Mental health, security and compensation were some of the key components discussed when Halifax County School Board members met for a public input hearing and budget work session Monday evening.
Following a public input hearing in which no one spoke, the board reviewed $811,701 worth of budget requests made by school officials for the 2020-2021 budget.
Included in those requests is $579,187 in personnel expenses with Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg saying, “There’s no way we can possibly fulfill all of these,” as well as $70,299 worth of non-personnel school requests and $162,215 worth of non-personnel department requests.
One personnel request includes $50,000 for a coordinator of school safety, who Lineburg said would be responsible for coordinating the safety of all county school and buses as well as be a liaison for mental health and handle items such as crisis management.
ED-1 Trustee Orey Hill questioned the price tag saying don’t be surprised if that has to increase.
Also included in the requests are $1,000 for two security systems at Scottsburg Elementary as well as $5,000 for safety items such as cameras, metal detectors and security fencing for Halifax County High School.
ED-5 Trustee Freddie Edmunds also suggested the board needs to see how much it would cost to get uniforms for all custodians as a safety measure with ED-6 Trustee Todd Moser agreeing.
Moser said uniforms are needed so when law enforcement is on a school campus, they’ll automatically know if a person is a school employee.
Not included in the requests but brought up by ED-2 Trustee Roy Keith Lloyd is a mental health coordinator who would be responsible for assessing students involved in discipline hearings to see when they are ready to re-enter school.
Chairman Sandra Garner Coleman noted the board already sometimes requires students to be assessed by an outside resource before they can re-enter the school system.
She also said she feels it would be better to contract that person out rather than hiring an employee for the school system.
ED-6 Trustee Todd Moser said, “I feel it’s best done by an outside agency rather than someone hired by the school. In my opinion, it keeps the school out of the situation, and this way the outside agency makes the decision.”
But the board agreed it needs to stay on top of mental health with ED-7 Trustee Monty Lowery saying the board needs to be very vigilant and Lloyd noting that mental health is a factor in three-quarters of their discipline hearings.
The superintendent told the board, “If we go down this path, then the state needs to help us on it.”
Included in the personnel requests also are $60,000 for a reading specialist as well as $60,000 for a math specialist, and Lloyd suggested the school also needs a writing specialist and a writing lab.
He said when hiring someone writing skills are typically weak, and Lowery agreed.
“I see that quite often,” said Lowery, who also said students need to work on oral presentation as well.
Lineburg added, “There’s no doubt writing is our weakest area, but we’re working on it.”
The chairman questioned the math specialist position noting that six teachers had recently been endorsed as math specialists.
But the superintendent pointed out only one of those individuals has become a full-time math specialist at Sydnor Jennings Elementary, while the others are teachers. He said another math specialist would be portable who could be placed wherever he or she is needed.
Also discussed Monday evening is a $15,000 budget request for a dean of students. In creating this 12-month administrative position, it would eliminate another position.
Lineburg explained the person hired would be responsible for handling items such as site testing, project graduation and would work with the principal and administrative team.
School officials also are requesting $25,000 to pay additional assistant coaches for the swim, cross country, volleyball, winter cheer, boys soccer and boys tennis teams at the high school.
The chairman said, “If this is a dream list, that should be on the bottom of the list.”
Other items included in the non-personnel requests are $25,000 for playground expansion at South Boston/Halifax Early Learning Center, $2,000 for chapter books for all grades at Scottsburg Elementary, $15,000 for a digital marquee at Halifax County Middle School, $9,299 for Google expeditions virtual reality kits and $13,000 for consumable materials for the career and technical education department.
The chairman suggested they look into grants or other outside funding for the playground.
Maintenance Director Steve Brumfield also said he is still looking into that request to see if that is the responsibility of the school system or the town since it’s at the early learning center.
Non-personnel department requests reviewed include two work vans for $25,000, a work truck for $10,000, two commercial riding mowers for $22,000, equipment and maintenance shed for $25,000, LETRS training for 24 first-grade teachers for $8,395, replacement of 15 SPED cars for $57,960 and installation of video on SPED cars for $13,860.
Other items the superintendent said they do not know the figures for yet include salary adjustments for a graded pay plan for employees and teachers, the possibility of modifying payout for sick leave, a potential Virginia Retirement System increase in the employer contribution, an increase in the composite index and the salary compensation from the state that has not been identified.
Coleman said the board needs to look at years 10 to 25 on the teacher pay scale saying those are “suffering” adding the board has to do something for support staff.
The superintendent said salary compensation would be the highest priority.
He also said the governor’s proposed budget is expected to be released before winter break, and the board’s budget request is due to the Halifax County Board of Supervisors by mid-February.
Lineburg also asked the board members if they would like to continue having the full board meet as the finance committee, and they agreed they would.
ED-8 Trustee Walter Potts was absent.