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Speakers lament facilities, pay at school budget session / December 07, 2017

Two people took advantage of the chance Monday to offer input on school spending priorities for the coming year, with each singling out major areas of the budget for criticism: facilities and salaries.

The exchanges came during a Halifax County School Board public hearing Monday night in Halifax, initiated by Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg to solicit opinion on the upcoming 2018-19 budget. The new budget will go into effect in July.

Don Wright, a parent with children in the system, and Veneva Lester, a middle school employee, pleaded with trustees to do something about the deplorable state of school facilities and employee compensation.

Wright, who has children at both the middle school and high school, told trustees he “is ashamed of the general appearance of the high school.” Wright said he further believes the School Board has neglected the general maintenance of the high school for years and allowed facilities to decay and crumble.

This “period of stagnation” is responsible for the poor state of HCHS, Wright said, and suggested perhaps using non-violent jail inmates to undertake repairs and renovations at the nearly 40-year-old high school. Wright said he feels the building is structurally sound, but needs better maintenance.

Lester, who spoke on compensation matters, said she receives an annual salary of only $16,144 for her job at the middle school, which translates to take-home pay of only about $1,001 monthly. Noting she brings 24 years of experience to her job, Lester complained that her pay is not fair compensation for all that she does at the school.

Following the remarks by both speakers, Lineburg told trustees that budget requests for next year are numerous, and now is the time to begin prioritizing these requests. Lineburg said he hopes to get an early look at the governor’s proposed state budget before the Christmas and use that as a starting point to create county school budget for 2018-19.

Declining student enrollment in Halifax County will lead to a reduction in state funding, Lineburg warned. He estimated the school division will show a drop of 80 students, which translates to $580,220 in lost state revenue.

Lineburg also said he expects to see an increase in health insurance costs of anywhere from 5 to 15 percent.

Meantime, the school division has personnel needs of $589,935, Lineburg said. With that sum, Halifax County Public Schools could hire an autism specialist, two autism classroom teachers, three psychologists, four speech pathologists and occupational therapists as well as two assistant principals at both the high school and middle school, two elementary math specialists and several more special education teachers.

A three percent salary increase for teachers and support staff would cost $992,455, while a two percent raise for administrators would cost another $55,575.

With enrollment on the decline, however, seven teaching positions may also be eliminated, for a savings of $350,000. Closure of the Cluster Springs Early Learning Center could yield another savings of $80,000.

The full board with its two new members, Sandra Garner Coleman and Todd Moser, will begin deliberations during their next budget work session Jan. 2 in the school board conference room.

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