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Halifax County supes voice skepticism on new HCHS, hope for pay

SoVaNow.com / September 02, 2021
The Halifax County Board of Supervisors held a finance committee meeting Tuesday in their first opportunity as a group to respond to a set of proposals unveiled last week to overhaul Halifax County Public Schools — by building a new high school, consolidating county elementary schools, and raising employee pay levels.

Committee members gave a warmer reception to some of the ideas put forward by Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg in his Aug. 25 presentation than to others.

For instance, Lineburg’s call for a new high school to replace the current HCHS facility drew the scorn of ED-1 supervisor Ricky Short, who claimed, without foundation, that he has heard of plans for “putting a Starbucks in the library” of a new school.

“I know it’s nice to sit back and read a book while drinking a cup of coffee, but go to a bookstore,” said Short. “This is the library, a school, a teaching place.”

Short wasn’t the only member of the finance committee to express opposition to building a new high school. Committee chairman Jeff Francisco (ED-2) and Garland Ricketts (ED-7), Board of Supervisors vice chairman, also voiced skepticism on the need for a new building.

“I think we are being lobbied to one conclusion that I don’t think is the best conclusion,” said Ricketts, referring to calls to replace HCHS.

Francisco and Ricketts, however, spoke approvingly of Lineburg’s ideas for raising teacher pay, even at a cost of raising the county’s real estate tax by 2 cents to enhance employee compensation.

“I have been very passionate about teacher salaries since I’ve been on the board. I am tickled to death it’s finally coming here. In a minute I would do two cents for them,” said Francisco.

Ricketts, too, said he could support a 2-cent increase — bringing the county’s tax rate to 52 cents per $100 in value — although he said he first wanted to see more details on how other aspects of Lineburg’s plan would work.

In his presentation last week, the school superintendent laid out a number of steps that would be required to raise teacher salaries and make Halifax County the best-paying school division in Southside Virginia. To achieve this goal, Lineburg called for eliminating 10 staff positions, offering an incentive plan to coax the school division’s longest-serving and highest-paid teachers into early retirement as a cost-saving measure, and using $3 million in existing budget carryover funds to speed up implementation of teacher pay hikes in January 2022.

A two-cent real estate tax hike would generate $762,000 annually to support school pay raises. For a county homeowner with a $100,000 home, such a tax increase would equate to a county real estate tax bill of $520 yearly, up from $500 under the current 50-cent rate.

County Administrator Scott Simpson said using the budget carryover funds would be necessary to raise teacher pay in the short term — with the tax increase supporting the ongoing expenses after that. The urgency of the issue was underscored in the spring when HCPS struggled to hold onto teachers, dozens of whom departed the school system for better-paying jobs elsewhere.

“Mark and I have gone through all sorts of iterations” of a plan for improving school employee compensation, said Simpson. “It requires utilizing some of that carry-forward money as one-time money and then absorbing a lot of the raises in [the school operating budget].”

Ricketts said the trouble hiring teachers this year points up problems with buying out teachers who are now working in classrooms with a retirement incentive package. Ricketts also said he wasn’t sold on the idea of mid-year teacher pay raises, since teachers work on contracts that won’t come up for renewal until mid-2022. Higher salaries will help with future recruitment, but they are not necessary now, he suggested.

Simpson noted that Lineburg’s proposal must be evaluated as a whole, since other parts of his plan — such as closing elementary schools and reaping an estimated $69 million dollars in personnel savings — also factor into the long-term sustainability of the proposed teacher salary scale. “I try to emphasize you cannot compartmentalize these decisions, it’s a holistic approach,” said Simpson.

On the subject of school facilities, supervisors on the finance committee expressed a range of views, although the call to build a new high school drew no outward support.

Of one facilities proposal put forward by Lineburg — consolidating the county’s seven elementary schools to four — Ricketts said he was open to the idea.

With the closure of Meadville, Sinai and Clays Mill, the two northern Halifax County elementary schools that would remain open — Sydnor Jennings and Scottsburg — would each need to be renovated and expanded to house around 450 to 500 students. They would pair up with South Boston and Cluster Springs, which serve 780 and 580 students, respectively, according to the numbers provided by Lineburg.

Ricketts, whose district lies in the southern half of the county, noted Cluster Springs Elementary does not operate at full capacity today — years after taking in the student populations of the now-shuttered Cluster Springs, South of Dan, Turbeville and Virgilina. The Board of Supervisors should fund fewer elementaries, he said.

Ricketts also said he was in favor of running a smaller high school, which could be managed with adaptations to the current facility. “I have always been a proponent of a re-build of the low capacity high school,” he said.

Turning to the high school, Short said he doubted the veracity of the cost figures that have been provided to school officials by Branch Builds, the construction partner in a proposed $123 million new school project. Branch Builds has provided a $122 million cost estimate to renovate HCHS, a project that would entail tearing down and rebuilding much of the existing structure and making extensive renovations to the parts that remain.

Short honed in on one of Branch Builds’ cost figures — an $8.3 million estimate to put up mobile classrooms while renovation takes place to the existing building — to suggest the company’s numbers cannot be trusted.

“I don’t think we have a clear picture of cost [with] renovation,” he said.

Addressing the cost to fix another shortcoming of the high school — its lack of ADA disability access — Short suggested that in the school auditorium, “you can start at the backdoor and do a gradual slope up to that stage and it will be handicap accessible.”

He also took aim at plans for improving the high school football stadium and other athletic facilities, pointing out that only about one in five students at HCHS plays sports. Booster clubs should pay for athletic facility improvements, not the board, he said.

“We don’t need artificial turf or expensive stuff, we are just a cow pasture rural county,” said Short.

That drew a disapproving response from Board Chairman Hubert Pannell, who sat in on the finance committee meeting. “I think we are more than a cow pasture hillbilly county,” Pannell said.

