Henrico County VA
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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.’”


Community

Garden tails

The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.

Western Henrico Rotary helps fund Midwives For Haiti Jeep


Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.

The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Take in a show at several locations this weekend! West End Comedy will provide laughs at HATTheatre; the production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” will close Sunday; and the youth theatre company CharacterWorks will present “Footloose” at The Steward School. Another show perfect for the kids – “Despicable Me 2” is playing at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center tonight. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Is there an Echo in here?

‘Earth to Echo’ aims to become this generation’s ‘ET’
It’s no secret that all found-footage genre movies are the same. Grab a couple of characters, give one of them a camera, and expose them to something supernatural that’s content to lurk just off-screen until the last five minutes. Everything else will just fall into place.

But that formula isn’t particularly family friendly, if only because that thing waiting a few feet to the left of the cast is usually plotting their violent doom.

That’s what sets Earth to Echo apart from the pack. It, too, follows a group of characters armed with a camera and a tendency to encounter unknown life forms. But all those familiar parts have been rearranged just enough to make it suitable for a much younger audience. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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Tuckahoe Library, 1901 Starling Dr., will host the workshop “DIY Kitchen Cosmetics” at 2 p.m. Make your own moisturizing sugar scrub, tasty lip gloss and more using simple household ingredients.… Full text

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