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School retirees sue trustees to restore LORP benefits / January 18, 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 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, P.C. He is listed as co-counsel with Stephen Conte, also a member of the firm

The lawsuit, filed Thursday 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 July 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 only on July 28, 2012 that trustees enacted a new LORP for the 2012-2013 school year deleting the language that “participants already in the program will not be affected by the amendment or termination of the program.”

The lawsuit alleges breach of contract on this basis: “deliberately, willfully, arbitrarily and capriciously.”

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 are the top two former school administrators, both recently retired: Paul Stapleton, the superintendent before current school chief Merle Herndon, and former Deputy Superintendent Larry Clark. 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, 2012.

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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In all honesty, what did Ms. Herndon and the School Board expect as a consequence of their action?

What's frightening to me is I expect more employers including my own to pull the same underhanded stunt, and I am close enough to retirement age to be worried about it.

I guess I could always grow melons again- oh wait, the Cantaloupe Festival is gonna be too early to use HC grown 'lopes. And uranium is gonna kill us all, so why should I even worry about it? Think Alfred E. Neuman...

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