During Fall Farm Days’ Nature Weekend, get in touch with nature and explore a managed landscape rich in biodiversity. Discover native flora and fauna, learn the craft of beekeeping, the importance of various pollinators and much more!
In addition to the nature-themed programs, we also offer Mount Bleak House tours, hearth cooking and blacksmith demonstrations, a children’s play area, and live music.
Supervisors fund school division 75%, clear way for WCPS employee bonuses
The Warren County Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted unanimously on Tuesday, June 28 to approve the fiscal year 2021-2022 budget category transfer request that will allow employees of Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) to receive a one-time bonus for their extra efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic over the last school year.
“I am thankful to say we are moving forward with well-deserved bonuses for our teachers and staff,” Warren County School Board Chair Kristen Pence told the Royal Examiner today. “We truly appreciate all of the ways they went above and beyond for our kids and each other during the 2021-22 school year.”
WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger also said he’s “pleased that the BOS has allowed for the transfer of funds so that the bonus to all employees can be made.”
The School Board at its May 18 work session unanimously voted to give all full-time employees (as of May 31) a one-time net bonus of $1,500 and all part-time employees a one-time net bonus of $750 to acknowledge their hard work and efforts during the pandemic-impacted 2021-2022 school year. The money to pay for the bonuses will come from the board’s fiscal year (FY) 2021-2022 budget using unspent funds left over from unfilled positions, mid-year turnover, new employees entering on a lower pay scale, etc.
The School Board is categorically funded so had to request that the BOS allow the transfer of funds between categories to allow payment of the bonuses to all employees — including administrators, teachers, instructional assistants, nurses, bus drivers, and others.
But when the School Board took its request to the Supervisors at the June 7 BOS meeting, the request to transfer the funds was tabled and the School Board was asked to return to the June 14 BOS work session, where the request again got delayed.
The item was on the BOS June 28 agenda as an Unfinished Business item and several speakers had bones to pick with the Supervisors about it.
Three teachers from Warren County High School and two members of the Warren County School Board on Tuesday urged the BOS to ensure school division staff receive proposed bonuses already approved by the School Board, and to fully fund the division as requested by the School Board.
During the first public comment portion of the BOS meeting, teachers earnestly requested that the BOS grant the School Board’s proposed bonuses for WCPS staff who continued working during the COVID-19 pandemic, stepping in to fill teaching vacancies and to maintain an effective and successful learning environment for students.
“I am nothing short of appalled by the actions of this board with respect to the teacher bonus currently on the table,” said Warren County Education Association President of Secondary Education Amy Flora, who is a math teacher at Warren County High School and a local resident.
“First, let’s stop calling it a bonus,” Flora told the BOS. “In reality, it is payment for uncompensated work with funds that are already available. The money in question is not a bonus. We earned it.”
Flora also said it was wrong for the BOS to try and tie the bonuses to their contracts for next year. “And should you deny this motion, do you think that word will not spread? Do you believe educators are not already watching and talking? Do you think your actions thus far have in any way bolstered the reputation of Warren County to any prospective or any current school employee?” she asked the Supervisors.
Due to the lack of adequate support both nationally and in Warren County, Flora said WCPS will continue to lose teachers “at an alarming rate.” She urged the BOS to support the teachers, staff, and superintendent of WCPS.
“Should you choose not to,” Flora added, “then you do not need to question why there are over 70 vacancies yet to be filled. In fact, you need not question why there are over 70 vacancies to begin with.”
Flora also said that if Warren County does not quickly and dramatically change the way it deals with the education system and begin making it a true priority, then she has “no doubt that a crippling staffing crisis will be inevitable.”
Two of her colleagues at Warren County High School and three other WCPS elementary school teachers echoed those sentiments, with one of them pointing out that Warren County is already known as “a teacher training ground for other districts.”
During Tuesday night’s BOS meeting, the Supervisors finally relented, though they still raised some of their own fiscal concerns, and essentially realized the bonuses were “all-or-nothing” — as Supervisor Vicky Cook called them — that depended on their approval.
BOS Chair Cheryl Cullers and Supervisors Cook, Jay Butler, Walt Mabe, and Delores Oates were present, and all voted to allow the transfer of funds as requested by the School Board.
“You now have your bonuses,” Cullers told the audience following the 5-0 vote and everyone clapped and cheered.
Warren County School Board Chair Pence, who is also a resident and mom of a rising 1st grader in WCPS, raised concerns with the Supervisors about a last-minute agenda addition by the BOS at around 3 p.m. on Tuesday to discuss the proposed fiscal year 2022-2023 budget for WCPS, as well as changes the BOS included as potential motions: either a $750,000 cut or a $3.5 million cut to the school division’s proposed budget.
