The Warren County School Board would like to get the $1.2 million chunk of the school division’s fiscal year 2023 budget appropriated by the Warren County Board of Supervisors (BOS) as soon as possible.
“While it’s been said 150 thousand times, I hope we can get to looking at that $1.2 million sooner rather than later,” said School Board member Antoinette Funk, referring to the amount of money the BOS has approved for the school division but still hasn’t appropriated.
Funk chairs the Warren County Board of Supervisors / Warren County School Board Joint Budget Committee, which met on Monday, September 12.
The joint committee was formed earlier this year for members of both boards to tackle the County’s education budget and related spending.
Those present for the Monday meeting were School Board members Funk and Andrea Lo, Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Christopher Ballenger and WCPS Finance Director Robert Ballentine, BOS members Delores Oates and Vicky Cook, Warren County Administrator Edwin Daley, and County Finance Director Matt Robertson.
The request from Funk (above, during a previous School Board meeting) came during the last roughly five minutes of the almost hour-long joint committee meeting. She was referring to the $1.2 million the BOS is still considering appropriating to schools.
The division was funded at 75 percent to start the school year, or about $6.9 million. The BOS recently approved $5.7 million, which leaves $1.2 million outstanding.
There were identified needs that the school division had in the budget, but they were placed on hold due to the funds not being appropriated to the operational budget for the time being. These included additional teaching positions, supplements, and other costs.
Part of the reason for the BOS holding the funds was to ensure there was enough funding for the capital projects from the county. The Warren County BOS provides the school division with 40 percent of its annual funding.
During the joint committee meeting, Oates, who is vice chair of the BOS, said one of the concerns for the BOS is planned renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School “and what will actually be the reality of that versus the speculation,” she said. “There are uncertainties there. I know we also have E. Wilson Morrison [Elementary School]; if there’s any way that we can make that a priority at some point for those kids, that’s another consideration.”
Funk said that while she understands the BOS’s concerns, “from our perspective, it just feels like you’re holding part of the operations budget for capital instead of for operations, for which it was originally appropriated for… Because we originally approved it for operations, and some of it is being withheld for capital… and it really puts us in a predicament, obviously. We may have to talk to our staff about not getting the supplement yet,” she said, adding that the School Board has been telling WCPS staff that the board continues to work on obtaining the funds. “And we don’t want to be in the same predicament come next September,” she said.
One of the BOS’s concerns in the future, Oates continued, is the sustainability of some of the budget decisions that were made during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “What’s going to happen with future funding, the biennial budget? There are so many things,” said Oates. “The $1.2 million may not be used for capital; it may be used for future operations. But it’s yours. We’ve appropriated it to schools.”
“But we don’t have it yet for operations,” Funk said.
Cook pointed out that one of the purposes of reevaluating the school division’s budget every quarter is to look at its performance, “and if there’s something there… then that’s when we’ll open it up for discussion,” she said.
“Well, again, I just want to reiterate I hope that come next September [for the 2024 budget] we’re not sitting here still trying to get a finalized budget that should have been done back in March,” said Funk. “And I think you guys [the BOS] want that too.”
“Absolutely,” said Oates.
“We don’t want it to go from March to September, but that’s the realization of where we’re at,” Funk said.
Another issue, Oates pointed out, was that the Virginia General Assembly [GA] didn’t approve a budget until the end of July. “A lot of it had nothing to do with the supervisors,” she said. “It had to do with the GA.”
Funk acknowledged that that was “a huge factor,” as well.
Oates also said that local governments in the state are basically learning on the fly about navigating the budget cycle, which from 2020 until now has been impacted by the pandemic, as well as new state legislators. “This is new territory,” she said. “We’re all trying to learn.”
The BOS wants to plan for the school division’s future needs “and not get caught in a situation where we can’t fund something,” Oates said.
Superintendent Ballenger said: “And that’s what we’re doing — planning on where we need to go.”
Regarding renovation funding for Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School, Ballenger updated the joint committee, saying that about $245,800 would be available from cafeteria funds, with another $217,700 coming from value engineering savings identified by the general contractor. Additional savings are also forthcoming from other contractors, he told the committee members, which could help reduce renovation costs at the school from roughly $15.5 million to the school division’s available revenue for the project of $14.8 million.
“We’re still waiting on four or five contractors to get back on some other things,” he said, “and we estimate that to be about $128,000. But of course, we don’t know until they give us their numbers. So, value engineering right now totals about $463,500,” without the estimated items still to come in. The renovation project is slated to start on January 1, 2023.
The joint budget committee also set its next meeting for Monday, October 24 at 4 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Warren County Government Center, 220 N. Commerce Ave., Front Royal, Va.
Town officials praise Energy Services staff for restoring power during Saturday’s storm
The aftermath of Hurricane Ian, which brought strong winds and heavy rain to the commonwealth, wreaked havoc on some Front Royal residents over the weekend.
Mary Ellen Lynn, Interim Director of Energy Services, said Monday that about 1,500 homes and businesses experienced a loss of power twice on Saturday, Oct. 1, following two large power outages after the Sprint Substation lost its power supply.