Pannell suggested that board members should gather their thoughts on how to respond when and if the School Board puts forward a request, on the heels of Lineburg’s proposal. Simpson offered similar advice.

“The goal of these discussions is for you to figure out what your appetite is, what do you think the public response is, and frankly what do you think five board members will support,” he said.

“The School Board needs to make a decision on what they want to do,” said Short, before the Board of Supervisors can determine whether to offer its support.

“Bingo,” said Ricketts.

In other actions at the finance committee meeting:

» The Halifax Soccer Club has requested $10,775 to purchase equipment for the relaunch of a county soccer program. AYSO, which previously operated the local youth soccer program, has been dissolved and its parent organization took back all the soccer goals, nets, balls, cones, and other gear following that decision.

» The Halifax County Sheriff’s Office is requesting $38,760 from the county to pay $3,000 bonuses to 12 deputies whose salaries are not funded through the Virginia Compensation Board. In its recent special session, the General Assembly approved $3,000 bonuses for all deputies who are paid through the state.

» Southside Outreach Group is asking the county to waive building permit fees for construction of housing units at the Poplar Creek Homes affordable housing development in South Boston. The fee waivers could cost the county revenue of $7,600 to $14,000, according to esimates.

» The Halifax Health Department requested board authorization to spend carryover budget funds of $13,902.89 for the purchase of 45 doses of the Shingles vaccine.



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Comments

I like Jeff, but I disagree on the teacher pay. They only work 10 months a year. Use some of the covid money to give a pay raise. I think they also got a 5% pay raise last year. Ricketts, we need to keep the schools open an put less money into the high school, Pannell we are a rural county, we don't need a high dollar stadium. Teachers need to see what the taxpayers that have to work 365 days a year do an make before they come begging the tax payer for more money.

Comments

allpolitical...I do not know one single individual that works everyday of the year. I'm sure you'll argue these #'s, but the average employee works just over 1800 hours a year or 260 days. research shows educators are contracted for 200 days, but work closer to 275 and work a total of 2200 hours a year. Kind of seems like the taxpayers should try working a teachers schedule and then claim they don't need a raise.

Comments

We need to do what Halifax can afford. Every county agency has their hand out, some more deserving than others. Certainly the county needs to take care of teachers, law enforcement, first responders, and others, maybe not in that order. But in today,s Richmond Times there is a story about what the City of Richmond is going to do with George. Wythe High, a school that is more than 70 years old and the size of Halifax. In Fairfax, the richest county in the state, they made the choice to renovate Thomas Edison, another school the size of Halifax. Are we getting the correct figures or costs on renovations. We need to do something now and the County needs to make the School Board TAKE CARE OF THE BUILDING!!,,,,

Comments

why is it always the homeowners that have to pay for needless spending? How about increase the tax on lottery tickets, beer & liquor, cigarettes, gaming, vaping, etc. A brand new school is not needed. we are being led to only one option, a new school versus common sense solutions that include how education is changing. stop making buggy whips

Comments

Just 1 other thing. I am familiar with Central of Lunenburg High in Victoria. The high school was opened in 1966 and the county has only made small additions since.. They have just over 500 kids in grades 10 to 12 with a student/teacher ratio of 15 to One. Lunenburg is a lot like Halifax, no money. Mecklenburg is in a perfect storm, a lot of new industries moving in the Clarksville - South Hill area, a lot of people moving in to work and a huge amount of people spending money around the lake for entertainment and new homes. All of that equals tax revenue from different sources plus a bucket full of money from the state and feds. Halifax has none of that

Comments

Yes, it does seem like we are being lobbied to a certain decision. The school board has not provided any remodel numbers to the board of supervisors. The one from Branch that is "within $2 million" of the rebuild is basically a rebuild, minus 2 components. Plus, I doubt Branch (buddies of one of the higher ups) would give a fair remodel price anyway because they want a rebuild, to please the people giving them the contract. Cut the contract so others can bid. Also, why didn't the school board use the $3.5 million surplus last year to teacher raises? Surpluses in years past as well. I have a guess: saving that $ for a new HS is more important than teacher raises... That unused $ rolled over to a capital fund and now can't be used for salaries, well some of it. The rest went missing...

Comments

Didn’t the legislation to pay for this pass the General Assembly over 2 years ago? And a county referendum? How is this still even a topic? Edmunds needs to remember this the next time county leaders come to him looking for help from the General Assembly to save good ole Halifax. Be leaders, make a decision that moves your county forward. Quit living in the past, there is no future in it.

Comments

Guess you don't know many farmers. How about dairy farmers? Cows have to be milked twice a day 365 days a year. Livestock has to be feed every day. While farmers may try and take a vacation, weather etc dictates when and how. You are talking about people that work for someone else. Also how about the small business owner? I am sure they work entirely harder than a teacher and I know teachers, I have this argument with them all the time.

Comments

I agree with I'm sick of it, Why are the homeowners carrying the load of the cost of the high school. I agree teachers should be paid more, but not at the expense of raising taxes again. There has to be a better way. My Bud is correct, If Halifax would allow other businesses to come in and sure up the revenue we would not have these money issues. All the surrounding counties have stores and restaurants the help with revenue. All the stores are closing here and none to replace them. I don't know what Halifax and South Boston are afraid of, get some businesses in here!

Comments

Pay teachers like a baby sitter, that's what most parents view them as. Give them $10 an hour per child and they really only have 25 kids at a time. Plus out of the 8 hour day they get a planning and lunch, so they really only work 6 hours a day. So $10 and hour times 25 students times 6 hours times 180 days equals $270,000. Wait, that can't be right! Maybe we should be happy with the small raise that is being suggested. $45,000 sure beats them making $250,000.


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