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In the School Board’s future: renovations, opt-out forms, food service contracts



Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) on Wednesday, February 16 provided Warren County School Board members with details on a hefty plate of topics they will need to vote on in the coming months.

Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice-Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins gained information from WCPS staff about planned renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser (LFK) Elementary School and the Blue Ridge Technical Center; the accessibility of counseling opt-out forms; and proposed food service contracts, among other items.

WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger also presented the board with the division’s fiscal year 2023 proposed budget — which the Royal Examiner covered in a separate story — and in action, voted to accept the meeting agendas despite some pushback from one board member.

In the proposed budget for the school year 2022-2023, Ballenger pointed out that WCPS has identified $8,100,025 in federal funds to help support a renovation project at LFK, which is considered one of the school division’s highest-priority expenditures.

WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith explained to the School Board that the 46-year-old LFK had additions constructed in 1988 and 1993, and a parking reno occurred in 2012, but the school hasn’t had major updates since then.

Situated on 10 acres, the 60,000+ square-foot school, which serves 535 students, has an open pod classroom design concept that Smith said was popular in the 1970s, but which doesn’t serve students well today. The School Board last year approved Grimm + Parker Architecture Inc. to design the renovation and HVHC replacement and in November 2021, WCPS staff began working with the firm to develop the design and construction timeline, Smith said.

Stephen Mundt, a partner with Grimm + Parker, updated board members on the LFK schematic design, which also includes replacing all the school’s electrical systems, including fire alarms, the intercom, the PA system, and clocks. A new generator also would be installed for the building, he said, and all the lighting and technology infrastructure would be replaced.

Additionally, Mundt said a new, restricted, secure entry vestibule would be created at the front of the school to replace the open area that visitors walk into when they enter LFK. After the reno, visitors entering the school would move into a registration area for check-in with the school office where staff would then buzz them into the school.

“This is very important for the safety of the school,” said Mundt, adding that a new, electronic card system would be installed for all the doors to also enhance security.

The design also includes building real walls to provide classroom separations and to eliminate the open concept, he said, noting that all windows and glass doors would be replaced, as would all flooring and ceilings.


Stephen Mundt, a partner with Grimm + Parker, updated board members on the LFK schematic design.

ADA-compliance improvements also would be made, such as in the restrooms, and the clinic and offices for the principal and assistant principal would be relocated. The stage in the cafeteria would be removed to increase space and kitchen renovations and storage also are planned, according to the design.

The tentative schedule would be to start construction in January 2023 with a completion date set for the summer of 2024, said Mundt.

Because there’s an existing stage in the LFK gymnasium that would be updated with new steps, board member Rinaldi asked if those steps could somehow be childproofed. He said he was concerned about kids being in the gym and accidentally “flying into the steps.”

Mundt responded that the design would not make the steps “any more childproof than they are now,” but that the suggestion could be discussed with division leadership and the LFK principal.

Board member Funk was curious about why the design proposed moving school administrators from their location within the front-of-school administrative offices. Mundt said the current school leaders no longer want to be located behind the main office because they think it is less accessible to students. Instead, he said the principals want to be more connected with the student body. “It is a common design to pull them out,” Mundt said, “and this is an arrangement they were most happy with.”

More information will be made available to the School Board on the design schematic and related work bids for the project, according to Smith and Mundt.

Opt-out forms
The second work session item was a discussion on the accessibility of opt-out forms being included in the Student Code of Conduct and Yearly Review of Counseling/School Superintendent Materials.

While WCPS plans to update its website and locate all forms online, School Board Chair Pence said the conversation needed to be started about how the board wants to make the opt-out and/or permission forms accessible in print to parents and guardians — for instance, should all the forms in the Student Code of Conduct be available in the front of the handbook or in an appendix, or should supplemental pages be added.

Ballenger said that the plan is to have the new website up and running for the start of school this August, and a division committee is looking at possible vendors now.

Pence suggested that in addition to the website forms and printed forms, the division also could have information tables set up during Back-to-School nights. The idea is similar to presentations made recently by WCPS counselors on their programs and lessons during the recent open houses after the board voted to suspend the Second Step Social-Emotional Learning Program, which has since been restarted.

“That would be a perfect time for parents to review materials in person,” she said.

“We can have opt-out forms available there, too,” suggested Ballenger, who reminded everyone that parents also may request to come in and view the counseling materials at their school.

Board member Lo suggested getting some feedback from the counselors on the content of the actual opt-out form, which is in a format requesting an opt out from the entire counseling program rather than specific lessons. While several checkboxes on the form would be too overwhelming, maybe the counselors could help guide the board on finding a middle ground between the two, Lo said.

Pence asked for opt-out form samples to be available for board review in May. WCPS leaders agreed to provide them.

Sodexo contracts
Smith made two presentations on proposed food service-related contracts: the Sodexo Food Service Management Contract Renewal and Sodexo Custodial Contract Renewal for the school year 2022-2023. Board action on the renewals will be requested at a future meeting, Smith said.

WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith explained to the School Board the Sodexo contracts.

He called the division’s relationship with Sodexo, which has provided such services to WCPS for several years, “a model partnership” and said WCPS recommended both contracts be renewed for the following year.

One highlight of the foodservice management contract, Smith said, is that WCPS does not pay for meals that are not served nor items that are not used, creating a strong incentive for both WCPS, which saves money, and for Sodexo, which strives to serve high-quality meals that get eaten. Sodexo also contributes thousands of dollars in scholarships and charitable giving to the division.

The management contract would increase $11,000 over the current contract, said Smith, who noted that WCPS “can handle the increase quite easily.” Overall, he added, the increase isn’t bad considering the nation’s current 7 percent inflation rate and the increased rates being charged for lunches and breakfasts.

The proposed Sodexo Custodial Contract Renewal, which covers 56 employees, would increase 2.5 percent for the next school year, which Smith said is cheaper than if WCPS employed those 56 individuals and provided them with benefits.

The board will consider the contracts at its March 2 meeting.

Board action
Prior to the start of its work session on Wednesday, in usual business, the Warren County School Board had to vote whether to accept or modify the agenda, and then to do the same for the consent agenda.

Board member Rinaldi made a motion to accept the agenda. While awaiting a second on the motion, Salins objected, saying a personnel item was added too late and it also needed to be made available to the public for comment.

The item she was referring to was a personnel matter that was going to be discussed during a closed meeting held at the end of the work session. Personnel issues are not typically made public, according to WCPS staff.

Salins was reminded about the WCPS Policy Manual, revised as of September 1, 2021, which states:

“Agenda Preparation and Dissemination — The Superintendent and Board Chair shall prepare an Agenda for each regular meeting and work session. Except as permitted at the discretion of the Superintendent, every item to be placed on the Agenda shall be received in the Office of the Superintendent and distributed to the school board, by the close of business on the Monday (48 hours) preceding the meeting.

“The Superintendent may add an action item within 48 hours prior to the meeting with the approval or at the direction of the school board chair. Items that are critical to the operation of the school system may be added prior to the start of the meeting. This may include personnel matters, finance, or items critical to the operation of the division.

“After the initial publication of the meeting agenda, Board members will be provided a description of any changes or additions to any agenda items.”

This policy is available online HERE.

Lo then made a second to accept or modify the agenda and the board voted 4-1 to accept it with Salins voting nay.

Then the board had to vote on the consent agenda, which includes the January 5 meeting minutes; the February 16 clerk’s report; the February 16 personnel report and personnel report addendum; and a compulsory attendance request for release. Following a motion by Rinaldi to accept the consent agenda, with a second by Funk, the board voted 4-1 to accept it with Salins voting nay.

The board then voted unanimously to convene a closed meeting to discuss the employee personnel issue, as well as the superintendent’s midyear evaluation.

School Board work session covers WCPS proposed 2022-2023 budget


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UPDATE: Parents slam School Board for division’s failure to notify them about alleged child abuse




Tyler Wright (above), on June 7, questioned the Warren County School Board about the recent alleged child abuse of his children at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School.


The Warren County School Board faced several emotional parents seeking answers about alleged child abuse that is under investigation at Hilda J. Barbour (HJB) Elementary School in Front Royal, Va.

“I want you to picture a 27-year-old teacher smacking [my 4-year-old daughter] in the back of the head,” said Tyler Wright during the board’s regular Wednesday, June 7 meeting. “The same teacher who took her out of my arms every day, and I trusted with the safety of her and my son was the same one that was harming them.”

According to Wright, Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) employees Kayla Bennett, an HJB preschool teacher, and Cassandra Carter, her instructional assistant, were suspended from the school division on May 4 and May 5, respectively. After hearing from the public and following a closed meeting last night, the School Board voted to approve their dismissals.

According to Wright, WCPS Supervisor of Special Services Lisa Seal contacted him on May 9 about the alleged incidents involving his child.

“Why did it take until May 9th for Lisa Seal to call me? Why did I hear from other parents about the allegations that were made towards my kids in the classroom before [Seal called me]?” Wright asked School Board members. “No one from the school system made contact with me.”

After speaking with Seal, Wright said he specifically asked his two children if their teachers were harming them.

“My daughter informed me that she had been yanked by the arm to the ground, and my son informed me of the same, along with a couple of names of students he had witnessed being smacked or hit with items in the class,” said Wright. “I was outraged, as any parent would be.”

Wright, some of his family members, and numerous other parents and residents who spoke during the board’s community participation segment questioned why WCPS did not notify them sooner of what was happening at HJB, chastised board members and WCPS employees for withholding information, and urged them to do better.

Jennifer Mulligan of Front Royal, Va., whose son was in the HJB class that is under investigation, explained to board members that multiple students may have been physically assaulted in the classroom, some of who are disabled and non-verbal.

“As parents, our biggest fear is not being able to protect our children, and this situation has only magnified that fear,” Mulligan said. “I firmly believe that we need to do more to protect our children, especially those… who are unable to protect themselves.”

