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Trustees find fix for insurance shortfall / September 13, 2012
The Halifax County School Board will keep contributions for employee health care premiums at current levels after administrators found a way to close a deficit previously estimated to run as high as $1.1 million for insurance expenses alone.

Trustees voted Monday night to accept higher employee premiums, which are up 5.1 percent from the year before, after learning the school division does not face a much greater problem of unfunded costs within the budget.

In August, Superintendent of Schools Merle Herndon warned that the division had failed to budget adequately for insurance in the current year and also in last year’s budget, with the current shortfall likely to reach $1.1 million.

However, Finance Director Jay Camp, working with former Finance Director Bill Covington, was able to find money in two accounts to cover what turned out to be a gap of $956,321, after premium payments by retirees and COBRA recipients were factored in (their payments total $146,160).

The money to make up the $956,321 comes from two sources: $760,000 in unspent revenues primarily from Title VI-B (special education) funds, and $196,321 in Title VI Rural Low Income grant funds.

Approval for the payment of the increased health premiums came on a 7-0-1 vote, with ED-6 trustee Fay Satterfield abstaining.

Camp said Covington had volunteered his help in resolving the matter and had worked in his office for two full days.

Camp was asked by ED-3 trustee Kim Farson if Covington had been paid for his work, and Camp confirmed that he had not, but rather had volunteered his help.

The Board’s approval covers only the single employee plan; the 84 participants who chose to pay higher premiums for coverage of spouses or families will get no additional funds for their premiums. Their costs are estimated to rise on the average by $50 monthly.

ED-8 trustee Walter Potts asked Camp to look into the possibility that funds could be found to reduce the premiums paid by those employees. He asked that the information be brought back to the board’s October meeting.

In other business Monday night, trustees heard a report on this year’s school opening. The division has 32 new teachers and total enrollment of 5,356 students — 2,413 in the seven elementary schools, another 1,259 at Halifax Middle School and 1,684 at Halifax County High School.

Scottsburg and Sinai each have grade levels with the highest pupil-teacher ratios in the system — 25 students per teacher (fifth grade at Scottsburg, kindergarten at Sinai).

Clays Mill Elementary has the smallest enrollment of 155 students, with classrooms having only 14 students in kindergarten, second grade and fourth grade. The next smallest school is Meadville, with 181 students overall. It has a first grade class with 16 students and a second grade class with 14.

Of the other three elementary schools, Sydnor Jennings has 217 students, Sinai 258 and Scottsburg 263.

Halifax County Middle School has 386 sixth graders, 443 seventh graders and 430 eighth graders.

At the high school there are 447 ninth graders, 428 tenth graders, 427 eleventh graders and 382 members of the senior class.

Early in their Monday night meeting, trustees heard comments from two citizens challenging the School Board’s elimination of the Local Option Retirement Plan.

David Strom said he wanted to see LORP reinstated as it was originally formulated, or if the Board insisted on terminating the plan, let each retiree reverse their early retirement and return to their former job as though they never retired in the first place.

“To do less would be at the very least unfair and unethical,” Strom told trustees. “To reverse or modify a poor or uninformed decision is admirable, to stick to it is unforgivable.”

Also addressing the Board was his wife, Peggy Strom, who told trustees that as a member of the community she has many concerns about the decision-making process of the school system and the School Board. She questioned board members about accepting all information given to them and questioned their responsibility about learning as much as possible from other sources.

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Why can't the super, pay for her own retirement, like the rest of the people are? I can see covering for teachers since they make less, but at her salary? Now I see why she wanted to get rid of LORP, more money for her! Shame on her!

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