Halifax County School Board

Halifax County School Board and personnel from central office meet in the Halifax County Middle School cafeteria for a budget work session and special meeting Tuesday evening while also practicing social distancing by spacing out seating.

Halifax County School Board approved their $61,648,812 FY2021 budget Monday evening that included increases in pay for teachers, administration and support staff when they met for their budget work session and special meeting while also practicing social distancing.

All of the 12 individuals present, including five school board members, central official personnel, one member of the press and one individual from the public, sat spaced apart in the Halifax County Middle School cafeteria. Vice chairman Sandra Garner Coleman, ED-8 trustee Walter Potts and ED-2 trustee Roy Keith Lloyd phoned in to the meeting.

The board reviewed two versions of the FY2021 budget after the board voted to allow those three school board members to participate via teleconference. The meeting also was streamed on Facebook live.

Included in the approved budget is a 2% raise for teachers plus a step increase, a 2.5% raise for administration, and they placed support staff on a graded pay plan that interim finance director Robert Aylor said would give them a minimum of a 3% raise.

The raise would vary dependant on where they would fall on the scale, said Aylor, and support staff includes individuals such as bus drivers, secretaries, aides and custodians.

Following Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg’s recommendation, the board approved “budget B” that included the pay plan for support staff with a 6 to 2 vote with ED-1 trustee Kathy Fraley and ED-7 trustee Keith McDowell voting no.

During discussions, both Fraley and McDowell offered concerns about including $35,000 to hire a safety coordinator. McDowell also offered concerns about leasing buses.

Whether or not to hire a safety coordinator has been a sticking point amongst the new school board members throughout budget talks over the past few months.

Both Fraley and McDowell said most surrounding counties do not have a safety coordinator and said that job description usually falls under the duties of the assistant superintendent.

“I think we should consider having Mr. Davis (who is the emergency manager already) take on this role rather than have someone from the outside take this on,” said Fraley.

McDowell said he agreed with Fraley, and he also said constituents he has talked to also agree that the school system did not need a safety coordinator.

But Lloyd said, “I think it will be a major mistake and regression if we forget this safety coordinator position.”

The remaining board members were in agreement with Coleman noting they already had reduced the position from full time to part time.

Chairman Todd Moser said he understood McDowell and Fraley’s concerns, but he said, “Most principals and teachers don’t have the training (to fulfil the duties of a safety coordinator).”

He said a safety coordinator is usually trained in tactical and could train teachers on what to do during a school shooting.

“It’s more of a police role,” the chairman added.

ED-4 trustee Jay Camp also addressed a letter submitted by Jeaneen Abbott, who was in attendance Monday, and said she had served Campbell County schools in past, and he feels she also would be an asset to the safety of Halifax County schools.

“Before we get too far down into this, why don’t we have Ms. Abbott go in an see what suggestions she has? It’s something to be considered,” said Camp.

Lineburg reminded Camp that the safety coordinator position was a “safety position and not a behavior position.”

He also noted that Abbott does good work.

Camp also clarified that he wasn’t advocating for the board to choose between either allowing Abbott to review the schools or hire a safety coordinator.

“I’m not necessarily saying one or the other… we just have another resource,” said Camp.

Also included in the budget is $57,960 for new buses. The proposed budget originally specifically stated it was to lease 15 cars used for special education for five years.

But, McDowell suggested the school system would get a better deal by buying cars rather than doing a lease.

Lineburg suggested leaving the $57,960 in the budget for the cars, but take out the wording that says for a 5-year lease, and then seeing if they could buy cars cheaper.

“I’m comfortable with that,” he added.

ED-5 trustee Freddie Edmunds warned the board he did not want the special education car drivers to be stuck with used cars that were not reliable.

But McDowell assured Edmunds it was possible to get a reliable used car and used the superintendent’s used car as an example.

“It’s done great,” said McDowell.

The budget also includes $45,398 to handle the state mandate for a minimum wage increase for support staff, $114,357 for the state mandate for a minimum wage increase for substitutes and $318,876 for an increase in health insurance. That money for health insurance reflects the school system taking up 70% of the upcoming increase and the employee taking on 30%.

The superintendent said that should equate to a $25 to $30 increase for employees.

Also included in the approved budget is $100,000 to hire school counselors to meet state requirements, $327,940 for regional tuition for special education and $65,000 for a mental health specialist.

The board also decided to remove hiring a writing specialist from the budget, and agreed with the superintendent’s recommendation about trading an English position for a writing specialist when they’re able to.

The superintendent explained as a vacancy in the English department of one of the secondary schools becomes available, they’ll hire a writing specialist rather than an English teacher.

The approved budget also reflects the expectation of receiving $14,400,077 in local funding and $38,810,447 from the state.

In other action, the board also unanimously voted to renew the school system’s contract with Sodexo for another year with the stipulation they must present to the board in September.

Coleman also noted that Sodexo is “riding on thin ice.”

Ashley Hodge reports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com