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Halifax County trustees back new HCHS, pay package

South Boston News
ED-8 trustee Walter Potts and new vice chair Roy Keith Lloyd
SoVaNow.com / September 16, 2021
A short-numbered Halifax County School Board voted Monday to back the construction of a new Halifax County High School and send a plan to the Halifax County Board of Supervisors to dramatically raise the compensation of school employees — teachers and other staff — by next year.

The actions came as the balance of the power on the School Board shifted with the resignation of vice chairman Todd Moser and the absence of ED-7 trustee Keith McDowell, a vociferous critic of building a new high school to replace the dilapidated HCHS facility. The six trustees in attendance at Monday’s meeting voted unanimously to support the employee compensation proposal but split 4-2 on construction of a new high school.

The motion to build a new HCHS facility was put on the floor by ED-2 trustee Roy Keith Lloyd, seconded by ED-3 trustee Sandra Garner-Coleman. Lloyd said the issue of the high school has lingered for the entirety of his four years on the board, and he declined to amend his motion to endorse a second option — renovation of the existing facility — as suggested by ED-4 board member Jay Camp.

“I understand that [the recommendation for a new high school] may get changed down the road, but I’d like move forward with new construction based on the information that’s been presented, the numbers that we have so far,” said Lloyd.

Lloyd, Garner-Coleman, Freddie Edmunds in ED-5 and Walter Potts in ED-8 voted in favor of building a new high school facility. Board Chair Kathy Fraley (ED-1) and Camp voted no.

Both Fraley and Camp said they were heeding the wishes of their constituents in opposing an all-new HCHS, although Camp allowed that a comprehensive plan developed by Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg to guide the future of Halifax County Public Schools “definitely opened my eyes” to the possibility of achieving the board’s major goals. Those goals include making teacher compensation the best in the region, renovating the county’s elementary schools, and replacing HCHS with a modern facility.

“I’m not shutting the door on a new high school,” said Camp, but he added the School Board should be mindful of the needs of all county schools over the next 40 years, when the five oldest elementary buildings would be turning 100 years old.

“This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime shot,” he said.

The School Board acted on two other major items: trustees voted to acquire a 12-acre tract next to the high school, either to become part of the footprint of a new HCHS building or to use as a construction staging site, and they agreed to hold a series of town hall meetings on elementary school consolidation, leading up to an anticipated vote by the School Board in November on closing some schools.

On the topic of consolidation, Garner-Coleman originally offered a motion to reduce the current number of elementary schools from seven to either four or five, echoing the recommendations of Lineburg’s comprehensive school plan. Under the superintendent’s proposal, the cost savings from operating only four county elementary schools would be channeled into other priorities, such as higher employee salaries.

But other trustees said before taking a step as momentous as closing one or more schools, the School Board first should hear from the public.

“We have big decisions to make in coming months, and I do think the community should be part of those conversations,” said Lloyd.

Garner-Coleman expressed agreement with Lloyd but added that the elementary facility debate should encompass all five schools in the northern part of the county, not just schools targeted for closure. “We need to hear from all of them [affected school communities] before we make a decision,” she said.

Lineburg, at an Aug. 25 meeting, proposed shutting down three of the county’s smallest and oldest facilities — at Clays Mill, Meadville and Sinai — and reassigning the elementary student population at four schools that would remain open: Cluster Springs and South Boston, the newest buildings in the fleet, and Scottsburg and Sydnor Jennings, in northern Halifax County, each of which would require expansion and renovation.

The resulting footprint would leave three elementary schools with around 450 to 600 students each, and one, South Boston Elementary, serving a somewhat larger population. SBES now has a student body of some 780 children.

As a more expensive alternative, HCPS could operate five schools by closing Clays Mill — the smallest school, with around 140 students — and combining Sinai and Meadville at a single modern facility. The downside to that idea, Lineburg said, is such a configuration would leave less money to address long-term needs such as higher employee pay.

“Sustainability of compensation is directly tied to the configuration of elementary schools,” he noted.

Under Lineburg’s plan to reform employee salary scales, teachers would make as much in their fifth year of employment as they now earn after 11 years of service, $43,016 annually. Under the current scale, base teacher salaries are essentially flat over the first six years of employment, with modest annual pay hikes after that.

With the current step scale in place, Halifax teachers must work 43 years before achieving the top teacher salary paid by HCPS, of $66,705 annually. Lineburg’s plan would cut that timeline down to 31 years. Significant pay hikes are built into the scale throughout.

