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2013-03-06 / News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS

Michael Buettner

Matoaca band teacher acquitted of assault charge

A Matoaca Middle School music teacher was acquitted last week by a county judge of a charge that he assaulted a student.

Chesterfield County Public Schools spokesman Shawn Smith issued a statement that said the school division “will work directly” with band teacher Michael S. Harrah “to complete the administrative process and transition him back to the classroom” after the acquittal.

Harrah, the band director at Matoaca Middle, was charged with misdemeanor assault on Jan. 15. Initial reports of the incident indicated that Harrah, 50, had “struck” an 11-year-old student. Police later said Harrah had inadvertently touched the boy’s face while trying to get his attention.

Students who witnessed the incident testified at the trial last week that Harrah playfully pretended to slap the 11-year-old while making a “sound effect.”

Students rallied to Harrah’s defense, creating petitions that were circulated locally and posted online, eventually obtaining more than 450 signatures.

The charge against Harrah was filed with a county magistrate by the parents of the student involved and was not initiated by the school system or county police.

Teacher pay raise less than 1 percent, union leader says

Chesterfield County teachers will receive a 6 percent raise starting January 2014, but most of it will be eaten up by mandatory contributions to retirement and increased taxes, according to Frank Cardella, president of the county teachers’ union known as the Chesterfield Education Association or CEA.

Last week’s adoption by the School Board of a $533.9 million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year included a raise for all full- and part-time employees of 2 percent. Salaries will be increased next January by another 4 percent to offset the amount of money school employees are required to contribute to the Virginia Retirement System.

Since taxes will be calculated based on the 6 percent – even though 4 percent goes into retirement funds rather than salary – the heavier obligation will cut into teachers’ take-home pay, Cardella said.

In addition, the raises will go into effect not in July – the start of the 2013-14 fiscal year – but in January, which means that teachers will get the increase for only half of the fiscal year, Cardella said. When all of that is taken into consideration, he said, “the effective raise [in take-home pay] we’re going to get is .72 percent. It’s not even a full percent.”

Before last week’s meeting, Superintendent Marcus Newsome told school employees in a written communique that “changes in the approved state budget and associated financial constraints forced us to delay implementation of the salary increase until January 2014.”

During the meeting, the School Board also approved its fiscal year 2014-18 $347.7 million capital improvement plan, which calls for major renovations at 10 schools and construction of one new elementary school.

The improvements are aimed at bringing older, deteriorating and less adequate school buildings up to the same level as newer schools.

Appeals court rejects psychic’s claims against county

A federal appeals court has rejected a Chesterfield woman’s claim that the county violated her Constitutional rights by requiring her to move her psychic counseling office.

The Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled last week that the county did not violate the First Amendment rights of Patricia Moore-King by classifying her business as “fortune telling” and applying existing zoning regulations to it.

Moore-King – who practices under the name Psychic Sophie – was operating from an office on Mall Drive near Chesterfield Towne Center when she was told by county officials in 2009 that she needed to obtain a business license.

In addition, she was told she would have to move her practice to a location in a C-5 general business district, the same type of zoning that applies to adult businesses, bail bondsmen and pawnbrokers.

Moore-King sued the county, claiming that its actions violated her First Amendment rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion. In 2011, a federal district court dismissed Moore-King’s lawsuit, and she subsequently appealed.

In its opinion last week, the appeals court found that Moore-King’s free-speech rights were not violated because the county’s regulations fall within recognized limitations on professional speech; that her religious rights were not violated because her “beliefs more closely resemble personal and philosophical choices consistent with a way of life, not deep religious convictions shared by an organized group deserving of constitutional solicitude.”

Newcomers’ group meets next week

The New Virginians, a club for women new to the Richmond area in the last two years, will hold its monthly luncheon on Wednesday, March 13, 11:30 a.m. at Jefferson Lakeside Country Club, 1700 Lakeside Ave., Richmond. The cost is $25 for club members and their guests. Reservations are requested by noon on March 6. Email membership@thenewva.org.

Free seminars look at mediation

CMG Foundation, a local nonprofit mediation center, will celebrate Mediation Month in March with a number of free in-house seminars on mediation topics aimed at businesses and civic groups. Topics will include:

• Dispute Resolution: Strategic Solutions for Businesses

• Domestic Violence in the Workplace

• Families of the Future: Co-parenting and Blended Families

• Dispute Resolution for the LGBT Community

• Dispute Resolution for Senior and Aging Issues

For more details or to schedule a free seminar for your group, call 254-2664 or visit www.cmg-foundation.org.

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