. Dalton
Tammy A. Daniels
Beatrice L. Davis
Raleigh S. Davis
Virginia L. Debiec
Patricia H. Dobson
Rebecca R. Donner
Elvin D. Dyer
Mary B. Eanes
Cheryl D. Ferguson
Brenda Fincher
Janet T. Fuller
Pamela F. Garland
Deborah J. Griles
Cynthia O. Haugh
Patricia A. Hawks
Pauline S. Henderson
Carolyn J. Higgins
Dianne G. Holmes
Helen H. Holt
Randy E. Hoskins
Robert B. Howitt
Joanna T. Hughes
Jimmy L. Inge
Connie G. Jackson
Phyllis C. Jackson
Vicentia R. Jennings
Leon N. Johnson III
Janette M. Jones
Phyllis B. Jones
Ellen M. Kent
Walter N. Knapp
Susan B. Leonard
George B. Lipscomb
Linda P. Lovelace
Charles D. Lowery
Annette W. McAdams
Betty Miles
Connie N. Miller
Nettie B. Moore
Jacqueline A. Owen
Judy K. Owen
Marsha W. Owen
Peggy Owen
Kathleen P. Parker
Laura A. Parks
Priscilla N. Perry
Ella M. Petty
Paige W. Powell
Vickie T. Poole
Mary C. Priest
Grace J. Richardson
Evelyn D. Ross
Stephen R. Ruffino
Janie Saunders
Brenda H. Scott
Sharon Y. Scott
Leslie Shreve
Daphne L. Smith
Brenda S. Snead
Martha W. Stevens
Peggy M. Strom
Wanda T. Talbott
Velma K. Talley
Deborah S. Terry
Nancy A. Thompson
Amy A. Throckmorton
Wanda C. Tucker
Barbara B. Tune
Ernest E. Vass
Pauline Vrbanic
Gale S. Walker
Michael R. Wilborne
Cynthia C. Wilkerson
Lawrence T. Wilkerson
Betty O. Williamson
Bonnie H. Wilkins
Gloria C. Wilson

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Comments

Got to love the local school board. I love how they cast it in the light of "its best for the children" if they do that then no one should argue with them. Remember that when the school board opposes parent presence when a child is question about a discipline issue, or any number of other things, where they think they know better then the parents. I remember one time I had to get a doctors note to get an excused tardy for her, due to the fact that she had just started her period. They said that parents can't excuse there absences Really school system? No common sense! Now granted this was around 6-7 years ago, so they may have changed this, but they still show there lack of common sense.

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AP, you must remember that, like emergency services/police/courts & jail personnel, people at this level in the education system live in their own little universe- a universe often driven by consultants and other psychobabble, with a lot of zero-tolerance nonsense and a complete lack of common sense. But it makes perfect sense to the people promoting it.

I'm reminded of a District Extension staffer and educator who used to come up with all kinds of harebrained stuff. She'd push it on us with what can only be described as extreme enthusiasm and could not understand why none of us would agree with the ideas she proposed. Simple- they made no sense at all to the rest of us, but in her world, they were perfect ideas.

No need to wonder why the American K-12 education system is in the shape it's in.

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Good point PH, common sense is no where today, everything is has to be PC. I am glad my youngest is in the middle school or he would be getting in trouble by making finger guns. I actually had an assistant principal tell me a few weeks ago when I brought up the issue of a kid getting in trouble over making a finger gun and going pow. She said that "this is an indicator that the child may have bigger issues going on and we would have to act appropriately" Really?
I think that all the psychobabble you mention may be some of the cause. Give the kid and IEP, says he is dumb then make the teacher's accomadate him and then pass him. What a screwed up world we live in!

Comments

These people need to go on with their lives. A lot of programs have been cut. They still have their retirement. No one said the LORP would last forever. We are sick of this and would like to move on.


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