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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day – Flags to be flown half-staff
This December 7, we remember the world-changing event known as Pearl Harbor Day, or as President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his December 8, 1941 speech declaring war on Japan, “a date which will live in infamy.”
Early on Wednesday morning, December 7, 2022, many will gather at Pearl Harbor National Memorial for the 81st Commemoration. The early start marks the moment to the minute 81 years ago when Japanese warplanes descended on Oahu, killing 2,403 service members and civilians, injuring thousands more, and dealing a near-fatal blow to the Navy’s fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Most young Americans who died that day, along with those who served in uniform during World War II or on the home front war effort, are collectively known as the Greatest Generation. Their sacrifices reflect the theme of this year’s Commemoration: Everlasting Legacy.
The focus is the importance of remembering Pearl Harbor and how the Greatest Generation saved us from tyranny and brought us peace through reconciliation.
Governor’s Order for the Commonwealth of Virginia
In accordance with the authority vested in me as Governor, I hereby order that the flags of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Virginia to be flown at half-staff at all local, state, and federal buildings and grounds in the Commonwealth in solemn respect and memory for the nearly 4,000 American service men and women killed or wounded in the early morning of December 7, 1941, at the United States Navy Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
I hereby order that the flag shall be lowered at sunrise on Wednesday, December 7, 2022, and remain at half-staff until sunset.
Ordered on this, the 6th day of December 2022.
Local grandma steps out of shower, holds intruder at gunpoint until police arrive
A Warren County family had an exciting Monday morning after the family’s matriarch thwarted an intruder who may have intended to steal a family vehicle.
Tricia Montoney told Royal Examiner Monday evening that an eagle-eyed neighbor noticed a man in the family’s driveway, around 7 a.m. standing beside a Ford F-150 pickup truck belonging to Tricia’s daughter, Rachel Montoney.
Rachel said in a phone interview that “once our neighbor told me about the man attempting to enter my vehicle, I ran to get my mom.”
Tricia was in the shower but quickly put on a robe and grabbed the Smith and Wesson 9 mm handgun she keeps for personal protection. She then went outside to confront the intruder. By then, she said, the man was sitting inside the pickup with the door closed.
Rachel says her mom yelled to the intruder, “What are you doing? Get out of the truck and on your knees!” The man, later identified by arresting officers as Larry Huyser, exited the truck and complied with Tricia’s instructions while a neighbor called 9-1-1.
Huyser, who was dressed in a fluorescent green sweatshirt, jeans, and a black hat, said that he had gotten into the unlocked truck “because I was cold.”
Warren County deputies who arrived on the scene found Tricia holding Huyser at gunpoint. He was taken into custody without incident.
Huyser was booked into the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail (RSW) and charged with vandalism, damaging property, tampering and entering a vehicle, and breaking and entering an auto.
He is being held without bond. Online court records show that Huyser has been arrested before for similar offenses.
Both Tricia and Rachel expressed their gratitude for their neighbor and his assistance in contacting the police and for staying with Tricia as she held the intruder at gunpoint.
The Montoneys also appreciated the deputies, who arrived quickly and transported the intruder to RSW.
Asked if she would now lock her truck at night, Rachel said, “Absolutely!”
Both ladies expressed their gratitude that no one was injured and said they were especially grateful for their close friendship with their neighbors. “We take care of each other out here,” Tricia said.
Congressman Ben Cline holds Town Hall meeting in Warren County
Residents of Warren County were invited to a town hall event with Congressman Ben Cline (VA-06) on December 5, 2022. This town hall event was an opportunity for residents of Warren County to engage in a dialogue with Rep. Cline about important issues in Virginia’s Sixth Congressional District.
Watch the Town Hall meeting on this exclusive Royal Examiner video.
WATCH: Christmas Parade 2022
If you missed the Christmas Parade or want to see it again, sit back and enjoy!
This year the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade was hosted by Mike McCool, Publisher of the Royal Examiner, and Niki Foster, Executive Director of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce. Special thanks to Mark Williams, videographer, and the parade sponsor Lindsay Chevrolet.
