ASHLAND -- A closed session meeting of the Hanover School Board scheduled for Friday, Nov. 22, could provide some finality in a lawsuit filed by the NAACP last August requesting the names of two Hanover County schools be changed.
School board chair Roger Bourassa read a statement at last week’s regular meeting that some are describing as the writing on the wall regarding a possible settlement.
The suit originally named both Hanover County and the school board as defendants, but a judge dismissed the county from the suit last month.
“The school board is now the sole defendant in this case,” Bourassa said, reading from a prepared press release that was released simultaneously.
Bourassa encouraged interested citizens to contact their school board members to express their input on the possible settlement.
Bourassa listed several factors board members are considering regarding the upcoming meeting.
Changing the names of the schools and mascots at Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School will cost about $500,000.
“If the school board decides to continue the litigation, the school board will incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and costs defending the lawsuit,” Bourassa said.
Litigation could last “a minimum of two years,” according to the news release.
Bourassa also noted that if the NAACP prevails, the school board could be responsible for “several million dollars” of NAACP legal fees.
The release did offer an ominous sign regarding maintaining the names of those schools no matter the outcome of the meeting or pending lawsuit.
“Regardless of whether the lawsuit is resolved, Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School will eventually be replaced as part of the school board’s long-term facilities planning, and they will be renamed pursuant to existing school board policy.”
That policy requires schools be named according to geographical location, and not people.
Hanover County NAACP president Robert Barnette issued the following statement regarding the upcoming meeting: “The Hanover County Chapter of the NAACP supports the Hanover County School Board’s proposal to resolve the open lawsuit quickly and efficiently and invest in a more equitable Hanover County Public Schools.”
There are no current plans or timetable regarding when those two schools might be replaced, but no land has been acquired or funds budgeted for that process.
Hanover County School Board members haven’t had a raise in 13 years, but, if the General Assembly concurs, that could change as early as January 2021.
The Commonwealth’s legislative body controls pay raises for appointed school boards, and an increase would require General Assembly approval.
School attorney Yvonne Gibney explained the current $8,000 annual income cap was passed by the legislature in 2006, and any increases would require state approval of new guidelines.
Under current state code, Hanover school board members could only consider a raise if 40 percent of their body was up for reappointment simultaneously. Since only two of the seven-member board are considered in any one year, it would be impossible for the local panel to meet those requirements.
South Anna District representative Sue Dibble said, while she appreciated the need for an increase in compensation, she could not endorse a 50 percent raise.
“Certainly I agree that a salary adjustment after all of these years is warranted,” Dibble said. “I have great concerns about a 50 percent salary adjustment for anybody.”
Dibble also said she couldn’t justify paying Planning Commission members $10,000 while school board members were receiving $12,000.
Dibble noted that the school board’s current $8,000 annual compensation includes benefits such as health insurance enrollment options, and those “perks” are not available to Planning Commission members.
She equated comparing salaries with larger and elected school boards like Chesterfield and Henrico as “apples and oranges,” and also said she was not comfortable with the lack of public input received on the subject.
Gibney noted the $12,000 figure was a cap, not a required increase. Action on any increase would require school board approval, assuming the General Assembly allows the measure.
“While I acknowledge there should be some movement, I can’t support that much of a movement,” Dibble said before voting against the measure.
Beaverdam representative John Axselle said he thought the increase was warranted and overdue. “I don’t know anyone who would stay on a job for 13 years without a raise; not saying we do it for the money, because we don’t do it for the money,” he said.
“Ms. Dibble is moving on to supervisor where she makes a heck of a lot more than we do . . . $28,000, so I don’t have a concern if we were to vote for $12,000,” he continued.
Dibble recently was elected to the Hanover County Board of Supervisors and will take office in January. She cast the only vote against the resolution.
Gibney said a resolution and a bill would be forwarded to Hanover’s legislative team, allowing them to proceed with an introduction in the upcoming year’s General Assembly.