Concerned about the current 70 unfilled teaching positions facing WCPS for the upcoming school year, as well as the division’s inability to retain teachers, Pence stressed that the School Board and WCPS Central Office staff worked diligently on creating a budget to wisely use funds.
Cutting $750,000 from the WCPS budget “would be very difficult for us; $3.5 million would be catastrophic,” Pence told the BOS, noting that likely more WCPS staff would be lost, as would any potential salary raises or scale adjustments for bus drivers and maintenance workers.
“I urge you to please reconsider these last-minute changes,” said Pence. “I was not aware [of the agenda changes], and I would have loved to talk to each of you prior to this evening’s meeting. It was quite a shock to see that.”
And the BOS “having to even consider bonuses for our teachers is a joke,” Besecker added. “It should be a no-brainer.”
Pence pointed out that WCPS will not be able to carry out its plans without full funding from the BOS, which makes up a significant amount of the overall WCPS budget. And she said the BOS already said WCPS would be level-funded, “so we’re not asking for additional funds from Warren County… we’re just asking you to accept the budget that we have adopted as our School Board.”
Antoinette Funk, also a Warren County School Board member and an educator who has lived locally for 25 years, agreed with Pence that the BOS should better support WCPS and the education system. “Education is a powerful part of our community, and we have to support it”, said Funk. “We need to remain a community that continues to evolve.”
In the end, the BOS decided to go with another option offered by the County Administrator to categorically fund the school division’s proposed operating budget for the upcoming school year at 75 percent; to fully fund the WCPS capital improvements plan; and accepted the County’s budget as presented, according to Supervisor Oates’ motion.
Supervisor Cook, prior to the decision, stated that she did not want to borrow money to pay for the capital improvements requested by WCPS. “It’s not fiscally responsible,” Cook said, adding that the County is currently in debt for over $100 million. “And it’s because we keep borrowing… with most of it going to school capital improvements,” though Cook didn’t know the actual ratio.
Oates concurred, saying that “these bonuses” and capital improvements for WCPS “are not sustainable.”
“We can’t keep doing this,” said Oates, adding that the BOS will sit down with the liaison committee “and try to work through this.”
In emails to the Royal Examiner on Wednesday, both Pence and Ballenger reacted to the BOS decision, adding that they remain hopeful for improved communication between their boards.
“I was shocked by the two options for the budget proposal. I was not contacted about the two proposals and there were no questions regarding how this would adversely affect the school division,” Ballenger wrote. “I’m glad we now have the opportunity to talk about this budget in more detail and discuss how this will impact the school system so that a sound decision can be made concerning the division’s FY23 budget.”
Wrote Pence: “While I cannot deny the surprise and disappointment I felt regarding the FY23 budget discussion and action, I look forward to the conversations that lie ahead between the School Board and Board of Supervisors budget subcommittee.
“As I previously mentioned, the School Board’s proposed FY23 budget offers amazing opportunities for WCPS and my hope is that by working together with the BOS it will gain full support,” Pence wrote.
Celebrate smart, safe & sober this July 4 holiday weekend
Independence Day traditions include backyard barbecues, festivals, family gatherings and fireworks. To keep all those living, working, visiting and traveling through Virginia safe during the extended holiday weekend, the Virginia State Police is encouraging Virginians to play it smart and plan ahead to ensure everyone on the road is safe and sober.
“Summer days are filled with celebrations, vacations, outdoor festivals and backyard cookouts, but no matter where your plans take you, please make safety your priority,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “With fatal traffic crashes on pace this year to mimic last year’s record number, I urge all Virginians to buckle up, eliminate distractions and never drive buzzed, drunk or under the influence. Together we can make this Independence Day the safest on record!”
If planning to drink alcohol at a July 4 function, plan ahead and arrange a designated driver, use a rideshare service or taxi, or utilize public transportation to be certain you get home safely. Party hosts are encouraged to serve non-alcoholic beverage options, and to help prevent any guests from drinking and driving home from their event.
As part of its ongoing efforts to increase safety and reduce traffic fatalities on Virginia’s highways during the coming holiday weekend, Virginia State Police will increase patrols from 12:01 a.m. Friday (July 1, 2022) through midnight Monday (July 4, 2022) as part of the Operation Crash Awareness Reduction Effort (C.A.R.E.). Operation C.A.R.E. is a state-sponsored, national program intended to reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries due to impaired driving, speed and failing to wear a seat belt.
During last year’s four-day Independence Day Operation C.A.R.E initiative, there were 12 traffic deaths on Virginia highways. Virginia troopers arrested 61 drivers operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, cited 4,025 speeders and 1,434 reckless drivers, and issued 510 citations to individuals for failing to obey the law and buckle up. Troopers also assisted 1,550 disabled/stranded motorists.
With increased holiday patrols, Virginia State Police also reminds drivers of Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to move over when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road. If unable to move over, then drivers are required to cautiously pass the emergency vehicle. The law also applies to workers in vehicles equipped with amber lights.
