The upcoming fiscal year budget for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) received unanimous approval from the Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, June 15 work session.
Board members also compromised on a plan to offer division-wide employee bonuses and voted 4-1 to nix them for the 90 WCPS employees who resigned their positions in May.
Both School Board actions still must be approved by the Warren County Board of Supervisors, which is slated to consider the items at its June 28 meeting.
The WCPS employee bonuses have received a lot of attention recently.
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 COVID-19 pandemic. The money to pay for the bonuses would 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.
Because the School Board is categorically funded, a motion was made at its May 18 work session to request that the Board of Supervisors (BOS) transfer 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.
During that BOS work session, School Board Chair Kristen Pence again asked the BOS to approve its request for the transfer of funds to allow the WCPS employee bonuses to happen.
“As a School Board, we felt that everyone who showed up during the 2021-22 school year should be recognized and acknowledged for essentially doing the work of all of the positions that were not filled during that time because the work still had to get done,” Pence told the BOS.
But the BOS wasn’t convinced.
Several supervisors, for instance, questioned why WCPS employees who had resigned at the end of the current school year should receive a bonus.
“I’m concerned about rewarding people who resigned,” BOS Vice Chair Delores Oates said during the supervisors’ June 14 meeting. “That is a problem. Would it not make more sense to perhaps rethink how this money is being used?”
Oates suggested, for example, that by not giving a bonus to the WCPS employees who resigned, instead that money could go toward sign-on bonuses to incentivize new employees. “We want to be prudent with taxpayer dollars and we want to be smart about this,” she said.
Supervisor Vicky Cook agreed that the bonuses should be limited to those WCPS employees who are staying with the school division for the upcoming school year because it “could help them want to stay longer.”
Cook also wasn’t thrilled about the idea to give a bonus to WCPS staff making more than $100,000 a year; neither was Supervisor Walter Mabe.
Pence said that while she appreciated the BOS being fiscally responsible, she said it’s also her duty to stand up for bonuses being given to all WCPS employees, including school administrators, who also had to step up during extraordinary circumstances during the pandemic.
“I understand they make a higher salary to begin with, but our purpose is to recognize the additional work they also had to perform,” Pence said.
“No offense Ms. Pence but that’s what they get paid for,” remarked Mabe.
“And that is your opinion, Mr. Mabe,” Pence responded.
BOS Chair Cheryl Cullers agreed that the WCPS employees who picked up the slack during the pandemic should get a bonus, including IAs, teachers in the classroom, and bus drivers. “But I don’t agree that anyone over a certain amount should get the bonuses — there’s gotta be a ceiling on everything.” Cullers noted that when she worked for WCPS she “never got a bonus.”
Cullers also said that Warren County taxpayers would have a hard time accepting these bonuses during inflation and rising gas prices.
School Board adjusts bonuses
Following that BOS meeting, the School Board at its June 15 work session discussed what transpired and decided to compromise.
Pence and School Board members Andrea Lo, Antoinette Funk, and Melanie Salins voted to exclude any employee who has resigned from WCPS and will not be employed with the school division for the FY 2023 school year from receiving the one-time bonus and that the savings generated will be requested to be re-appropriated by the BOS for a renovation project at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School. Employees with a retirement date after May 31 will remain eligible for this bonus.
School Board Vice-Chair Ralph Rinaldi was the lone opposer in the 4-1 vote, saying all WCPS employees deserved a bonus, though he agreed with his colleagues who worried that if they didn’t heed BOS concerns, then no one working for WCPS would get a bonus.
“Following the [June 15 School Board] work session, we as a board felt we needed to show willingness to compromise in hopes of saving the bonuses for our well-deserving employees,” Pence wrote the Royal Examiner in an email on Friday. “With reluctance expressed by all 5 board members, the motion to amend our May 18 vote to exclude those who resigned from the bonus was passed 4-1.”
Salins, who also wrote an email to the Royal Examiner, said it became evident that the BOS would not be approving the bonuses as the School Board’s request was originally written.
“I understand their need to balance not only the needs of the school system but also the needs of the County taxpayers. For this reason, our board amended our request, and eliminated bonuses for the 90 staff members who resigned,” wrote Salins. “Those employees retiring after years of loyal service will still be included in the bonus.”
WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger told the Royal Examiner that 27 retirees will receive bonuses if the BOS approves the funds transfer. And he said he supports the School Board’s action to adjust the bonuses.
“They recognize the struggles that all staff members experienced this year and they want to continue to support them for educating the students of Warren County Public Schools,” said Ballenger.
The School Board’s vote does not guarantee the bonuses will happen; its request to transfer funds will be revisited by the BOS at its June 28 meeting.
School Board passes FY23 proposed budget
Of the School Board’s action items on Wednesday, Pence said she considered the discussion on the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2022-2023 WCPS budget the most important aspect.
According to the WCPS final proposed budget worksheet, the school division’s total expenditures with the salary increase is $71,108,401. Pence said some of the proposed budget highlights include:
- New WCPS positions: one English Language teacher; two elementary school art teachers; two elementary school counselors; a division-wide director of communications; two high school library assistants; two division-wide math coaches; one technology integration coach; one board-certified behavior analyst; a full-time career coach at the Blue Ridge Technical Center and one BRTC instructional assistant (IA); one Pathways and Connections IA; and two groundskeepers.
- A 5 percent salary increase inclusive of experience step.
- A $1,000 employee bonus and salary scale adjustments (Grade 12 Maintenance Journeyman Scale; Grade 13 Maintenance Scale; Grade 18 Bus Driver Scale).
- Dual enrollment tuition support for students.
“This covers a small piece of what the FY23 budget includes, but I hope it is easy to see why this is so important,” Pence wrote in her email. “This budget will allow us to make amazing positive strides for all of the students and families in Warren County Public Schools.”
The proposed FY23 budget was unanimously adopted as amended and the School Board will request BOS approval at the supervisors’ June 28 meeting.
Ballenger on Friday said he appreciated this board’s work on finishing out this fiscal year’s budget while working on next year’s budget.
“All five board members have been very proactive in supporting the School Board’s initiatives,” he said. “They are all keeping the lines of communication open as discussions occur over both budgets with the Board of Supervisors.
“I believe it is important for both boards to continue to work together,” added Ballenger. “I truly appreciate my board’s leadership as we are navigating through both budget years.”
Among other actions taken by the School Board on June 15, members voted 5-0 to approve a contract award of $32,249 to Hercules Fencing, which will install approximately 600 linear feet of additional 6-feet-high metal fencing with drive gates for the playground area at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School.
Due to safety concerns with after-hours public use and vehicular traffic during normal school hours, the School Board previously approved the installation of the same fencing and driveway gates for the hard surface play area directly behind the school and between the vehicle travel lanes. This work was accomplished during the summer of 2021.
WCPS Maintenance Director Greg Livesay told the board that additional fencing and driveway gates are now required to finish the entire installation, which will completely enclose the playground area between Chester Street and the remainder of the travel lane along with the fencing for the back side of the modular classrooms. This will prevent nearby business vehicles from parking on school property, he said.
Work session discussion items
The School Board also discussed several other items during its work session, including a grading policy change and student cell phone use.
“The biggest change and what will require the biggest adjustment from students is the discontinuation of the 50 percent grading policy,” explained Pence. “Meaning, students will no longer receive a 50 percent for work not performed. Failure to submit work will now result in a zero.”
During the June 15 work session, School Board members discussed the need to get its message out about the significant changes to the WCPS grading policies for the 2022-2023 school year, Pence said.
“We will have the updates visible on the website; at back-to-school nights; there will be emails and phone calls to contact parents; Dr. Ballenger also mentioned trying to do a Town Talk with the Royal Examiner,” she said.
Ballenger pointed out that the new grading policy is a culmination of his work with three committees over the spring semester “and this is the policy they came up with.”
“We have also received feedback from families and there is overwhelming support for the new grading policy,” the superintendent said. “We know that there will be some challenges next year for students and teachers. As Dr. Pence mentioned; we will be working on getting the message out.”
Ballenger said the new grading policy is a regulation that does not require School Board approval, only that the board is notified of the regulation.
WCPS also discussed proposed updates on cell phone usage during the school day. Pence said this will be an update to the Student Code of Conduct. The draft section on the Use of Personally Owned Electronic Devices states that student use of such devices during instructional time is prohibited.