Mulligan suggested a “simple solution” — install cameras in the classrooms, particularly those for preschoolers and students with disabilities. 

“If this was in place already, the situation would not have occurred,” Mulligan said. “And if it had, it would’ve been caught a lot sooner, and these children would not have had to go through what they’ve had to go through.”


Another parent, Karla Snell (above), who is an instructional assistant at Warren County High School, said both her son and daughter attended HJB. Her daughter just graduated from fifth grade, while her young son just started preschool during the past year. And while her daughter loved every minute and every person at HJB, her son can’t say the same, Snell told the board members.

“Why is that my 3-year-old son’s first-ever school experience… has been shattered by one individual and people who wouldn’t speak up?” asked Snell, noting that all WCPS employees are mandatory reporters who have an individual duty to report known or suspected abuse or neglect relating to children. 

WCPS response

Front Royal Virginia

WCPS on May 19 issued a press release addressing the situation that said the administration became aware of a complaint involving staff members at HJB and promptly placed the staff members on leave while a joint investigation with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and the local Department of Social Services was initiated..

“Parents of children in the affected classroom were contacted and urged to speak to their children and reach out to WCPS personnel if they had any additional questions or information,” according to the release. “Measures were taken to ensure that educational services and support continued uninterrupted in the classroom, with staffing adjustments being made.”

During his report to the School Board on Wednesday, WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger read a statement explaining the process that is undertaken by the school division regarding incidents involving allegations of child abuse.

When WCPS is notified of a complaint, Ballenger said the process is to ensure that there is a clear determination of an alleged complaint.

“All school system employees are mandated reporters if the complaint concerns child abuse or neglect,” he said. “The school system employees are required to contact the Department of Social Services, per School Board policy… at the time of an initial allegation of abuse or neglect.”

Ballenger said that the school system can take many actions related to the allegations, and as a practice, any abuse or neglect complaints are followed with the removal of any staff member alleged in the complaint policy.

“This practice helps to ensure the safety of students, employees, employee’s rights and to ensure that an investigation can be conducted properly,” said Ballenger. “It is not the school division’s responsibility to determine if there is any upholding to abuse or neglect if that has occurred. This will be determined by the local Department of Social Services or the Sheriff’s Office.”

If there is no merit to any of the allegations, as determined by the Department of Social Services or the Sheriff’s Office, then the school system may reinstate an employee to active duty, he added.

But “if it is determined that allegations do have merit, or there is a finding, then WCPS will take additional actions as required by School Board policy with the Code of Virginia,” said Ballenger.

School Board responses

Members of the Warren County School Board took the opportunity during each of their reports to address the residents who spoke about the child abuse allegations.

School Board Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins were present during the board’s Wednesday meeting. School Board Chair Kristen Pence was absent.

“This is very serious, and we need to take it seriously,” said Lo. “It’s very helpful for us to hear from you.”


Funk (above), who explained that there are certain things that board members cannot publicly discuss, empathized with the parents. As a parent of a special needs child who was nonverbal until almost age five and as an educator, Funk said that she doesn’t take their concerns lightly.

“But we have to work through and are bound by policies and procedures, and that is a tough pill to swallow,” she said. “There’s nothing I can say that will make that any easier.”

Salins suggested that every WCPS employee should sign a mandatory reporter document.

“If the policy is the problem, then I want the policies changed,” she said. “I want to know that every single employee has to sign an acknowledgment that they are a mandatory reporter. Nobody should set foot in a classroom if they have not signed something acknowledging that they’re a mandatory reporter.”

Among other suggestions, Salins also called for bringing in an outside investigating firm “to investigate not the crime, because that is the sheriff’s department’s job, but to investigate us [the School Board] and every employee in our district who was involved,” she said.

Several members of the audience applauded that suggestion.

In an email sent to the Royal Examiner tonight, Salins said that earlier in the meeting, she made a motion to remove the personnel report and addendum from the consent agenda in order to allow more discussion, which happened during a closed session after the last action item.

“After reading us out of closed session, we voted on agenda item 6C personnel report and 6D personnel report addendum,” Salins wrote in the email. “I made the motion, with Mrs. Lo seconding, to accept the personnel report as presented for the dismissal of Kayla Bennett and Cassandra Carter, to accept the resignations as presented with the exception of [two other employees], to accept the appointments and transfers as presented, and to accept the personnel addendum as presented. The vote was unanimous.”

To watch the School Board’s June 7 meeting in its entirety, go to:

To watch the School Board meeting in its entirety, go to:

To watch a previous interview the Royal Examiner conducted with Tyler Wright regarding this situation, go to:  


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Library defunding/book removal advocates, Samuels Library defenders clash on D-Day 2023



The Fiscal Year-2023/24 budget public hearing of Tuesday evening, June 6, may have inadvertently, yet appropriately, been scheduled for the 79th anniversary of D-Day, the pivotal Allied invasion of the Nazi Germany-led fascist Axis’s “Fortress Europe” that turned the tide of World War 2 on the western European front.

