Despite assurances from leaders of the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) that the organization’s advocacy efforts are bipartisan, the Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, August 17 work session unanimously voted again to table action on whether to remain a VSBA member.
Following a motion to table three related VSBA items made by School Board member Melanie Salins, with a second by Board Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, the members voted 5-0 to wait until the board’s September 17 meeting to decide on VSBA membership for 2022-2023; to select a delegate and alternate delegate to the annual 2022 VSBA convention; and to renew the VSBA Policy Services Agreement for the upcoming school year.
Board members who voted along with Rinaldi and Salins included School Board Chair Kristen Pence and board members Antoinette Funk and Andrea Lo.
The vote followed a roughly 45-minute presentation from VSBA President Teddy Martin II, who is also a school board member from Henry County, Va., and VSBA President-Elect David Woodard, who has served on the Tazewell County (Va.) School Board since 2008.
Via Zoom, the VSBA leaders answered pre-submitted questions to provide clarity on any concerns the Warren County School Board has about remaining a member of VSBA. They also responded to questions presented during the board’s meeting.
The only board member who asked questions was Salins, the loudest voice on the board against the Warren County School Board remaining a VSBA member, claiming it is a partisan organization that should not receive money from Warren County, Va., taxpayers for its left-leaning political lobbying efforts. VSBA’s Martin explained, however, that the VSBA is divided into regions and each locality — or school board in the state — gets one vote when it comes to adopting new policies, for example.
“Each locality has the exact same amount of say whether it’s in Tazewell County or Fairfax County,” said Martin, who added that the VSBA has voted to oppose proposed policies from members of both political parties. “We work with both Democrats and Republicans in a bipartisan way,” he said.
Once the VSBA does adopt policies, school boards across the state then may choose to fully adopt the same policies in full or in part, amend them, or reject them, Woodard explained.
“We value one thing,” said Woodard, “we value every member of the VSBA. We realize a lot of times that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach and answer that makes everybody happy all of the time. We don’t lean in one direction or the other.”
Woodard also said that even though the Warren County School Board has already paid its dues to be a VSBA member for 2022-2023, if the board decides that it no longer wants to be a member, “we’re not… trying to make you stay; we want you to stay but we’ll be happy to send that check back.”
“We’re not about forcing anybody to do anything,” added Martin.
Salins said she still has unanswered questions that aren’t being addressed by VSBA, some of which she said have come from parents of students in Warren County Public Schools (WCPS).
Martin said the VSBA would provide School Board members with answers as soon as possible. School Board Chair Kristen Pence — deciding that the board had taken up enough of the VSBA leaders’ time, and in an effort to move the work session forward after almost an hour and a half — said board members would submit any new or unanswered questions in writing to the VSBA.
Then, prior to the board’s vote on its three VSBA-related action agenda items, Pence asked if anyone in the audience wanted to speak about the items. More than a dozen people addressed the Warren County School Board’s membership in the VSBA. Members of the Warren County Board of Supervisors also attended the board’s meeting but did not speak.
One anti-VSBA-membership speaker, for example, said “it’s been proven that VSBA is partisan and pushes democratic policies” and Warren County therefore shouldn’t receive legal services from the VSBA because they are “slanted.” He also called the information provided by VSBA’s Martin and Woodard “propaganda.”
Bruce White, a Warren County resident since 2005 who moved to the area after retiring from working in special education in another state, said that during his years in education, he has found that state school boards associations “offer very valuable services” to their school board members and to their educators.
“I think you would be very hard pressed — especially given that the [WCPS] budget has not been fully funded at this point — to get the same benefits that are offered by VSBA… for the membership fee that you’re paying,” White told School Board members, referring to this year’s annual cost of $9,521.19. “So, I would encourage you to continue your membership with VSBA.”
Front Royal, Va., resident Mark Egger spoke against both the School Board retaining its VSBA membership and renewing its VSBA Policy Services Agreement, saying to board members “ya’all are too stupid to read the English” in whatever laws are enacted by the Virginia General Assembly and then decide how to abide by them rather than paying VSBA to provide advice. “I guess it’s rocket science; I’m not sure,” he said.