Key to implementing Lineburg’s employee compensation proposal is a series of cost-saving measures: eliminating 10 positions, offering a one-time retirement incentive to the division’s long-tenured and highest-paid teachers, and getting a commitment from the Halifax County Board of Supervisors to use $3.8 million in carryover budget funds to raise employee compensation by July 2022 and possibly sooner.

Supervisors also will be asked to raise the county’s real estate tax rate by 2 cents, from $0.50 to $0.52 per $100 in value, which would raise about $770,000 annually to plow into teacher and support staff pay scales.

The tax increase is one of several asks that the School Board intends to present to the Board of Supervisors, which controls local purse strings. To upgrade facilities, trustees are counting on the roughly $100 million that the county’s 1-cent sales tax will generate over the next 30 years, supplemented by several other pots of money.

These include budget carryover funds and expiring debt service — each controlled by supervisors, and which could be used to improve facilities and compensation, Lineburg has suggested.

Separately, the School Board has $4 million in federal pandemic relief funds under its control that it can spend on facilities, provided the money is allocated by 2024. Another major element of Lineburg’s plan are the long-term operational savings that would result from closing three elementary schools.

The medley of revenue raisers and cost savings would generate roughly $265.5 million over 30 years — enough to afford a $130 million high school, a $39 million elementary renovation project, and employee pay hikes.

The challenge of bringing the two boards together around a consensus plan for the schools clearly weighed on trustees, with Potts in particular sounding a skeptical note that supervisors can be counted on to provide the necessary funding. But Edmunds was more optimistic as he encouraged the School Board to act.

“We can only do what we can,” Edmunds said as the board voted on the employee compensation plan. “We can’t second guess the Board of Supervisors. I believe the Board of Supervisors will do what’s right. But we must take that first step and do what’s right.”

In endorsing a new high school, the four-member majority agreed to a second provision: by October, they will choose the best method of construction — either entering into a PPEA (public-private partnership act) agreement with a contractor-architectural team, or using a traditional design-build approach in which parts of the building process would be put out for bid, or a hybrid option that incorporates aspects of both PPEA and design-build methods.

On top of the other, more far-reaching actions taken by the School Board on Monday, trustees also reversed a failed vote in June to purchase land adjoining the HCHS campus.

The Powell property, as it is known, consists of 12 acres that sits up the hill from the high school, with frontage on Halifax Road. In June, the board deadlocked 4-4 on a proposal to buy the property for $360,000. With two “no” votes from June — Moser and McDowell — out of the picture Monday night, trustees held a re-vote, which succeeded 4-2 this time. Garner-Coleman, Lloyd, Edmunds and Potts voted yes, Fraley and Camp voted no.

It remains to be seen whether the owners of the property will accept the same $360,000 offer that the School Board voted down in June, but Scott Worner, the administration’s point person on the high school project, said the sellers have indicated that “once the board is ready to make a commitment, they would be willing to entertain that offer.” Potts added that the School Board is fortunate to have the opportunity to acquire the property for $360,000: “The man has given us a good deal on it, is what he’s doing,” he said.

Worner said three separate studies have identified the tract as suitable for construction of a new school, although the 12 acres could instead be used to store construction materials and equipment or serve as the footprint for mobile classrooms if the county ultimately opts to renovate rather than rebuild HCHS.

In a final action, the board unanimously agreed to seek a request-for-proposal for school food service, replacing its current vendor. “I’m tired of getting pictures of food that looks terrible,” said Garner-Coleman.

The trustees also heard from HCHS student representative Tanaya Brandon, who suggested going back to a hybrid learning schedule to reduce the number of people inside the high school at any given time. Brandon said students are exposed to the risk of transmission of COVID-19 as they are forced to crowd into the narrow hallways of the high school during class changes.

Hybrid learning “will cut down on the number of students in the building and make it easier to contact trace,” said Brandon.

While Brandon got a favorable response from School Board members, the recommendation runs counter to a new state law requiring Virginia school divisions to provide five days of in-person instruction, consistent with CDC health and safety recommendations.



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Comments

Just for thought. A $125 million dollar new school - Take hundred dollar bills and stack them on each other and the height is 455 feet or the height of The Great Pyradid of Egypt. Source, State of Virginia Lottery. Play with our money wisely.

Comments

Hopefully this is not a done deal. As for the pay raises. How many people get the time off that teachers do? The average contract is 200 days, most local systems only make the teachers work 190 or so, three days for thanksgiving, two weeks for Christmas, a week spring break and usually 8-10 weeks in the summer. If you break it down as an hourly rate, it is probably somewhere between 30-40 an hour. Cut the central office staff pay

Comments

When is Coleman going to resign? She broke the law too!


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