For what transpired inside and outside the Warren County Government Center as the FY-24 budget public hearing approached and was then launched at 7:30 p.m. led the Warren County Board of Supervisors to view a lengthy “beachhead” battle, albeit verbal, over the future shape the political, governmental, cultural, and societal standards this community may take.

A crowd had gathered outside the WCGC well in advance of the start of the June 6 meeting. Below, Sons of the American Revolution ‘Liberty Man’ Larry Johnson opened the meeting with a little D-Day historical perspective and a prayer.

At issue for the bulk of over 70 speakers at both the budget public hearing (our count was 65) and majority of Public Comments (counted 9 total) on non-agenda items was whether continued County funding of Samuels Public Library should occur while a total of 134 books requested for removal by the “CleanUpSamuels” website advocacy group remain on library shelves. The budget public hearing, at which board Chairman Vicky Cook explained the defund/fund issue should be the focus of comments, was convened at 7:30 p.m. in front of a packed to capacity WCGC meeting room. With most speakers going to or near their 3-minute speaking limit, the public hearing adjourned some 65 speakers later at 11:12 p.m. Our count was 34 to defund pending removal of cited books, 26 to fully fund the library and let its own review process control content, with a few who seemed on the fence favoring removal of certain books but not really favoring defunding of the library.

At 10 minutes of the 7 p.m. meeting starting time, the WCGC meeting room was standing room only as it was declared full to legal capacity, leaving some in the hallway and in the vehicle-jammed parking lot. Below, after 10 p.m. those remaining still wishing to address the public hearing on library content and funding issues raise their hands.

The board took no action, as they must wait a week following the public hearing to vote on approval of the budget. After the meeting went back to a few more Public Comments and other more routine business items, the meeting was adjourned at 11:57 p.m. But prior to that adjournment, County Administrator Ed Daley congratulated the board and staff on their FY-2024 budget preparation, noting that no negative public hearing comment had been directed their way on any other budgetary matter than library funding. County Finance Director Alisa Scott made a PowerPoint summary of budget highlights and proposed expenditures to kick off the public hearing, prior to public feedback.

But on that Samuels Library public feedback D-Day “beach front” it was on. To one side were CleanUpSamuels advocates who see continued use of county tax revenue in support of the library an unacceptable use of public funds while 134 books they seek removal of as “pornographic” remain on library shelves. And to make their point, many pro-defund library speakers read sexually-tinged passages from some books in question.

This library defunding pending book removals supporter appears somewhat appalled and hesitant to continue reading a passage from one of the targeted books she may have received on way into the meeting.


On the other side, an attempt to institute religious extremist-based censorship was cited by library defenders and opponents of a blanket banning of the books requested for removal by the CleanUpSamuels group and supporters. As noted in a July 5 article in the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, the book removal website received initial social media exposure from a May Facebook post by the “Young Adults of St. John the Baptist (Catholic Church)”. A number of defund the library pending removal of the books in question speakers either cited ties to the church or are known congregation members.

However, one library funding supporter, Tom Howarth, described himself as a lifelong Catholic, but not of the type he had listened to speak prior to his rising to be the 50th public hearing speaker. Noting an abundance of what he termed “zeal” in comments of library critics, of much of that zeal he observed, “This strikes me as an incredibly gross character assassination of the director of the library and her staff. And it’s done, apparently in the name of religious zeal. I can’t believe that my Lord and Savior would have anything to do with destroying a person’s public reputation. And that is what’s happening here tonight,” Howarth said.

After referencing his Catholicism from the “cradle” though work on two parish councils through a decade of work with the poor and homeless, Howarth added, “I’m a Catholic but I don’t want a Catholic library. I don’t want a library that’s run by any religion. Jefferson would be spinning in his grave if he listened to this conversation tonight in Virginia in 2023. Unfortunately, what we have is another orchestrated political attack on a public institution: the press, your electoral system, public schools, and now the public library. Where does it end?” Howarth asked of religious zeal being applied to how a community’s entire population, perhaps a nation’s, must live.

The CleanUpSamuels website front page describes “The Issue” as the presence of “many pornographic books in the children’s section of Samuels Public Library. These books graphically detail sexual activity between minors and are written for young readers. Our tax dollars fund the purchase and circulation of these abhorrent books. We need to let the Board of Supervisors know that these books do not align with our values.” A number of library defunding speakers said they were parents whose families use the library and expressed concern about their children, and others, having access to material tackling LGBTQ and other issues of a sexual nature.

Above image of Samuels Library and below image were from a video one book removal or defund the library supporter had prepared for county staff to play as their public hearing comment.

However, one library supporter who spoke later in the meeting noted that children under 12 were not allowed in the library without an accompanying adult or parent, though another person present suggested the library age cap for parental accompaniment was 10. A check with the library the following day revealed that library policies list the accompanied by parent or adult age at 11 and under. A number of County public library funding supporters wondered if parental involvement and oversight shouldn’t be the pivotal controlling factor for what the community’s children are reading, as opposed to political calls for governmental defunding of the community’s public library. For as a “public library” it is open to all of a community’s citizens regardless of religious affiliation or political perspective.