A South River District resident said the VSBA is not a lobbying group for liberal causes. “If they were a left-wing lobbying organization,” she said, “why would every school board in Virginia be a member? If the organization lobbies — and it does — it does so apolitically on behalf of public schools for educational programs that we believe in because their opinions are based on our input.”
(above) also pointed out — as he did during the School Board’s August 3 regular meeting when the board first voted to table action on the same VSBA-related items — that the VSBA provides school boards with numerous services, including:
• A strong lobbying and advocacy voice locally, statewide, and nationally;
• Publications, daily news, webinars, podcasts, virtual meetings and trainings, and regular updates about important education issues;
• High-quality conferences, webinars and meetings, including one of the largest annual education conventions in Virginia;
• School board development and training programs on a variety of topics;
• Access to policy services that meet the specific needs of school board members; and
• Professionals to assist with superintendent searches, communications and public relations, legal concerns, and other school board needs.
Pence said the option to hire an attorney to handle for the School Board what the VSBA provides would cost an estimated $50,000 for the first year. Salins countered that the VSBA could keep increasing its fees.
Additionally, Salins called the VSBA “a divisive group” that’s pitting community members against each other and the only way to heal is to leave the group. In making her motion to table the three VSBA-related action items, she said the board needs to “take its time on this and really explore other options.”
The vote to table the items means that the VSBA issues will be revisited again for potential action at the School Board’s September 21 meeting.
Town officials praise Energy Services staff for restoring power during Saturday’s storm
The aftermath of Hurricane Ian, which brought strong winds and heavy rain to the commonwealth, wreaked havoc on some Front Royal residents over the weekend.
Mary Ellen Lynn, Interim Director of Energy Services, said Monday that about 1,500 homes and businesses experienced a loss of power twice on Saturday, Oct. 1, following two large power outages after the Sprint Substation lost its power supply.
Residents in the Kendrick area and the south side of town experienced a complete loss of power at approximately 3:30 am and then again at 10:15 pm.
Town crews quickly assessed that there were transmission line issues running through Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s territory that fed into the substation. Through unfavorable weather conditions, crews worked tirelessly to conduct load-switching and restore power as safely and quickly as possible.
All customers had power restored within three hours, 22 minutes, during the first outage and within four hours, 21 minutes, during the second.
Officials expressed gratitude to the Town Energy Services team, dispatch officers, the Front Royal Police Department (FRPD), and the linemen, who worked to restore power and keep the community safe during the storm.
In a media release Monday, Lynn stated that the Energy Services Department strives to keep the community as updated as possible in real-time but emphasized that the safety of crews comes first.
“There may be delays in updates when these rare, large-scale events occur, but know that our goal is to always keep your lights on and power outages to a minimum. We assure you that if there’s a lag in communication, it’s simply because we are diligently working to address the issue,” Lynn said.
Interim Town Manager Kathleen Leidich praised the team Monday, stating, “I would like to commend our Line Crew for their hard work and dedication through the cold, wet & dangerous conditions they had to face.”
To report an outage during business hours, contact the department at 540-635-3027. For after-hours outages, call the non-emergency number of the FRPD, 540-635-2111.
Winchester City Manager appoints new Police Chief
Winchester City Manager Dan Hoffman has selected Deputy Chief Amanda Behan as Winchester’s new and first female Police Chief in the department’s 200-year history. DC Behan has been a dedicated member of the Winchester Police Department for over 20 years, climbing the ranks from recruit in 2001 to Deputy Chief in 2021.
“Amanda has been a part of the Winchester community and police department as a public servant, volunteer, mentor, change agent, role model, and leader. Her skills and qualifications are widely known, and she has my full faith and confidence in this new role of protecting the safety and wellbeing of our officers, staff, and city,” stated Mr. Hoffman.