Residents in the Kendrick area and the south side of town experienced a complete loss of power at approximately 3:30 am and then again at 10:15 pm.
Town crews quickly assessed that there were transmission line issues running through Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s territory that fed into the substation. Through unfavorable weather conditions, crews worked tirelessly to conduct load-switching and restore power as safely and quickly as possible.
All customers had power restored within three hours, 22 minutes, during the first outage and within four hours, 21 minutes, during the second.
Officials expressed gratitude to the Town Energy Services team, dispatch officers, the Front Royal Police Department (FRPD), and the linemen, who worked to restore power and keep the community safe during the storm.
In a media release Monday, Lynn stated that the Energy Services Department strives to keep the community as updated as possible in real-time but emphasized that the safety of crews comes first.
“There may be delays in updates when these rare, large-scale events occur, but know that our goal is to always keep your lights on and power outages to a minimum. We assure you that if there’s a lag in communication, it’s simply because we are diligently working to address the issue,” Lynn said.
Interim Town Manager Kathleen Leidich praised the team Monday, stating, “I would like to commend our Line Crew for their hard work and dedication through the cold, wet & dangerous conditions they had to face.”
To report an outage during business hours, contact the department at 540-635-3027. For after-hours outages, call the non-emergency number of the FRPD, 540-635-2111.
Winchester City Manager appoints new Police Chief
Winchester City Manager Dan Hoffman has selected Deputy Chief Amanda Behan as Winchester’s new and first female Police Chief in the department’s 200-year history. DC Behan has been a dedicated member of the Winchester Police Department for over 20 years, climbing the ranks from recruit in 2001 to Deputy Chief in 2021.
“Amanda has been a part of the Winchester community and police department as a public servant, volunteer, mentor, change agent, role model, and leader. Her skills and qualifications are widely known, and she has my full faith and confidence in this new role of protecting the safety and wellbeing of our officers, staff, and city,” stated Mr. Hoffman.
DC Behan has a master’s degree in Executive Leadership from Liberty University, and throughout her career with the Winchester Police Department, she has served many roles. Her accomplishments include implementing officer fitness standards, significantly expanding community outreach activities, redeveloping departmental policies, and acquiring the department’s first therapy canine.
“I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and want to thank my husband, children, and everyone who has supported me throughout this journey,” DC Behan said. “It is my passion for our community and the men and women who protect and serve it gives me this great honor to lead the Winchester Police Department. I will have an outstanding team and look forward to our future together.
In a recent administrative reorganization, the Police Chief vacancy was created when Chief John Piper was promoted to Deputy City Manager, overseeing all public safety divisions. DC Behan’s swearing-in ceremony will occur on October 21 at 2 pm during the Department’s scheduled promotion ceremony at the Jim Barnett Park Rec Center.
Valley Health confronts lingering challenges of COVID-19
Like health systems nationwide, Valley Health is facing financial challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. While social restrictions have eased considerably, and serious illness and death rates are down, the lasting impacts are still significant in the region’s nonprofit health system.
“I’m so proud of our team for their extraordinary dedication to care for the community and each other during this public health crisis,” said Valley Health President and CEO Mark Nantz. “We’ve truly lived our values of compassion, integrity, collaboration, courage, innovation, and excellence and have been a steadfast health resource for our region. Despite our best efforts, however, we face unprecedented financial challenges as the effects and aftereffects of the pandemic continue to take their toll. Since 2020, Valley Health has seen an overall drop in health care utilization, sicker patients due to deferred care, staffing shortages, and higher costs of goods and services.”
Recent reports from the American Hospital Association (AHA) examine the intense financial pressures facing hospitals and health systems:
• One study predicts losses in the billions of dollars this year for U.S. hospitals, with margins at least one-third lower than pre-pandemic levels and more than half of the nation’s hospitals operating in the red.
• A record number of rural hospitals closed their doors in 2020; those remaining face unique financial and workforce pressures moving forward.
• Deferred care during the pandemic has led to increased patient acuity in America’s hospitals, which means hospitalized patients are sicker and more costly to treat.
• In an April report, the AHA looked at increased costs driven by a spike in labor costs of about 20% over the last two years.
Left unaddressed, these financial challenges can jeopardize patients’ access to essential health care services. “Valley Health is not in danger of closing its doors,” Nantz said. “But the pandemic and its aftereffects have continued to create financial challenges for our organization.”
Like every health system across the nation, Valley Health experienced high turnover rates among a COVID-weary staff and national nursing shortages, leaving more than 800 open positions across the organization and driving labor costs to an all-time high.
Valley Health has secured $126 million to address its financial challenges through assistance programs such as the federal CARES Act, the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Were it not for that assistance over the last two and a half years, Valley Health would have experienced operating losses in excess of $100 million.