But as noted above, to make their point on the pornographic context of books in question, many defund the library speakers quoted graphic passages at length from several books on the requested removal list. Library funding supporters countered that graphic passages were being taken out of context so that the theme of the books referenced was not conveyed. The pro-funding and self-described anti-censorship contingent argued that rather than pornography, many, if not all, the books in question were written to provide emotional guidance or support to school age youth facing sexual identity crises of their own. Does a book describing teens falling into a life of prostitution do so to encourage such a life, or to warn against it as a tragic mistake, some wondered of one repeatedly referenced book.

A visit to the CleanUpSamuels website the day after the public hearing revealed that the group had advertised prepared comments and book transcripts for supporters to read at the June 6 meeting: “We will provide excerpts from the books and a script, so you don’t need to worry about what to say! Please arrive at 6:30 p.m. for handouts and instructions,” the CleanUpSamuels website front page stated.

Images from the CleanUpSamuels website front page, including ‘Meeting’ instructions to supporters to arrive early to receive prepared scripts and book excerpts to read at public hearing or public comments sections of the meeting.

The day following the public hearing debate Samuels Library staff verified that 597 requests for reconsideration forms (on library content) from 53 individuals seeking to have 134 books removed from the library had been received to date. That is in a county of some 40,000 people, one library supporter noted.

Stay tuned as the supervisors proceed to their vote on a final FY-2023/24 budget, with Samuels Public Library funding or not, at its special meeting of June 13.

Click here to watch the video of the meeting.

However, we noticed that the first three budget public hearing speakers — following Finance Director Alisa Scott’s PowerPoint presentation on the FY-24 budget (31:00 to 36:11 mark where color bars appear to interrupt the video) — John Lundgren, Dale Carpenter, and Tom Hinnant, appear to be missing prior to Chris Estes taking the podium at the 36:35 video mark. There was some discussion with staff during the meeting concerning some technical problems.

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Paving the Path: U.S. Army and Warren County unite under PaYS Program



June 7, 2023, ushered in a groundbreaking collaboration between the U.S. Army and Warren County, Virginia, under the auspices of the Partnership for Your Success (PaYS) program. This unique alliance was brought to life during an earnest signing ceremony that marked the commitment to provide our brave veterans with a secure future in civilian life.

Lieutenant Colonel Felicia Brooks and Sheriff Mark Butler


The PaYS program, a strategic collaboration between the U.S. Army and a diverse range of partners, including private industry, academia, and government bodies, assures soldiers and ROTC Cadets five job interviews and potential employment post-service. This fruitful partnership saw Lieutenant Colonel Felicia Brooks, commander of the Baltimore Marine Battalion, and Sheriff Mark Butler of Warren County Sheriff’s Office signing the memorandum of agreement.

An Exciting Road Ahead

Throughout the signing ceremony, the underlying theme was clear – a dedication to bridging the gap between military and civilian life for our veterans. Lieutenant Colonel Brooks expressed the program’s intentions to connect America with its Army, making it the service of choice for future soldiers while ensuring employment opportunities.

Brooks also emphasized the mutual benefits for the PaYS partners – access to a pool of professional veterans with exceptional work habits who adhere to the highest standards of conduct. This paves the way for organizations like the Warren County Sheriff’s Office to recruit from a pool of potential employees who bring the discipline and work ethics inherent in their military background.

A Track Record of Success

For two decades, the PaYS program has partnered with more than 1,000 partners, including giants like Amazon, General Motors, and Comcast. With Warren County Sheriff’s Department now on board, the reach of this innovative initiative extends even further.

Sheriff Mark Butler spoke of the invaluable leadership skills, camaraderie, integrity, courage, and honor that veterans bring to the table – values that align with his motto of “leave no veteran behind.” This program reaffirms these values, bridging the gap between military service and civilian life.

The signing of the memorandum of agreement and the presentation of a certificate of participation to Warren County by Lieutenant Colonel Brooks capped off the ceremony. The event is a testament to all parties’ commitment to recognizing, honoring, and aiding our veterans as they transition into civilian life.

Unlocking the Power of Education and Professional Development

Sergeant Timothy Stowes, an army recruiter from Winchester, has a personal connection to the transformative power of the Army. 13 years into his service, he uses his experience to encourage young individuals to enlist, emphasizing the Army’s commitment to education and personal growth.

Currently, the Army offers comprehensive tuition assistance and access to the Montgomery GI Bill, facilitating free college education for its members. Stones himself has used these opportunities to earn one degree and is currently pursuing another, all while developing his career within the Army. These educational opportunities enrich the lives of Army members and prepare them for successful transitions into the civilian workforce.



Warren County commits to supporting veterans with U.S. Army PaYS partnership


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Council OKs hike in EDA civil litigation fees to $250,000, ponders long-term change to Property Tax due date, among other business



The Front Royal Town Council opened its work session of Monday, June 5, with review of a number of  items either scheduled for upcoming public hearings — four out of six on short-term rental permitting requests — or inclusion on Consent Agendas for routine matters not requiring further council discussion. Council then delved into several matters of broader general interest to town citizens.

