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

Lions Club donates backpacks to elementary school

The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club (based in western Henrico) recently donated 59 backpacks to the Westover Hills Elementary School on Jahnke Road.

Above, club members display some of the backpacks prior to their distribution. > Read more.

Glen Allen student to perform at Carnegie Hall

Thanks to a first-place win in The American Protege International Vocal Competition 2014, Glen Allen High School student Matija Tomas will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall in December.

At the first-place winners recital in Weill Hall, Matija will perform Giacomo Puccini’s opera aria, “Chi il bel sogna di doretta.” She will perform with other vocalists from around the world and have the opportunity to win other awards and scholarships.

Locally, Thomas has performed with Richmond’s renowned Glorious Christmas Nights, Christian Youth Theatre, and WEAG’s Urban Gospel Youth Choir. > Read more.

Gayton Baptist Church dedicates new outreach center


The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.

Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.

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Entertainment

The Boathouse to open at Short Pump Town Center

The Boathouse restaurant will open at Short Pump Town Center in the spring, its third location in the region.

“People have asked us to come to the West End for years,” said owner Kevin Healy. “When the opportunity arose, we knew had to jump on it.”

The new restaurant will be located in a 5,800-square-foot space under the Hyatt House Hotel at the town center and will include a large outdoor patio. > Read more.

Getting a ‘mouf’-ful

Boka Kantina exceeds its strong food truck reputation
Already a fan of Boka fare from outdoor events with the Tako Truck, I was delighted to learn of the new restaurant, and eager to see if its reputation held up after putting down brick-and-mortar roots.

Would the food lose its zest if I wasn’t enjoying it in the great outdoors? Would it seem pedestrian served from an ordinary kitchen instead of a truck?

Would the tacos be less satisfying as an antidote to normal lunch hunger – instead of being ingested to stave off desperate hunger after a long afternoon of crowds, sun, and tedious lines? > Read more.

Lakeside microbrewery beginning to take shape

Original Gravity gets the green light to move forward with relocation, expansion into larger space

A Lakeside home-brewing shop has felt the gravitational pull toward the booming craft beer scene.

Original Gravity, a shop that sells beer and wine kits for homebrewers, has just been given the green light to start work on a microbrewery.

Owner Tony Ammendolia is expanding his 1,000-square-foot shop in Lakeside Town Center to 5,000-square-foot digs a few doors down to add a brewery and expand his supplies.

Ammendolia opened the home-brew supply store in November 2011 and since then he said business has taken off.

“I think I outgrew this place in the first year,” Ammendolia said. “We’ve seen steady growth and I’ve been looking for a place to expand to move the shop to get more square footage.” > Read more.

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