“COVID-19 forced us to curtail or temporarily discontinue many of the services we budget and staff for across our system,” explained Nantz. “Federal funds helped partially offset revenue loss associated with the pandemic and increased overhead costs due to supply chain issues and skyrocketing costs of supplemental staff. But that support has dried up, and we have not yet returned to our pre-pandemic levels of diagnostic testing, wellness care and screenings, and elective surgeries.”
With no prospects for further government assistance, the health system has been taking steps, including:
1. Investing in training, retaining the best healthcare workforce, and decreasing reliance on agency staff.
2. Assuring health insurers are paying fairly, with rate increases that reflect the rising cost of care, especially as insurance companies experience record profits while healthcare systems are experiencing record losses. Valley Health cannot do business with organizations that will not compensate fairly for services provided.
3. Reviewing and evaluating all Valley Health programs and services to ensure the best stewardship of community healthcare dollars and deploying caregivers to the most necessary roles.
“We are methodically assessing all parts of our organization, re-evaluating how, where and when we provide services, and exploring new ways to deploy our staffing so that we can continue to be our region’s care provider and employer of choice well into the future,” said Nantz.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for October 3 – 7, 2022
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.
No lane closures were reported.
No lane closures were reported.
Route 55 (John Marshall Highway) – Flagger traffic control between Front Royal town limits and Route 79 (Apple Mountain Road) for tree removal operations, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday.
No lane closures were reported.
Missing and endangered person, located by FCSO Bloodhound ‘Bleu”
On September 30, 2022, Deputies responded to the area of Norwich Court in Stephens City for a missing person. A son had reported that his mother, age 74, had left their residence while he was on a Zoom call for his work. The son told the Deputies that his mother was not very mobile and didn’t think she could walk far from the residence. Deputies checked the residence to ensure she was not hiding in the residence, as some people have a tendency to do when having mental health issues.
The missing lady and her son had visited a nursing facility the previous day for the mother and had plans to visit another facility that day. The mother suffers from severe depression and anxiety.
A neighbor who lived on Hayvenhurst Drive, Stephens City, stated that “she saw an elderly woman earlier, walking towards Town Run Lane like she was on a mission.”
Deputy Dan Clark and Frederick County Bloodhound “Bleu” checked out the area of Town Run Lane where Bleu located the lady lying in a brushy thicket in the 400 block of Town Run Lane. The woman had taken numerous prescription medications to do bodily harm to herself. Stephens City Fire and Rescue transported the victim to the Winchester Medical Center for treatment.
It is believed that without Bloodhound Bleu’s assistance in locating this victim when he did, the outcome would have been considerably different.
According to Sheriff Lenny Millholland, if any residents of Frederick County have family members with Dementia, Alzheimer’s, or a medical condition that causes them to wander or get away from care, they can contact the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. Information can be provided about Project Lifesaver and what can be done to help the families.
K-9 Frederick’s Copper “Bleu” Tracker-BLEU is a Bloodhound. His duties include tracking/trailing bad guys and locating missing people, whether children or the elderly and mental patients who walk off or run away on foot.
Bleu serves the citizens of Frederick County, Virginia, and any other jurisdictions that request his services.
Education quality and positive learning enviroment improve in Warren County Public Schools
Last week, the Virginia Department of Education released the 2022 accreditation ratings and school quality indicator data. Seven schools were accredited, and two schools—E. Wilson Morrison Elementary and Skyline Middle—were accredited with conditions.
Dr. Chris Ballenger, Superintendent of Warren County Public Schools, would like to recognize its teachers, staff, and administrators for their dedication to providing students with quality education and a positive learning environment throughout the 2021-2022 school year.
The impact of the pandemic on student learning remains apparent. However, one thing is certain, teachers and administrators have worked hard, which was reflected in the growth seen in last year’s Standards of Learning data. Teachers’ commitment to identify learning gaps and implement lessons to help close those gaps was a big ask, and teachers delivered. The support provided to improve achievement and create a positive learning environment was especially important given the changes to the instructional environment students experienced due to the pandemic. The 2021-2022 school year marked the return to full-time instruction for all K-12 students since March 2020.
The data released by the VDOE reflects that Warren County students improved in reading, mathematics, and science compared to the 2020-2021 data. The work to meet state accountability indicators and ensure students are performing at grade-level proficiency continues this school year. Teachers and staff engage in professional development, implement evidence-based practices in their classrooms, and focus on student learning outcomes.
Warren County Public Schools has a tremendous staff, and as a community, we should be grateful to have such dedicated educators working with students daily.
Virginia’s School Quality Profiles provide information about student achievement, college and career readiness, program completion, school safety, teacher quality, and other topics of interest to parents and the general public. Please visit the VDOE’s School Quality Profile website for more information on school accreditation ratings and quality indicator data.
- A.S. Rhodes Elementary –ACCREDITED
- E. Wilson Morrison Elementary – ACCREDITED WITH CONDITIONS
- Hilda J. Barbour Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Ressie Jeffries Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Skyline High – ACCREDITED
- Skyline Middle – ACCREDITED WITH CONDITIONS
- Warren County High – ACCREDITED
- Warren County Middle – ACCREDITED