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Halifax County trustees set course for new superintendent / February 16, 2017

Halifax County trustees will rely on the Virginia School Board Association to come up with a list of contenders to replace Superintendent of Schools Merle Herndon when she retires June 30.

The School Board agreed to ask VSBA officials to conduct the search process for a new superintendent. As a next step, trustees will meet Feb. 27 at 4 p.m. with Gina G. Patterson, executive director of the Virginia School Board Association, who will head up the search.

She will be assisted by Elizabeth E. Ewing, director of legal and policy services for the VSBA. Ewing’s role will include answering legal questions and reviewing an employment contract for the next superintendent.

In a letter to school trustees, Patterson wrote “the selection of your division superintendent is the single most important and difficult task that you will take on.

“Considering the many challenges facing public education, school divisions require highly skilled leaders who have the ability to shape mission-driven school divisions that inspire a culture of excellence,” she wrote.

Patterson advised local trustees to get to work looking for a new superintendent as quickly as possible, since the VSBA already is working with seven communities that are looking to hire new superintendents.

The Virginia School Board Association is responsible for the placement of 75 of the current 132 Virginia school division superintendents, according to Patterson. She stressed that the VSBA has assisted local school divisions for 40 years, working to find the best candidate for the job, but ultimately the final decision is made by the local board, not the VSBA.

The search process begins with an initial meeting with school trustees, followed by the development of a profile of what the trustees wants to see in the new superintendent. Once that happens, the job opening is advertised.

The VSBA screens candidates and sends its evaluations to the School Board, with trustees deciding who to interview before finally making their choice.

The VSBA’s search fee is $10,500 for school divisions with enrollments of 5,000 to 14,999 students. Estimated expenses total another $1,650. Halifax County’s enrollment in the current year is 5,332 students, including pre-K classes.

In other business, trustees agreed once more to try to collect delinquent payments on student meal and fundraiser accounts which total more than $50. Finance Director Jay Camp said schools have unpaid accounts ranging from 25 cents to $200, although only 29 account holders owe more than $50.

Camp said two local attorneys advised him that the cost of trying to collect the money might cost more than what the school divisions gets back. He noted that one neighboring school system decided to simply take its losses.

Camp presented trustees with options for trying to collect the money, with members voting 4-2 for his recommendations. ED-8 trustee Walter Potts and ED-1 trustee Orey Hill voted no. Camp recommended garnishing the wages of parents of students who have delinquent accounts of more than $50. Others school officials would prepare warrants of debt. For delinquent accounts of less than $50, individual schools could use different methods to collect the money.

On another matter, Potts asked why the School Board had not previously received a 20-page report on the condition of bleachers and athletic facilities at the high school and middle school. The findings, compiled by Facili-Serv Athletic Facility Products & Services and dated Dec. 28, were reported in a local newspaper before being brought to trustees.

“I had not seen anything about this report until I read it in the newspaper,” Potts said. Other trustees added that they had not seen it, either.

According to the review, an inspection of the bleachers at the Halifax County Middle School gym yielded a safety rating of “fair,” with loose power cables that need to be secured since they were rated as hazardous.

Other inspections rated the the seating of the high school gym as “fair.” Cracked and damaged boards in the bleachers pose a hazard and need to be replaced, and the end rail system used to move bleachers in and out are not up to standard.

The visitors seating at Tuck Dillard Stadium was rated as “poor,” with deck gaps and rail systems that fail to meet building code requirements. Also rated as “poor” was the seating at both the high school baseball and softball fields.

The high school track was rated as “OK to Fair.”

Trustees took no action on the report

ED-4 trustee Joe Gasperini reported on another issue: the number of students who are participating in the New Beginnings alternative education program, designed for students who may be disruptive in class or who need special attention. Gasperini said there were only 8 to 12 students with five teachers at the New Beginnings classroom and felt there should be more.

Gasperini also questioned administrators on how much money the local school division is eligible to collect in Medicaid reimbursements. Gasperini said the amount last year was $300,000 and he feels the local system may be eligible for as much as $800,000.

Jeff Davis, director of Special Education Services, said he would look into the matter, but suggested that Halifax was getting all it could from the program.

In their final action of the night, trustees voted to approve a bid from Moore’s Chevrolet in Clarksville for 2016 Chevy Cruze sedan to replace the driver education car that was recently totaled in a crash.

The school system will have pay $4,000 for the vehicle in addition to the $11,800 received from the insurance company for the wrecked car.

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