DC Behan has a master’s degree in Executive Leadership from Liberty University, and throughout her career with the Winchester Police Department, she has served many roles. Her accomplishments include implementing officer fitness standards, significantly expanding community outreach activities, redeveloping departmental policies, and acquiring the department’s first therapy canine.
“I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and want to thank my husband, children, and everyone who has supported me throughout this journey,” DC Behan said. “It is my passion for our community and the men and women who protect and serve it gives me this great honor to lead the Winchester Police Department. I will have an outstanding team and look forward to our future together.
In a recent administrative reorganization, the Police Chief vacancy was created when Chief John Piper was promoted to Deputy City Manager, overseeing all public safety divisions. DC Behan’s swearing-in ceremony will occur on October 21 at 2 pm during the Department’s scheduled promotion ceremony at the Jim Barnett Park Rec Center.
Valley Health confronts lingering challenges of COVID-19
Like health systems nationwide, Valley Health is facing financial challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. While social restrictions have eased considerably, and serious illness and death rates are down, the lasting impacts are still significant in the region’s nonprofit health system.
“I’m so proud of our team for their extraordinary dedication to care for the community and each other during this public health crisis,” said Valley Health President and CEO Mark Nantz. “We’ve truly lived our values of compassion, integrity, collaboration, courage, innovation, and excellence and have been a steadfast health resource for our region. Despite our best efforts, however, we face unprecedented financial challenges as the effects and aftereffects of the pandemic continue to take their toll. Since 2020, Valley Health has seen an overall drop in health care utilization, sicker patients due to deferred care, staffing shortages, and higher costs of goods and services.”
Recent reports from the American Hospital Association (AHA) examine the intense financial pressures facing hospitals and health systems:
• One study predicts losses in the billions of dollars this year for U.S. hospitals, with margins at least one-third lower than pre-pandemic levels and more than half of the nation’s hospitals operating in the red.
• A record number of rural hospitals closed their doors in 2020; those remaining face unique financial and workforce pressures moving forward.
• Deferred care during the pandemic has led to increased patient acuity in America’s hospitals, which means hospitalized patients are sicker and more costly to treat.
• In an April report, the AHA looked at increased costs driven by a spike in labor costs of about 20% over the last two years.
Left unaddressed, these financial challenges can jeopardize patients’ access to essential health care services. “Valley Health is not in danger of closing its doors,” Nantz said. “But the pandemic and its aftereffects have continued to create financial challenges for our organization.”
Like every health system across the nation, Valley Health experienced high turnover rates among a COVID-weary staff and national nursing shortages, leaving more than 800 open positions across the organization and driving labor costs to an all-time high.
Valley Health has secured $126 million to address its financial challenges through assistance programs such as the federal CARES Act, the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Were it not for that assistance over the last two and a half years, Valley Health would have experienced operating losses in excess of $100 million.
“COVID-19 forced us to curtail or temporarily discontinue many of the services we budget and staff for across our system,” explained Nantz. “Federal funds helped partially offset revenue loss associated with the pandemic and increased overhead costs due to supply chain issues and skyrocketing costs of supplemental staff. But that support has dried up, and we have not yet returned to our pre-pandemic levels of diagnostic testing, wellness care and screenings, and elective surgeries.”
With no prospects for further government assistance, the health system has been taking steps, including:
1. Investing in training, retaining the best healthcare workforce, and decreasing reliance on agency staff.
2. Assuring health insurers are paying fairly, with rate increases that reflect the rising cost of care, especially as insurance companies experience record profits while healthcare systems are experiencing record losses. Valley Health cannot do business with organizations that will not compensate fairly for services provided.
3. Reviewing and evaluating all Valley Health programs and services to ensure the best stewardship of community healthcare dollars and deploying caregivers to the most necessary roles.
“We are methodically assessing all parts of our organization, re-evaluating how, where and when we provide services, and exploring new ways to deploy our staffing so that we can continue to be our region’s care provider and employer of choice well into the future,” said Nantz.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for October 3 – 7, 2022
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.
No lane closures were reported.
