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Halifax County trustees set policies on workforce downsizing, tuition aid

SoVaNow.com / November 15, 2012
The Halifax County School Board approved new policies Monday night that trustees say will enhance transparency in decision-making on matters ranging from workforce reductions to teacher tuition assistance.

The Board adopted a four-point priority plan that establishes a pecking order for those who will be let go should professional staff workforce reductions be required in the future. First in line are teachers who are teaching classes that need to be reduced or eliminated and who are not fully certified or endorsed in the subject or grade they are currently teaching.

Second, teachers who are on a Plan of Improvement, or who have unsatisfactory evaluations in one or more of the past three evaluations, will be considered next for any workforce reduction.

Third, teachers who are fully certified and teaching in their subject area will be next considered for release based on seniority.

Finally, any fully certified teacher whose position is cut shall be given seniority rights for any other teaching positions for which he or she holds a valid endorsement.

Another policy approved by the board on Monday night deals with guidelines for tuition assistance. On a unanimous vote, trustees approved the payment of one-half of one course expense (not to exceed $500) if the course is needed for recertification or for earning a degree. If employees drop out or withdraw from classes or leave the school division, they must repay the school system for any tuition paid on their behalf.

In areas of high demand, such as speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists or others, an employee may request tuition assistance for up to six credit hours if needed for endorsement for one academic year. In such cases, tuition will be paid at 100 percent, but if the employee leaves the school system within three years of completion of the course, the total cost of the tuition assistance must be repaid.

Records indicate the school system provided $100,000 in tuition assistance to employees last year while only $39,000 has been spent so far this year.

Trustees also approved a policy for outsiders’ use of school facilities, dictating that faciliities will be opened only when there is no conflict with the regular school program. Persons using the properties will have financial responsibility and charges will be based on the use of the facility which could require liability insurance.

If events occur when custodians or school administrators are not on duty, fees will be changed to cover the costs of their work. The rental fee for use of the high school gym or auditorium is $100 an hour; $75 an hour for use of the middle school auditorium or gym and $75 for the use of the schools’ kitchens. Supervisory fees will run $35 per hour with a minimum of two hours and janitorial fees are set at $20 an hour with a minimum of two hours. Those who want to use school facilities must contact the school’s principal and submit an application to him/her and await their approval.

The Board also approved a plan to “go paperless” in their upcoming sessions. The plan passed on a 6-1-1 vote with ED-7 trustee Dick Stoneman opposing it and ED-6 trustee Fay Satterfield abstaining from the vote. The cost of the nine iPads for school board members, 12 for central office staffers and 19 for school principals and their assistants is expected to total $27,960 which will be covered by technology funding grants.

The Board delayed taking action on two other proposed policies with the one dealing with payment for vacation days being most heavily discussed.

Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon recommended that the 42 employees who have in excess of 60 days of vacation leave be paid at their per diem rate of 60 days and use the remaining vacation days as they want to before they retire. They will, however, be only paid for 60 days. Eighty-two others who have less than 30 days of accumulated vacation leave will be eligible to accumulate only a maximum of 30 days paid leave and will have to take any additional days off or lose them. For those 34 employees who had between 30 and 60 days on July 24 (when the cap was placed on vacation leave) will be paid at their per diem rate for the number of days they had stored. Of that number ten employees have between 50-59 days of vacation; eleven had between 40 and 49 days and 13 have 30 to 39 days. Several trustees said they wanted to consider the Superintendent’s proposal before voting to approve it at their December meeting.

Another issue which trustees did not address was that of out-of-zone attendance. Reports from Central Office show that the County’s two largest elementary schools had the highest number of out-of-zone students with Cluster Springs Elementary having 11 and South Boston Elementary getting 31 transfers. Conversely two of the smaller elementary schools had the greatest losses with Sinai losing 30 students to transfers and Clays Mill losing 13. Meadville lost 4 and Sydnor Jennings 3, while Scottsburg gained 8.

Trustees said their concerns lie mainly in two areas. First they worry that the loss of students from the smaller elementary schools could lead to the closure of those schools — a recommendation put forth in the recently completed efficiency study which trustees hope not to have to implement. Secondly they want to look at instances where an additional teacher had to be added because of the transfers. Board members said they will revisit the issue as more information becomes available in the coming months.

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