Judge ponders rulings in multiple defense motions to overturn civil case jury finding of liability in EDA financial scandal cases
After over five hours of arguments surrounding five EDA civil case defendants’ motions to overturn jury liability verdicts totaling over $14-million, Judge Bruce D. Albertson took those arguments under advisement Wednesday afternoon, November 30th. Some court officials anticipate rulings at some point in the coming week in the cases of April Petty ($125,000 compensatory judgement liability); William Lambert ($296,555.34 compensatory, punitive, & interest liabilities); Donald “Donnie” Poe ($604,973.12 compensatory, punitive, interest); Truc “Curt” Tran ($1,821,192.01 compensatory, interest); and Samuel “Sammy” North (approximately $893,000 compensatory, punitive, interest, & statutory conspiracy).
In addition to the above personal liabilities, Poe’s EarthRight Energy (ERE) company ($948,646.25 in compensatory, punitive, interest) and Tran’s ITFederal ($10,419,327.38 compensatory) were also handed down by Warren County Circuit Court civil case juries in recent months.
All but North’s trial were heard in July. North’s, also originally scheduled for July, was delayed to October by a later withdrawn bankruptcy filing. This week on the final day of November, attorneys for the defendants echoed arguments sometimes heard at trial during earlier motions for dismissal of cases or claims against their clients due to what defense attorneys asserted both then and now, was a lack of substantive evidence of collusion with EDA financial scandal central figure and former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Director Jennifer McDonald. Rather, some defense attorneys claimed their clients were unwitting victims of McDonald’s from various business or personal connections.
Those personal connections include North’s marriage to McDonald; Lambert’s former personal relationship with McDonald’s sister; what attorney William Schmidheiser called Petty’s casual acquaintance McDonald, acting as his client’s real estate agent in the sale of her home. On the business side, Poe’s ERE company was contracted through McDonald to perform various solar energy and energy maintenance projects for the EDA under what plaintiff EDA attorneys contended were false pretenses McDonald presented to her board of directors; and Tran’s ITFederal was recruited through the joint effort of McDonald and then Virginia Sixth District U.S. House Representative Bob Goodlatte to become the first commercial redevelopment client at the former Avtex Superfund site, also with what plaintiff counsel said were false contractual and asset information concerning ITFederal alleged to have been presented to the EDA board.
Several attorneys, most prominently Tran attorney David Jones Jr., also argued that several claims categories should not have applied to their clients at trial. Prominent among those were the “ultra vires” claim of profiting off the actions of an official acting outside the range of their legal authority, and associated claims of “conversion” and “unjust enrichment” being applied to their clients for actions of then EDA Executive Director McDonald. Consequently, Jones for Tran particularly and other defense attorneys argued that some jury instructions submitted were improper, creating an incorrect evidentiary scenario for those juries to deliberate on. So, procedural errors on bench rulings on evidence admissibility or jury instructions were claimed as grounds to overturn jury verdicts.
In Poe and ERE’s case, defense counsel William Ashwell also noted that some of the contracted work had been successfully completed by Poe’s company. He told the court that when payments were made by the EDA board to his client’s company: “The EDA eventually adopts her (McDonald’s) actions by their actions” and consequently his client is not the one who should be held liable for the return of money for work accomplished. Ashwell also sought to overturn any personal liability of Poe for payments made to his company.
In opening his arguments to overturn or limit Tran and ITFederal’s liability, Jones noted that he was “in the somewhat unenviable position of not being the trial attorney – Am I in the position of fresh eyes or of where fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” Jones wondered as he launched what would be an approximate hour of argument on his client’s behalf. During that hour Jones questioned the liability finding on a number of grounds and questioned whether ITFederal was, in fact, in breach of contract as claimed by the EDA in seeking recovery of the balance of the $10-million loan the EDA gave ITFederal for development at the former Avtex site.
Plaintiff counsel Cullen Seltzer and Karissa Kaseorg countered, as they had at trial, that McDonald’s assertions to her board about the source of funding for the ERE energy and electrical work being through grants that would compensate the EDA for its payments to ERE; or alleged government contracts held by Tran’s ITFederal company that were non-existent created the path for those payments, and a $10-million loan in ITFederal’s case, substantiating the juries findings of liability on ultra vires, conversion, and unjust enrichment, among other plaintiff claims.