Among those were funding for needed repairs to the Prospect Street bridge over Happy Creek at South Commerce Avenue; officially changing by Town Code amendment the June due date on Personal Property taxes after five consecutive years of delayed mailing out of those tax bills and a consequent pushing back the June 5 due date; and finally prior to adjourning to closed session, authorization of an increase in the amount of legal fees to be paid to the Alexandria-based Damiani & Damiani law firm for its representation of the town government in the dueling civil law suits launched by council in November 2019 over liabilities and damages related to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority financial scandal.

That increased cap on EDA civil legal fees is $250,000, according to the staff summary up $50,000 from a level of $200,000 set by a previous council on November 25, 2019. There was some confusion as the staff summary also noted that council had previously “allocated” an additional $158,139 to the original cap “for potential legal fees” but had not yet “authorized payment” of that amount, leaving the $158,139 “budgeted and unspent.”

Town citizens, whose General Fund tax revenue is being used to pay the EDA civil litigation bills, may recall that the council decision to sue the joint Town-County EDA and the County as opposed to accepting an offer of “good-faith negotiations” to determine exactly who was owed what or liable for what in the estimated $26-million financial scandal was made over the objection of then-recently installed Mayor Eugene Tewalt as Interim Mayor Matt Tederick (May-Nov. 2019) was transitioning into his run as interim town manager (Nov. 2019-Dec. 2020). Tederick, who has office space in proximity to Damiani & Damiani’s in Alexandria, made council aware of the potential availability of the law firm to handle the hostile civil litigation if council chose that path.

Then Mayor Eugene Tewalt, right, at a FR-WC EDA Board meeting in late 2019 as he attempted to act as mediator to steer the Town and EDA away from hostile civil litigation. While the EDA was on board with an offer of ‘good-faith negotiations’, unfortunately a majority of the town council was not. Below, Matt Tederick not long after transitioning from the interim mayor to interim town manager role in late 2019.


After some discussion (beginning at 58:14 mark of linked Town video) and Mayor Cockrell’s explanation that council could take action at the regularly scheduled work session, on Amber Morris’s motion, seconded by Vice-Mayor Wayne Sealock, council approved the $50,000 increase to a cap of $250,000 by a 6-0 vote.

Council then convened into Closed/Executive Session to discuss personnel matters, including the “Town Attorney and appointments to the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals.” There was no action or announcement out of closed session.

Other Business

On the matter of when, not only the Town, but also the County, has been able to get their Personal Property Tax billings out, town staff has recommended council consider a code amendment officially moving the initial payment due date without penalty to June 20 from June 5. Council member Morris noted the link between County and Town taxes — “We can’t do ours without the County part,” she observed.

With that link it was recommended that council take the matter to the Town-County Liaison Committee for discussion on a joint move in that direction to accommodate both municipalities tax billing schedules to what they are able to accomplish as the new fiscal year looms every July 1.

The staff summary noted that: “The mailing of first installment Town personal property tax bills have been delayed for 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023; the first installment for Town real estate tax bills have been delayed for 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2023.”

Finance Director B.J. Wilson at podium discusses dynamics of a Town Code change to facilitate a long-term push back of the personal property tax due date from June 5 to June 20. Amber Morris, seated far right of table, pointed out that the Town can’t finalize its tax assessments without a final version of the County’s rates for the coming year. A joint municipal approach to a changed tax due date will be taken to the Town-County Liaison Committee.


On the Prospect Street Bridge repair front, staff notes a recent total cost estimate of nearly $1.5 million. Were the Town to be approved for the V-DOT Revenue Sharing Program, the Town “could receive 50% of matching funds from the revenue sharing program in FY27-28”. However, such approval remains an unknown variable, and the time frame seems counter-productive to the relative immediacy of the need of repair to the largely wooden structure. Flat tires were reported by some after driving over the bridge, and termites in sections of the wood were noted. That led to questions of liability for the town or state were the bridge to collapse with a vehicle on it.

The staff summary observed: “Effective with the FY24 Budget, the Town will have allocated a total of $630,000 to the Prospect Bridge Rehabilitation Project ($300,000 in current FY23 and coming FY24) and will need an additional $925,137 to fund the project.”

Of options in providing the additional funding, it was added: “The Town could delay secondary paving in the amount of $262,000 and delay the transportation plan in the amount of $150,000 to allocate an additional $412,000 toward the Prospect Bridge Rehabilitation Project; but the additional $412,000 will not provide enough funds to complete the project immediately. An additional $513,127 would be needed if both paving and the transportation plan funding were delayed. Additional funds could be allocated when preparing the FY25 budget for next year and by that time the Town may have a better idea of additional funds that could be reallocated toward the Prospect Bridge Rehabilitation Project.”