No lane closures were reported.
Route 55 (John Marshall Highway) – Flagger traffic control between Front Royal town limits and Route 79 (Apple Mountain Road) for tree removal operations, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday.
No lane closures were reported.
Missing and endangered person, located by FCSO Bloodhound ‘Bleu”
On September 30, 2022, Deputies responded to the area of Norwich Court in Stephens City for a missing person. A son had reported that his mother, age 74, had left their residence while he was on a Zoom call for his work. The son told the Deputies that his mother was not very mobile and didn’t think she could walk far from the residence. Deputies checked the residence to ensure she was not hiding in the residence, as some people have a tendency to do when having mental health issues.
The missing lady and her son had visited a nursing facility the previous day for the mother and had plans to visit another facility that day. The mother suffers from severe depression and anxiety.
A neighbor who lived on Hayvenhurst Drive, Stephens City, stated that “she saw an elderly woman earlier, walking towards Town Run Lane like she was on a mission.”
Deputy Dan Clark and Frederick County Bloodhound “Bleu” checked out the area of Town Run Lane where Bleu located the lady lying in a brushy thicket in the 400 block of Town Run Lane. The woman had taken numerous prescription medications to do bodily harm to herself. Stephens City Fire and Rescue transported the victim to the Winchester Medical Center for treatment.
It is believed that without Bloodhound Bleu’s assistance in locating this victim when he did, the outcome would have been considerably different.
According to Sheriff Lenny Millholland, if any residents of Frederick County have family members with Dementia, Alzheimer’s, or a medical condition that causes them to wander or get away from care, they can contact the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. Information can be provided about Project Lifesaver and what can be done to help the families.
K-9 Frederick’s Copper “Bleu” Tracker-BLEU is a Bloodhound. His duties include tracking/trailing bad guys and locating missing people, whether children or the elderly and mental patients who walk off or run away on foot.
Bleu serves the citizens of Frederick County, Virginia, and any other jurisdictions that request his services.
Education quality and positive learning enviroment improve in Warren County Public Schools
Last week, the Virginia Department of Education released the 2022 accreditation ratings and school quality indicator data. Seven schools were accredited, and two schools—E. Wilson Morrison Elementary and Skyline Middle—were accredited with conditions.
Dr. Chris Ballenger, Superintendent of Warren County Public Schools, would like to recognize its teachers, staff, and administrators for their dedication to providing students with quality education and a positive learning environment throughout the 2021-2022 school year.
The impact of the pandemic on student learning remains apparent. However, one thing is certain, teachers and administrators have worked hard, which was reflected in the growth seen in last year’s Standards of Learning data. Teachers’ commitment to identify learning gaps and implement lessons to help close those gaps was a big ask, and teachers delivered. The support provided to improve achievement and create a positive learning environment was especially important given the changes to the instructional environment students experienced due to the pandemic. The 2021-2022 school year marked the return to full-time instruction for all K-12 students since March 2020.
The data released by the VDOE reflects that Warren County students improved in reading, mathematics, and science compared to the 2020-2021 data. The work to meet state accountability indicators and ensure students are performing at grade-level proficiency continues this school year. Teachers and staff engage in professional development, implement evidence-based practices in their classrooms, and focus on student learning outcomes.
Warren County Public Schools has a tremendous staff, and as a community, we should be grateful to have such dedicated educators working with students daily.
Virginia’s School Quality Profiles provide information about student achievement, college and career readiness, program completion, school safety, teacher quality, and other topics of interest to parents and the general public. Please visit the VDOE’s School Quality Profile website for more information on school accreditation ratings and quality indicator data.
- A.S. Rhodes Elementary –ACCREDITED
- E. Wilson Morrison Elementary – ACCREDITED WITH CONDITIONS
- Hilda J. Barbour Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Ressie Jeffries Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Skyline High – ACCREDITED
- Skyline Middle – ACCREDITED WITH CONDITIONS
- Warren County High – ACCREDITED
- Warren County Middle – ACCREDITED