“All students are expected to keep their personally owned electronic device secure at all times and not loan it to others,” the draft policy states. “During instructional time (class time) such devices are to be kept out of sight and turned off.”
Similarly, due to confidentiality, privacy, and legal concerns, a WCPS student may not use his/her personally owned electronic device to take photographs or record audio or video in school, during the school day, or on a school bus, the draft says, adding: “The use of technology is a privilege, not a right. This privilege can be revoked.”
The use of such devices, however, may be granted in an emergency situation as determined by a supervising adult, who also may grant their use outside of instructional time, such as during lunchtime and in between classes, according to the draft policy.
Regarding disciplinary consequences, the draft states: “Violation of this policy or of the administrative regulation will result in disciplinary measures. First action: Verbal reminder/warning.
Second action: Teacher calls home to parent. Third action: student referral to administration. A school administrator may take temporary possession of a personally owned electronic device if a student is attempting to use the device during any time when such usage is prohibited or if the use of the device violates any of the previously outlined inappropriate uses, disrupts the learning environment, creates safety concerns, violates the confidentiality or privacy of others, or otherwise contradicts this policy.”
The School Board also heard a presentation from WCPS Food Services and is discussing a plan to continue free meals for all WCPS students during the 2022-2023 school year.
“This would be a one-year trial and board members are excited at the possibility of offering this to Warren County Public Schools families,” Pence said.
Ballenger said this is “a great service to our community and takes away a burden on families. We want to make sure that we remove any barriers for our students so that learning can occur.”
Pence noted in her email that the number of free summer lunches currently being handed out on Wednesdays continues to increase. “The number of participants increased from last week to this week by a significant number and [WCPS] is preparing 900 meal bags for next Wednesday,” she said. “The meal bags are available to anyone age 1-18 in Warren County. We strongly encourage all families to participate.”
The School Board will hold a special FY22 closeout meeting on June 29 at 5:30 p.m. The location is to be determined.
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.
Stephens City Lions Club Installation of Officers and Awards Banquet
Stephens City Lions Club, established in 1946, held their 2021-2022 Installation of Officers and Awards Banquet on June 28 at the West Oaks Farm Market Reception Hall in Winchester.
The Awards Banquet was highlighted by 28 year club member William Dickie Clark receiving the Melvin Jones Award. This Fellowship Award is the Lion’s highest form of recognition and is given to members who continuously provide dedicated humanitarian services.
Sherando High School faculty member Garland Williams received the Outstanding Service Award for Leo Club Advisor. Garland implemented an on-going student leadership program, motivated Leo club members to be service-minded and fostered strong communication between the Leo’s and the Stephens City Lions club.
Sherando High School Leo club seniors Lea Blevins and Ashleigh Morgan received $1,000 Outstanding Service scholarships. Lea and Morgan will be attending the University of Virginia and Mary Baldwin University respectively.
Lion Dudley Rinker received President’s Award.
Betty Wymer and Tootie Rinker received Citizen of the Year Award.
Bill Miller received Lion of the Year Award.
Lion president Angel Huyett presented Bruce Ryker the gavel as the new president of the club for 2022-2023.
Note: Stephens City Lions Club makes great effort to maintain an ongoing relationship with Sherando High School to foster an effective Leo (Leadership, Experience, Opportunity) club. Michael Morrison acts as the Lion’s liaison, communicating activities and requirements to Leo Advisor and faculty member Garland Williams. Williams supervises the Leo students community service work which includes assisting raising money for cancer research, mentoring grade school children, adopting a needy family for Christmas, volunteering at church and civic organization events and various Lion’s club fundraiser’s.
Laurel Ridge Medical Laboratory Technology program receives national accreditation
Laurel Ridge Community College’s medical laboratory technology (MLT) program is now nationally accredited. The program received accreditation for five years – the maximum possible – from the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website notes that 70 percent of medical decisions rely on lab test results, and 14 billion lab tests are ordered every year.