Town Manager Joe Waltz, left, suggested council take the self-funding approach to the Prospect St. Bridge repair to facilitate a perhaps three to four-years quicker start on those much-needed repairs.


With the potential VDOT revenue sharing not available until Fiscal Year 2027/28, Town Manager Joe Waltz said that a self-funded rehabilitation of the bridge project could conceivably begin in July of 2024 at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2024/25.

Noting it as a Town Public Works priority and the potential of moving from limited use to being closed to all traffic, a consensus appeared to be to move toward repair as soon as possible, with the additional needed funds being earmarked to facilitate that FY-2025 target date of July 2024 to begin repairs.

The short-term rentals discussion that kicked off the meeting focused largely (4:15 mark of the video) on The Trellis multi-unit project on the 1100 block of John Marshall Highway, which encompassed three of the four short-term rental Special Use Permit applications poised for public hearings. While some questions were raised about the multi-uses tied to a main structure, “Events Center” tied to the smaller short-term rentals, council’s overall reaction was positive. It was noted the applicant has lengthy ties to the community and a vested interest in improving the ambiance of the town to both visitors and residents.

A front-page graphic on the Trellis events and short-term rental project earmarked for the south side of the 1100 block of John Marshall Hwy. Below, council and staff ponder the variables involved in the multi-use Trellis project. Overall the reaction was positive as the project approaches a public hearing.

However, a future work session to discuss mixed-use issues and the range of variables tied to short-term rental permitting was promised to Councilmen Rappaport and Rogers, who raised the bulk of those issues. Though, as noted above, even with their general permitting issues raised, both Rappaport and Rogers expressed support for the Trellis project overall.

Two other coming public hearing items discussed were a short-term rental permitting application at 211 South Royal Avenue and a special exception to parking regulations at 15 Chester Street for commercial use, both of which got positive receptions. In another action item, Planning Director Kopishke was appointed to the Town’s non-elected member role with the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission (NSVRC). It was pointed out that Vice-Mayor Sealock is the elected representative to NSVRC.

Click here to see all or part of these and other discussions in the  Town video.

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Front Royal Rotary ending its year with major student awards



The Rotary Club of Front Royal’s president, Lori Glascock, is using the last weeks of her one-year term of office to distribute scholarship money and other awards to worthy local students. On June 23, Ken Evans will be sworn in as the 2023-24 club president.

In addition to previous student awards and recognition of local outstanding teachers, Glascock, last Friday (June 2), handed out further awards to four students from Skyline and Warren County High Schools who excelled in the arts and in the fields of sport.

Isabella Pittelli, WCHS, received the 2023 Betsy Blauvelt Student Art Award. The late Betsy Blauvelt, a past president of Front Royal Rotary, was a long-time executive director of the old Wayside Theatre in Middletown. Blauvelt’s husband, David, and their daughters attended the presentation.

David Blauvelt and the Blauvelt daughters pose with WCHS Art Award winner Isabella Pittelli. Below, Kym Crump poses with Cody Henderson, Skyline High Art Award winner. – Rotary Photos by Bret Hrbek

Cody Henderson, Skyline, received the Kym Crump Student Art Award. Crump, also a former president of Front Royal Rotary and executive director of the Blue Ridge Arts Council, attended the presentation to Cody.

The John Marlow Male Athlete of the Year Award went to  Daniel “DJ” Rizzo Jr., WCHS. The ceremony was watched by Marlow and his daughter, Emily Marlow Beck. Marlow was himself an outstanding high school and college athlete, also a past president of Front Royal Rotary and Mayor of the Town of Front Royal.

David “DJ” Rizzo Jr. and Sara Waller, WCHS male and female Athletes of the Year. Below, John Marlow, daughter Emily, and FR Rotary Club President Lori Glascock pose with male athlete award winner Rizzo.


Sara Waller, WCHS, received one of two 2023 Heidi Moore Female Athletic Awards, along with Ava Bordner, Skyline, who will pick up her award later this month. She was away competing in athletics at the state level. Heidi Moore was an outstanding county athlete who tragically died from cancer shortly after completing her high school years.

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WC EDA’s second ‘Open-Door Business Session’ of year leads to optimism on educational-industry employment networking



On Thursday, June 1, the still legally named, if not actually jointly overseen Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (FR-WC EDA, aka WC EDA) hosted its second “Open Door Business Session” of four scheduled for this year. This one was hosted at the Villa Avenue Community Center. The first was held at the Virginia Inland Port meeting room in northern Warren County.

As County Director of Economic Development, Joe Petty noted in announcing this Open Door session: “This event is a part of the EDA’s continuous initiative to strengthen Warren County’s workforce development and enhance the economic prosperity of the region. The two-hour session will be packed with presentations, open discussions, and plenty of networking opportunities. Participants will have a chance to engage in meaningful discussions and network with key players influencing Warren County’s economic landscape.”

WC Director of Economic Development Joe Petty gets the County EDA’s second ‘Open Door Business Session’ of the year started with some demographics and overview of the community’s educational partners in workforce development.

