School Board debates changes to PREP program

The future of a longstanding incentive pay policy for eligible Henrico County Public School system retirees was the topic of a budget debate at the School Board’s Feb. 24 work session.

The school system’s post-retirement employment program (PREP) currently offers eligible retirees 24 percent of their annual retirement-day salaries each year for as long as seven years, provided they spend at least 24 days annually working in the school system. Eighty percent of that time must be spent in a classroom.

But because of budget cuts, the program is scheduled to be trimmed in the 2011-12 budget, dropping pay for program participants to 20 percent of their retirement-day salaries. The move would save $1.4 million directly and another $717,000 through expected program attrition. The board is scheduled to vote on the proposed $401.25-million budget later this month.

Brookland District School Board member Linda McBride made an impassioned statement urging the board to restore funding to 24 percent if new money becomes available, as is expected. The board anticipates receiving nearly $10 million through a federal grant.

“[PREP] serves as a very important tool to recruit and keep employees,” McBride said. “Some recent [retirees] feel we’re pulling the rug out from underneath them.”

To qualify for the program, a retired school system employee must have at least 16 years of service as part of the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) and must have worked for HCPS for at least 10 consecutive years prior to retirement. Currently, 488 retirees are serving and collecting payments through PREP.

Tuckahoe board member Lisa Marshall said that trimming the program’s funding wasn’t desirable but was necessary, given the current financial status. And, she said, PREP participants earn significant pay when compared to standard substitute teachers (as much as $578 per day, compared to the standard substitute rate of $83 per day).

“It’s hard to explain to a constituent a daily rate of $578,” Three Chopt District board member Diana Winston said, “when I have constituents who don’t have weekly rates of $578.”

Marshall and several other board members said they’d prefer to spend any extra money on raises for current full-time teachers – who haven’t had one in the past two budget years and who are not scheduled to receive one in the 2011-12 budget – instead of returning the PREP program to its existing level of funding.

Winston cited growing class sizes at some middle schools and high schools in the county as examples of the challenges full-time teachers currently face. Nearly a quarter of classes at Deep Run High School, she said, contain 30 students or more.

PREP is a separate program from the VRS payments for retirees, which would not be affected. Winston said she’s concerned that the perception among some retirees is that the board wants to cut their retirement pay.

Varina District board member John Montgomery said he would consider all possibilities before forming an opinion. Fairfield district member and board chairman Lamont Bagby suggested that officials poll teachers to see whether they’d prefer raises now or the knowledge that the PREP opportunity would exist at current funding levels later.

Winston argued that the proposed funding cut would be minor and said that many PREP participants already work other jobs – including some other part-time jobs within the school system – and would not feel significant financial impact. She said that she held two other jobs while she was part of the PREP program for seven years after her retirement from full-time employment with the school system.

When the board raised the service requirement for PREP participants from 20 days of service to 24 days last year, 22 PREP participants opted not to continue, Finance Director Kevin Smith told the board.

Bagby and McBride agreed that the board should determine if it is committed to maintaining PREP into the future, so that current teachers know what to expect and don’t feel the need to worry about becoming victims of a bait-and-switch plan.

Superintendent Pat Russo told the board that during normal economic times, he wouldn’t have sought to trim the program.

“But ladies and gentlemen, these are not normal times,” Russo said. “We have cut 100 teaching positions, we have cut 62 Central Office positions, we have made significant reductions of over $30 million in this school division.

“When I spoke to some of these PREP individuals, the biggest thing they said was, ‘Please keep something that would maintain the integrity of the program.’”
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Democrat VanValkenburg kicks off Gen. Assembly campaign


Senior students at Glen Allen High School will get a personal touch when studying elections with their AP government teacher.

That teacher, Schuyler VanValkenburg, recently announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the 72nd District seat in the House of Delegates. If he earns the nomination, he will run against Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, who has been unopposed for 10 years.

VanValkenburg, a 2004 University of Richmond alumnus who majored in history, is running for office for the first time. Although he has lived in Richmond since he began his undergraduate studies, aside from one year spent in Seattle, he said he never felt it was his time to run. > Read more.

Construction begins on JA Finance Park at Libbie Mill


School and business leaders from around the region, including (pictured, from left) Simon Hodges of Dominion Resources, Daphne Swanso(president of Junior Achievement of Central Virginia) and Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas, gathered at Libbie Mill Library Feb. 23 for the Junior Achievement Finance Park construction kickoff. > Read more.

Assembly poised to OK state budget on Friday


Finishing a day early, House and Senate negotiators agreed on a budget Wednesday that includes employee pay raises and more money for K-12 education and mental health.

The negotiators presented their budget to their fellow lawmakers in time for the required 48-hour review, which could be completed by Friday night with a chance to adjourn their 2017 session before Saturday’s target date.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate praised the spending plan’s conservative fiscal policies. > Read more.

Section of Charles City Road to close beginning Feb. 26


A section of Charles City Road, from Lewis Road to South Airport Drive, will be closed beginning Sunday, Feb. 26 as part of a project to widen and improve the road.

The Henrico County Department of Public Works expects the closure to last for a few weeks.

Westbound traffic on Charles City will be detoured around the work zone by way of South Airport, Seven Hills Boulevard and Laburnum Avenue. > Read more.

ACLU urges McAuliffe to veto anti-immigration bills


Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union called on Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday to veto Republican-backed legislation banning local governments in Virginia from designating themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. They also said they plan to fight federal and state policies that they believe violate immigrants’ rights.

At a news conference, representatives of the ACLU of Virginia and other civil rights organizations criticized anti-immigrant measures passed by the General Assembly. They also condemned the recent spike in deportation raids on immigrant communities in Virginia by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as President Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries. > Read more.
Community

Villa’s Flagler Housing wins national NAEH award


St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.

Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.

RIR’s Christmas tree lighting rescheduled for Dec. 12


Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.

Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.
Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Given the warm weather lately, Saturday’s RVA Polar Plunge Winter Fest, benefiting Special Olympics Virginia, might actually be enjoyable! Other weekend events you’re sure to enjoy include the 14th annual Richmond Kids Expo at the Richmond Raceway Complex, the Richmond Symphony and The Taters in concert at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, and the Richmond Ballet Minds in Motion Team XXL performing at the Henrico Theatre. This is also the last weekend to check out HATTheatre’s production of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

 

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