Mark Lineburg

Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg presents a proposal to Halifax County School Board Wednesday that would address compensation for all employees while also address aging facilities that are facing a declining enrollment.

Halifax County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg outlined a plan for Halifax County School Board when they met Wednesday for an all-day work session that would tackle the aging Halifax County High School, consolidate the county’s elementary schools from seven to four and increase teacher compensation while cutting 10 positions.

The school board stopped short of voting on the plan, but a few members voiced support of the idea of closing Clays Mill Elementary, Meadville Elementary and Sinai Elementary and using that funding to help increase teacher pay and build a new high school.

No official action was taken from the school board.

Closing those three schools, Lineburg said, could generate $6,679,000 in utility and maintenance savings and $69,225,000 in personnel savings over 30 years.

School board members did agree to pass this plan on to the Halifax County Board of Supervisors. Supervisors Ricky Short, Dean Throckmorton, Larry Roller, chairman Hubert Pannell and vice chairman Garland Ricketts attended Wednesday’s meeting.

Pannell and Ricketts also met with school board chair Kathy Fraley and school board member Jay Camp Thursday morning with Lineburg to continue discussions.

With Lineburg’s proposal, Sydnor Jennings and Scottsburg elementary schools would receive a complete renovation at an approximate cost of $37 million.

Meadville, Sinai, Clays Mill, Sydnor Jennings and Scottsburg elementary schools were all built in the 1960s, and currently have enrollments ranging from 139 to 201 students. Guidelines from the Virginia Department of Education say elementary schools could have 400 to 500 students, Lineburg said.

With the consolidation of schools, the superintendent projected class size to be 19 to 20 students, and said the “desired enrollment size” would be 480 at Sydnor Jennings, 450 at Scottsburg, 780 at South Boston and 580 at Cluster Springs Elementary School.

The high school project would cost approximately $172,700,000 over 30 years with interest, and Lineburg outlined roughly $164,800,000 in “available revenue.”

That figure includes $98.8 million in projected revenue from the sales tax over the next 30 years and $66 million from the county’s debt service.

County staff has estimated the sales tax will generate $2,845,337.41 in the first year.

Without any increases in that projected sales tax revenue that would total $85,360,122 over 30 years.

The superintendent also noted that they have $3,800,000 in capital monies that could be carried over, and $4 million in ESSER III funds from the American Rescue Plan Act that could be used toward capital projects as long as its related to COVID-19 needs such as touchless sinks.

With the capital carryover and ESSER III funds, the $164,800,000 in “available revenue” increases to $172,600,000.

The superintendent also said a 2 cents increase in real estate taxes could generate $760,000 that could help with this project.

Supervisors’ finance committee turned down a 2 cents increase in real estate taxes when they met on March 29 to discuss school funding.

Addressing compensation

School board members also reviewed a compensation plan that would address pay for teachers, support staff and administration.

Part of Lineburg’s proposal to the school board and supervisors is to use end-of-the-year funding of $2,567,849 for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years to help address the teacher salary scale.

This comes on the heels of a school year where an unusually high number of teachers left the school system, and there are still 19 vacancies from this.

The idea is to not fill 10 of those positions, which Lineburg said would create $500,000 in savings.

The superintendent’s plan also included investing $1,100,000 into the teacher’s salary scale, and asking supervisors for $764,000.

This would allow the school system to change the teacher salary scale to allow for incremental increases for teacher pay as teachers gain experience in the classroom.

With the current teacher salary scale, teachers have to work with Halifax County Public Schools for seven years before they make more than a first year teacher.

With the proposed scale, by the third year of working with HCPS, teachers would see an increase in their salary.

Salary for a teacher with three years of experience would increase from $42,752 to $42,875.

In the proposed teacher pay scale, a teacher with five years of experience would receive $43,016 annually, compared to $42,752 annually.

Also, employees with at least 30 years of service were surveyed on Aug. 15 to see if they were interested in a one-time retirement buyout with the Virginia Retirement System. Approximately 41 teachers with HCPS have more than 30 years of experience.

It would be a $15,000 buyout with an average cost of $750,000, and Lineburg said the potential savings would be $600,000.

Changing the conversation to pay for support staff, Lineburg said it would cost $797,800 to implement a graded pay scale, and the superintendent is proposing that should there be any additional funds from vacancies, retirement additional funding from the board of supervisors, this would go toward placement of support staff on a graded pay plan.

If approved, the support staff pay scale would allow aids to see an increase of $5,386, custodians an increase of $2,532 and administration an increase of $5,772.

Administration pay would be addressed last, according to Lineburg’s proposal.

A scale for support staff would need $1.1 million from the school division, and $764,000 from supervisors.

“We must fix compensation,” said Lineburg before adding, “Our folks are worth fighting for.”

The compensation plan for teachers, according to Lineburg, could begin by the beginning of January, if implemented.

Following Lineburg’s presentation, ED-3 school board trustee Sandra Garner-Coleman made it known that she would like to move forward with the plan for a new high school and consolidate to four elementary schools.

“I say we move this proposal to the board of supervisors. Let them chew on it and let them decide,” said Garner-Coleman.

She offered a motion to send the proposal to supervisors, leaving open the possibility of going the route of design-bid-build for the high school, and enacting the changes to the teacher pay scale by December.

ED-8 trustee Walter Potts seconded the motion.

However, the work session was only halfway over at this point, and school board chairman Kathy Fraley said she would like to hear the rest of the presentations that afternoon before any decision was made.

Garner-Coleman then withdrew her motion.

In the afternoon portion of the worksession, the school board heard from Branch Builds and RRMM representatives on the benefits of going the route of PPEA.

Branch Builds, along with RRMM Architects, LPA Consulting Engineers and Timmons Group submitted an unsolicited PPEA (Public-Private Partnership Act) on March 30 after the school board entered into a pre-construction service contract with the company.

Also in 2019, Grimm + Parker Architects with English Construction and Moseley Architects submitted proposals.

Grimm + Parker Architects representatives Jim Boyd and Paul Klee also presented to the board Wednesday offering their work history as well as Dan Pleasant with Dewberry.

Some school board members still aren’t sold on the idea of needing an entirely new high school, and some aren’t sure which method they’d like to use moving forward, PPEA, design-bid-build, design-build or construction manager-at-risk.

Those with Branch Builds warned the school board that if they did not move forward with PPEA, design-build or construction manager-at-risk, they would essentially be “starting over.”

ED-7 trustee Keith McDowell was absent from the meeting.

Ashley Hodge is the editor 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