In response to some of Jones’ arguments for reduction or dismissal of his clients’ liability, Kaseorg told Judge Albertson that the motions to overturn hearings should not be an opportunity for defense counsel to retry the case with a “what we wish we had done” at trial. Of Jones’ argument to dismiss based on the inclusion of the plaintiff’s “conversion” jury instruction, plaintiff counsel noted that the defense had agreed to the conversion jury instruction at trial.
In conclusion plaintiff EDA counsel asserted the judicial decisions from the bench at trial had been proper as to both evidence admissibility and jury instructions, and that those jury verdicts of financial liability based on both sides cases as presented at trial should stand as handed down by those five juries. And now we are awaiting a decision on how the court will rate its own performance at those trials based on the defendants’ challenges and the plaintiff’s counter-arguments in support of the judicial rulings made at trial.
Town Planning Commission puzzles over RMA Rezoning request
The Front Royal Planning Commission met Wednesday, November 30 in a special meeting to consider a rezoning application submitted by Chris Holloway Construction on behalf of Randolph-Macon Academy to rezone a 6.2 acre parcel along West Main Street from Residential (R-1) to Residential (R-3). The R-3 Residential District is composed of medium-to-high density concentrations of residential uses. A sketch of the proposed improvements on the parcel shows a group of 6 townhouses on a side-hill at an angle to West Main Street. Joe Brogan, a local surveyor who provided the sketches for the proposal, told the commission that the R-MA trustees were looking for the least complicated way of getting the development completed. As the Royal Examiner reported earlier, at a brief work session after its November 16 regular meeting, the commission questioned how a 6-plus acre parcel could be used for building townhouses without being divided into townhouse lots. The planning department agreed at that time to research possible options.
During the public Hearing, only one citizen spoke. A nearby resident, Tammy Schell, expressed concerns about the construction process and timeline and the impact on the neighborhood. She did not so much oppose the project as to try to find out more about how it would be done. “Most of my questions have been answered by the information you’ve provided tonight”, she said. Remaining concerns about the construction process have yet to be worked out. From the plan so far, it appears that access to the new buildings – now called “faculty and student housing”, rather than “townhouses” – will be provided for by extending an existing drive on the R-MA campus, rather than by access from West Main Street. It’s likely that some traffic for construction vehicles will come through the gate on West Main, and the Town would have to provide sewer connections, so there would be some construction disruptions for that.
Following the public hearing, the four members of the commission, Vice-Chair Marshner was absent, spent some time discussing the parcel rezoning request. Chairman Daryl Merchant began by questioning the R-3 Zoning, since there is no other areas around it with that zoning. “Wouldn’t we run the risk of spot-zoning in this case?” Spot-zoning is the application of zoning to a specific parcel or parcels of land within a larger zoned area when the rezoning is at odds with a municipality’s master plan and current zoning restrictions. Secondly, he asked if the rezoning was granted, wouldn’t this project then also require a Special Use Permit (SUP)? New developments would also require curb and gutter as part of the development. “Isn’t it possible that leaving the zoning as R-1 and considering the new building as an accessory structure would preclude the need for both the rezoning and an SUP?” Merchant finally commented.
A consensus emerged from the discussion that a boundary adjustment could be administratively approved that would incorporate two adjacent parcels and make it possible to avoid rezoning altogether and still allow R-MA to build the needed housing. On a motion by Commissioner Daniel Wells, seconded by Commissioner Josh Ingram, the commission voted to postpone action on the rezoning request until Mr. Brogan can meet with the R-MA trustees and work with the Town Planning Department to get agreement on the simpler course of action. The commission will then vote on its recommendation at its December 21 regular meeting.
Chairman Merchant took a moment to recognize new/old Town Manager Joe Waltz as a welcome face, present at the meeting as his first official act after being confirmed by the Town Council earlier in the evening. See story here. Mr. Waltz returns to the Town Manager job after a 3-year run managing a municipal energy cooperative in Ohio.
Commissioner Josh Ingram reminded the commissioners that the December 21st regular meeting will be his last, as he assumes office on the Town Council on January 1.