Petty introduced participants, including representatives from Warren County Public Schools Blue Ridge Technical Center (Jane Baker, Heidi Rutz, and friend) and Laurel Ridge Community Colleges’ Workforce Solutions (Bill Pence). Following PowerPoint presentations by those educational representatives and a break for some face-to-face networking, the meeting moved to a panel discussion moderated by FR-WC EDA Board of Directors member Marjorie “Jori” Martin.

Royal Examiner later asked Martin for her impressions of this Open Door Business Session. “It was a very productive open-door session both in networking and workforce development,” she began enthusiastically. “Several participants connected for future endeavors. This workforce ‘open door’ built on the first one at the Inland Port, which brought together employers, developers, Port Authority, and government discussing employment and opportunity in the region.

“I, on a personal note, had not really appreciated the depth, dedication, and collaboration between the educational institutions. I look forward to further understanding the partnerships and opportunities to use these valuable resources to grow our workforce to support our existing businesses, and attract new business. The industry participants discussed changes in the workforce and companies adapting to address the needs of the company and the changing workforce. This is the second in a series of four scheduled for this year,” Martin reminded us of the County overseen

EDA’s Open Door Business Sessions. Future sessions will include a focus on small businesses in this area and their needs.

Following presentations by Warren County Public Schools and Laurel Ridge Community College’s Workforce Solutions, networking began during a break before a panel discussion.

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Thank You to our Local Business Participants:


Aders Insurance Agency, Inc (State Farm)

Aire Serv Heating and Air Conditioning

Apple Dumpling Learning Center

Apple House

Auto Care Clinic

Avery-Hess Realty, Marilyn King

Beaver Tree Services

Blake and Co. Hair Spa

Blue Mountain Creative Consulting

Blue Ridge Arts Council

Blue Ridge Education

BNI Shenandoah Valley

C&C's Ice Cream Shop

Card My Yard

CBM Mortgage, Michelle Napier

Christine Binnix - McEnearney Associates

Code Jamboree LLC

Code Ninjas Front Royal

Cool Techs Heating and Air

Down Home Comfort Bakery

Downtown Market

Dusty's Country Store

Edward Jones-Bret Hrbek

Explore Art & Clay

Family Preservation Services

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Independent Business Alliance

Front Royal/Warren County C-CAP

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Treatment Center

Front Royal Women's Resource Center

Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce

Fussell Florist

G&M Auto Sales Inc

Garcia & Gavino Family Bakery

Gourmet Delights Gifts & Framing

Green to Ground Electrical

Groups Recover Together

Habitat for Humanity

Groups Recover Together

House of Hope

I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

Jean’s Jewelers

Jen Avery, REALTOR & Jenspiration, LLC

Key Move Properties, LLC

KW Solutions

Legal Services Plans of Northern Shenendoah

Main Street Travel

Makeover Marketing Systems

Marlow Automotive Group

Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

Merchants on Main Street

Mountain Trails

Mountain View Music

National Media Services

Natural Results Chiropractic Clinic

No Doubt Accounting

Northwestern Community Services Board

Ole Timers Antiques

Penny Lane Hair Co.

Philip Vaught Real Estate Management

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Rotary Club of Warren County

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Cinemas

Royal Examiner

Royal Family Bowling Center

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Ruby Yoga

Salvation Army

Samuels Public Library

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

Shenandoah Shores Management Group

St. Luke Community Clinic

Strites Doughnuts

Studio Verde

The Arc of Warren County

The Institute for Association & Nonprofit Research

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

The Vine and Leaf

Valley Chorale

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

Warren Coalition

Warren County Democratic Committee

Warren County Department of Social Services

Warren County DSS Job Development

Warrior Psychotherapy Services, PLLC

WCPS Work-Based Learning

What Matters & Beth Medved Waller, Inc Real Estate

White Picket Fence

Woodward House on Manor Grade

King Cartoons

Front Royal
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Church Yard Sale @ Cornerstone Christian Fellowship
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Crooked Run Valley 5/10k @ Sky Meadows State Park
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Free Community Meal @ Valley Assembly of God Church
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Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
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Indoor Yard Sale @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
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Indoor Yard Sale @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
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Vacation Bible School @ Living Water Christian Church
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9:00 am Indoor Yard Sale @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
Indoor Yard Sale @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
Jun 17 @ 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Indoor Yard Sale @ Front Royal United Methodist Church
Large indoor yard sale will be held in the Front Royal United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall Friday, June 16th, 9 am – 3 pm and Saturday, June 17th, 9 am – 2 pm. Gently used[...]
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VA State Parks History and Cultu... @ Sky Meadows State Park
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1:00 pm Summer Show 2023: Aladdin @ Skyline High School
Summer Show 2023: Aladdin @ Skyline High School
Jun 17 @ 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Summer Show 2023: Aladdin @ Skyline High School
Italia Performing Arts presents ALADDIN, An Adaptation for Dance of the Traditional Story, with music edited, compiled and arranged by Dr Ryan Keebaugh. Tickets are on sale only through our ticket agency SimpleTix, and not[...]