“While the pandemic hasn’t made the work MLTs do more important, it has brought it more to light,” said Kate Gochenour, Laurel Ridge’s MLT program director. “We are 100 percent behind the scenes, so the general public doesn’t think about the lab all that often. Almost every doctor’s visit involves some sort of lab test, whether that is urinalysis, a blood draw, or a throat swab.”
Standards that accredited MLT programs must meet include faculty requirements regarding certifications and professional development, the proper sequencing of courses to allow students to develop entry-level competency in each core area, and having an advisory committee comprised of individuals knowledgeable about clinical laboratory science education to ensure the program remains relevant, according to Gochenour.
The accreditation also means students are eligible for the American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification exam, passage of which most employers require within six months to a year of being hired.
In addition to classes such as anatomy and physiology, chemistry, phlebotomy, immunology and serology, psychology, and ethics, MLT students have clinicals in blood bank, clinical chemistry, clinical hematology, and clinical microbiology. Because MLT is a field that is in high demand, students may qualify for G3 funding, which covers any remaining tuition not paid with financial aid.
Laurel Ridge’s first MLT class graduated with their associate of applied science degrees in May 2021. The program has had a 100-percent employment rate, with the majority of students offered a job while still in externships.
The median salary for MLTs and clinical laboratory technologists is $56,817, according to Career Coach powered by Lightcast. Learn more about the program at laurelridge.edu/mlt.
Shenandoah University announces over 1,200 graduates
Shenandoah University is pleased to announce the 1,204 graduates who received their degrees or certificates during the 2021-22 academic year. These included 236 August 2021 graduates, 332 December 2021 graduates, and 636 May 2022 graduates. Shenandoah’s 2022 University Commencement took place on May 21.
The following local students were among those who graduated from Shenandoah during the 2021-22 academic year:
Hanna Brzezinski, of Front Royal, VA, with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Science in Sociology.
Sarah Downs, of Front Royal, VA, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Science in Public Health.
Daniel Guizar, of Front Royal, VA, with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology, an undergraduate certificate in Health and Physical Education, and an undergraduate certificate in Kinesiology.
Kathryn Simpson, of Front Royal, VA, with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.
Andrea Zanelotti, of Front Royal, VA, with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
Jenna King, of Linden, VA, with a doctorate in Physical Therapy.
Kadie Madison, of Front Royal, VA, with a doctorate in Nursing Practice.
Jeeson Park, of Lake Frederick, VA, with a Master of Science in Nursing.
Robert Presley, of Front Royal, VA, with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
Sarah Solomon, of Front Royal, VA, with a master’s degree in Music Education.
Elizabeth Woodward, of Front Royal, VA, with a Master of Business Administration and a graduate certificate in Health Systems/Care Management.
Ciarra Berry, of Front Royal, VA, with a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Communication.
Kevin Alexander Clark, of Front Royal, VA, with a Bachelor of Music in Performance.
Anthony Crescienzi, of Front Royal, VA, with a Master of Science in Athletic Training.
K C Jaques, of Linden, VA, with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
Mary Kuehl, of Linden, VA, with a Master of Science in Education.
Sam Martin, of Front Royal, VA, with a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology.
Bridgett Murphy, of Front Royal, VA, with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
Mackenzie Oakes, of Front Royal, VA, with a doctorate in Pharmacy and a Master of Science in Pharmacogenomics and Personalized Medicine.
Marian Rogers, of Front Royal, VA, with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.
Helen Snyder, of Front Royal, VA, with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
Ashton Steele, of Front Royal, VA, with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.
About Shenandoah University
Shenandoah University was established in 1875 and is headquartered in Winchester, Virginia, with additional educational sites in Clarke, Fairfax, and Loudoun counties. Shenandoah is a private, nationally recognized university that blends professional career experiences with liberal education. With approximately 4,000 students in more than 200 areas of study in six different schools, Shenandoah promotes a close-knit community rich in creative energy and intellectual challenge. Shenandoah students collaborate with accomplished professors who provide focused, individual attention, all the while leading several programs to be highly nationally ranked. Through innovative partnerships and programs at both the local and global level, there are exceptional opportunities for students to learn in and out of the classroom. Shenandoah empowers its students to improve the human condition and to be principled professionals and leaders wherever they go. For more information, visit su.edu.