Fun summer finance lessons for the kids
Dread it. Run from it. Summer arrives all the same. Kids once stuck in school now have some weeks to unwind. While summer was initially set aside so kids could help with farming, few get behind the plow these days. Children definitely deserve some R&R, but the summer offers a great opportunity to build life skills, like finance and budgeting, as well.
Sound like a drag? Approached wrong, it could be. However, finance can be fun and help prepare kids for adulthood. Heading off for a vacation? Instead of buying mementos on-demand, give your children a fixed souvenir budget upfront. You might also set monthly entertainment budgets to cover trips to the movies, video games, participating in sports leagues, and whatever else.
A survey by Braun Research found that just 28 percent of children do chores around the house. If your kids don’t have an allowance and chores, set them up. Talk with them about what they can do around the house. Sure, it’s often quicker to unload the dishwasher or fold the laundry yourself. Yet the end goal isn’t simply cups in cupboards, but teaching your children the value of earning money.
Some families let kids choose what’s for dinner on certain nights. Why not take things a step further? Instead of simply selecting the meal, you could provide a grocery budget so they can buy the ingredients needed for their cuisine of choice. Then, together, you can cook dinner.
Have older teens? Consider a finance movie night. Yes, really, finance movies. Those are a thing, and some of them are awesome. Two of the best are Margin Call and The Big Short. Both cover the 2008 financial crisis and make complex financial topics accessible. Beware that some, like Wolf of Wall Street, push the upper bounds of R ratings.
A block party for the Fourth
Why not celebrate Independence Day in your own neighborhood by holding a Fourth of July block party? Here are a few fun, safe event ideas for folks of all ages.
• Mini parade. Host a kid-sized procession on your street with decorated bikes, skateboard floats, and roller skaters in costume. Amplify the holiday spirit with noisemakers and toy musical instruments. Make sure you get permission from your municipal authority to close the street to vehicular traffic.
• Homemade concert. Showcase the talent in your community with a lineup of karaoke divas, dad bands, closet stand-up comics, and sock puppet masters. Charge a modest admission fee and donate the proceeds to a local charity.
• Outdoor film screening. Choose family-friendly patriotic classics such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Yankee Doodle Dandy. If you’re looking for something more contemporary, try The Sand Lot.
• Pet-friendly light show. If town by-laws or your pets’ sensitive ears prohibit fireworks, use sparklers or glow sticks to light up the night. A hot dog eating contest around a backyard fire pit makes a fun after-dark spectacle.
Get creative, let loose, and have fun this Independence Day.
3 ways to reduce water consumption on the farm
Water conservation has always been a concern for farmers in drought-prone regions. However, the worsening impacts of climate change have exacerbated the problem worldwide. Here are three ways to reduce water consumption on your farm.
1. Soil management
Incorporating proper soil management techniques can drastically conserve water on your farm. For example, practicing zero tilling, using mulch, and planting cover crops can all help the soil retain more moisture.
2. Water recycling
Many parts of North America see a lot of rain in the springtime, which can cause significant water drainage from fields. A drainage water recycling system will capture this excess water in a pond or reservoir. The system will store it temporarily until it’s needed to water crops later in the growing season.
3. Drip irrigation
If you already irrigate your crops, you may want to consider investing in drip irrigation. These systems reduce runoff and evaporation, saving up to 80 percent more water than traditional spray systems. This type of watering allows moisture to penetrate deeply into the soil, leading to better growth.
Ultimately, incorporating water conservation into your agricultural practices is one of the most critical tools available to ensure a safe and reliable food supply.
Are you using too much drinking water?
If you’ve decided to adopt environmentally responsible practices at home, you may need to adjust your purchasing and energy consumption habits. However, have you considered how you use your drinking water? Here’s what you need to know.
Water flows from the faucet on demand, giving you the sense that it’s an infinite resource. But wastewater treatment is costly, both economically and environmentally. Eliminate some of the following bad habits to reduce your daily water consumption.
• Cooking vegetables in a whole pot of water rather than steam cooking
• Waiting for the tap water to run cold before filling your glass
• Letting the water run while brushing your teeth or shaving
• Using tap water to clean the yard
• Taking frequent baths or long showers
• Flushing with just a little urine in the toilet
• Using drinking water on your trees, flower beds, and vegetable garden
There are many strategies to reduce your water consumption. Use a rainwater collection system to reduce tap water usage in your garden. In addition to limiting your shower time, you can install low-flow toilets and faucets in your bathroom. For cold drinking water, simply keep a full pitcher in the refrigerator. A front-loading washing machine is another water-saving solution.
Did you know?
Roughly 30 percent of tap water consumed by American households is used outdoors. A rainwater collection system can help you significantly reduce your tap water usage.