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With much uncertain, board ponders needs, areas to cut
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Two percent pay increase at risk as Halifax County trustees ponder new cuts
SoVaNow.com / April 08, 2013The Halifax County School Board must make a new round of budget cuts after the trustees’ request for an additional $240,000 was shot down by the Board of Supervisors last week.
Having already gone through several rounds of personnel reductions and cuts to various programs, trustees are now likely to consider a step that previously had been considered unthinkable — relinquishing a planned two percent pay hike for school personnel.
Although Superintendent of Schools Merle Herndon says she hasn’t given up hope of getting more money from the county — seemingly a remote possibility, after supervisors voted unanimously to hold local education funding to $13.6 million in the coming fiscal year — she acknowledged that without the extra funding, the employee pay increase is in jeopardy.
“I don’t see how it can be anything else. But that’s for the School Board to determine,” said Herndon.
Trustees will convene tonight at 6 p.m. at the Mary Bethune Office Complex second floor meeting room to consider their options in the wake of the supervisors’ decision to reject additional funding.
Herndon noted that the local cost of the employee pay increase — about $300,000 — roughly matches the $240,000 sum that the School Board had sought from the county. The full cost of the 2 percent pay hike is around $700,000 — with the state of Virginia providing $416,612 for personnel covered under the Standards of Quality (SOQ).
The School Board wants to grant the 2 percent hike to all employees, citing the confusion that would arise if some personnel got the pay increase and others did not.
Herndon said the Standards of Quality cover only minimum staffing levels that the state of Virginia deems necessary for an adequate education — a criterion that has come under fire among school superintendents. She said school officials must frequently wrestle with situations where an extra teacher or support staffer is necessary to provide students with a solid education, the state standards notwithstanding.
With a mix of SOQ-funded and non-SOQ-funded employees performing similar tasks, the idea of raising the pay of the first group and not the other is “problematic,” said Herndon.
“The interesting thing about it is, you might have some guidance counselors where some of them are paid under SOQ funding and some are not … and there would be certain people in the category who would be paid [the increase] and certain people who would not,” she said.
Ditching the pay increase is one option for the trustees as they look to finalize the new school budget, which goes into effect in July. Other possibilities include further program cuts or personnel reductions, on top of prior cuts of about $2 million to the overall budget package of about $57 million.
“We’ve already had some hard decisions relative to staff and we’ll have to have some further conversations regarding everything” to make up for the $240,000 shortfall, said Herndon.
If the School Board opts to make further cuts to programs, the ax is likely to fall upon the middle school or high school, she suggested. Herndon said the Central Office has “looked at everything at the elementary level” but that programs reductions at the secondary level would be “not quite as cut and dried.”
She said the school division remains committed to preparing students for life after graduation, whether for college or careers, but with funding so tight, the trustees will need to have a “conversation” to determine if programs should be scaled back or dropped.
The School Board also could make additional personnel cuts, although it already has downgraded the status of 24 employees, some of whom will not have jobs in the next school year. Even before the latest bad news, school officials were facing an additional $700,000 in personnel reductions.
At tonight’s meeting, trustees also are expected to renew their conversation on payroll inequities, although Herndon said the School Board is likely to hold off taking action, other than to set a date for a follow-up meeting to take up the matter.
“We’re not going to get everything done [tonight],” she said.
An unspecified number of employees in the division have been notified by Herndon and other administrators that their pay could be adjusted, up or down, to make them, equal to the salaries of personnel doing equivalent work. Payroll inequities have arisen largely with the past practice of raising the pay for teachers with previous career experience, or for attaining master’s degrees or other professional certifications.
The School Board has indicated it will look at salary inequities such as they exist among categories of employees, but so far has resisted plans to cut the pay of individual employees.
Herndon said she could not speak for the School Board and what its members may choose to do on any given issue. However, on the subject of the 2 percent pay increase, she said there is clear cost to allowing pay for Halifax County teachers to fall further behind the levels of other school divisions.
“We’re already low on salaries and we don’t want to lose our best teachers,” said Herndon. “But if we do, can you blame them? I’ve been a teacher, I know how hard it is. I know the difference excellent teachers can make in the classroom.
“But you know, let’s be real. If you can make more money [elsewhere], you may take advantage of that,” she said.
In other business at tonight’s meeting:
trustees will recognize art winners in the annual Virginia School Board Association contest, and continue a discussion on rules for smoke-free school properties.
Board members will also work on crafting salary guidelines to take into account the previous work experience of employees.
They will receive the bids for the high school roof replacement.
They also are expected to pass a resolution to purchase two buses for special education students which are needed immediately.
CommentsHey news flash Herndon, why don't you take a $50,000 pay cut. If you are so "worried" about teachers and are so free to cut other peoples money? We went from bad to worse. I was not a fan of Stapleton, and I can't belive I am saying this, but I think we were better off with him. This lady has no clue!
- By allpolitical2 on 04 / 08 / 13
CommentsI won't go so far as to say cut her by $50k, but a 10% cut would put her pay in line with school superintendents in surrounding counties.
I can't fathom why HCPS thinks it should pay premium money for its high-level administrators when the surrounding counties are getting just as much bang (and maybe more) for their buck at 10-15% less.
But, difficult to change a mindset once it has been that way for what, 20 or so years now?
- By powerhouse on 04 / 08 / 13
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