Jennifer McDonald’s case deemed ‘complex’, criminal trial pushed back to May 2023
Former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jennifer Rae McDonald’s criminal trial will not commence on Oct. 11, as previously scheduled.
A U.S. District Court in the Western District of Virginia judge has put off Jennifer R. McDonald’s trial on fraud, money laundering, and identity theft charges until May 2023.
McDonald is accused of embezzling money from the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority while serving as its executive director and using the money to buy real estate and conduct other personal business.
The federal trial was scheduled to begin October 11, which had been pushed from an earlier date after McDonald’s defense attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Andrea Harris, requested more time given the voluminous amount of evidence she received from the prosecutor’s office as well as the additional electronic discovery that includes forensic examinations of multiple key electronic devices.
A June 23 motion filed in federal court by Harris stated that the “additional discovery is contained on a hard drive and takes up 356 gigabytes of space. One of the devices alone contains more than 45,000 emails and almost 10,000 documents.
“These particular electronic devices are likely to be critically important to further investigation of this case, and there will likely be the need for additional independent forensic analysis of one or more of these devices.”
Harris and U.S. Attorney Christopher Cavanaugh on June 21 filed a joint motion asking the court to designate the case as complex, to exclude time from the speedy trial requirements, and the defendant’s unopposed motion to put off the trial date. U.S. District Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon granted the motions on Monday, June 27.
Dillon rescheduled the trial to begin in mid-May 2023 and designated the case as complex under federal rules and ordered that the court exclude the time period of June 21, 2022-May 15, 2023, from the Speedy Trial Act deadline calculation.
Per law, a defendant’s trial date must begin within 70 days of the indictment filing date or the defendant’s initial court appearance. A judge can set a new date without violating a person’s rights under the act if failing to grant such a request would deny either party time needed to prepare their cases.
On August 25, 2021, a Grand Jury returned an indictment charging McDonald with 34 counts of bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft, with some allegations dating back to 2014.
The indictment came following a complex and lengthy state and federal investigation conducted by a state special grand jury and the Federal Bureau of Investigations. (FBI) The investigation began in 2018, continued through Ms. McDonald’s indictment almost three years later, and continues today.
The motion states that the Federal Defender’s Office currently has two attorneys, an investigator, and two paralegals working on the case due to the volume of discovery and number of witnesses.
McDonald made her first appearance in the court on Aug. 31, 2021, with private counsel. The court then appointed a federal defender to represent McDonald. She was arraigned on September 3 and initially scheduled a one-day trial for November 3.
The defense filed a motion to continue on October 26, which the court granted; a six-week trial was scheduled to begin October 11, 2022.
A civil lawsuit filed in the Warren County Circuit Court by the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority claims defendants including McDonald participated in schemes using EDA money without permission to conduct real estate transactions and other personal business. McDonald and several co-defendants have since been dismissed as parties to the lawsuit through partial summary judgments.
The civil trials in the case are scheduled to begin in early July and will likely lead to further investigation Harris said and would involve overlapping issues and witnesses and are also relevant to effective preparation in McDonald’s criminal trial.
With over one million pages of discovery documents and the judge declaring the criminal case a complex one, it’s anyone’s guess when we’ll see McDonald in the courtroom.
Rotary Club of Warren County donates baskets to help homeless transition into independent living
The Rotary Club of Warren County is pleased to award a $500 service project grant to the House of Hope – Front Royal, VA, for 5 graduation baskets. These baskets will include air beds, sheets, pillows and several inspirational cards ready for the gentleman in hopes to make the transition into independent living a little easier.
The inspirational cards will have gift certificates/gifts enclosed from a variety of local businesses including: 1 free scoop of ice cream from C & C Frozen Treats, 2 movie passes from Royal Cinemas, 1 free cup of coffee from Main Street Daily Grind CAFÉ, 1 bracelet “We’re In This Together” from Project: Space/What Matters, 1 free haircut from Mattie the Barber/Blake & Co Hair Spa, 1 Golden Ticket from I Want Candy (for the lucky basket), 1 Pass for in-town cab fare with Front Royal Taxi.
We are hoping these small gifts might help brighten a man’s day once they are on their own! Thank you SO much to this amazing community who has stepped forward to cheer on the men!