The Warren County School Board on Wednesday, May 3, unanimously green-lighted the appointment of two new elementary school teachers for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS), as well as the superintendent’s proposed fiscal year 2024 operating budget for the school district and new security equipment for two Warren County schools.
Present at the meeting were School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and members Andrea Lo, Antoinette Funk, and Melanie Salins, who voted 5-0 in two separate action items to accept the appointments of both principals.
Prior to the board’s vote, WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger introduced and recommended Jennifer Knox as the principal at E. Wilson Morrison (EWM) Elementary School and Jessica Vacca as the principal at Leslie Fox Keyser (LFK) Elementary School. Both begin their new positions on July 1.
“I’m excited to get started,” said Knox, who has been an educator for 13 years and moved to Front Royal from Las Vegas two years ago with her family.
Vacca, who began her career in 2007 as a first-grade teacher at EWM Elementary School, has also worked at A.S. Rhodes Elementary School, Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School, and LFK Elementary School. At LFK, Vacca served as the assistant principal and, since November, has taken on the role of interim principal.
“I want to take a moment to express my heartfelt gratitude for your decision to entrust in me the position of principal at [LFK],” Vacca said. “I fully believe in the school division and its mission.”
In other personnel news, Shane Goodwin is leaving WCPS as the school district’s Personnel Director during what is currently a tough teacher hiring and retention time for many school districts across the country, including Warren County.
Goodwin, who has been acknowledged for diligently trying to recruit, hire and retain WCPS staff before, during, and after the pandemic, has been named Frederick County Public Schools’ new Assistant Superintendent for Administration. He will begin his new role effective June 1.
“I just wanted to stand before you tonight and say thank you for so many things,” Goodwin told board members during the meeting’s community participation portion. “And thank you for putting kids first and for believing in me and for the opportunity.
“And while I look forward to new things, I’m really thankful for the older ones,” he added.
“Shane is leaving us, so that puts us in a real bind,” said Board Vice Chair Rinaldi during his report.
WCPS has had several other leadership staff changes recently. This school year, for instance, Jane Baker retired as director of Career and Technical Education (CTE) and principal at the Blue Ridge Technical Center; Greg Livesay retired as WCPS Maintenance Director; and Michael Hirsch retired as the head of Special Services. And Alan Fox, in 2022, retired as WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Instruction.
Proposed FY2024 budget
The School Board on Wednesday unanimously approved the superintendent’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2024 operating budget for WCPS. Ballenger said the budget may change depending upon what happens with state funding action by the Virginia General Assembly.
The WCPS proposed FY2024 budget totals $72,524,746, which is an increase over last year’s budget and is based on a student enrollment of 4,998.
Of the total operating budget, $61,536,521 will cover FY2024 salaries and benefits, while $10,988,225 will cover line item non-labor costs.
Several revenue sources will cover these costs: State revenue of $38,093,115; $28,650,000 in local revenue; $4,980,387 from federal revenue — a decrease of $974,490 over approved FY2023 federal funds that totaled $5,954,877; roughly $500,000 from miscellaneous revenue sources, such as an energy bond rebate and county vehicle maintenance funds; and a $300,000 transfer from the Health Care Fund, according to Ballenger.
In an email to the Royal Examiner earlier today, School Board Chair Pence said members likely won’t know the final state budget until the end of June.
“I am supportive of our FY 2024 budget,” wrote Pence. “WCPS did not see an increase in funding from the FY22 to FY23 budget. While the FY24 operating budget does show an approximate $930k increase, the budget subcommittee, administrators, and entire School Board worked diligently to develop a budget that truly addresses the needs of our students.”
Pence also said that she appreciated the collaborative effort the School Board had during joint budget meetings with the Warren County Board of Supervisors (BOS). “Even with the $600k calculation template error from the state and rising costs of fuel and other necessities to run the division, we were still able to address the specific needs of our schools and include staff raises,” she wrote.
During his presentation, Ballenger expanded upon her comments by explaining that state revenue for WCPS will be reduced due to a $668,000 state aid calculation error. “So, we still have that in effect right now,” he said, “and that does give us an increase of about $1.2 million from state revenue.”
In addition to the state’s costly calculation error, Ballenger said the cost to hire substitute teachers is another of several drivers for the increased budget.
“We’ve had to put some money into the substitute budget,” he said. “As you are aware, the number of absences that we’ve had with staffing means we are probably going to be pushing a million dollars in substitutes this year. It’s pretty high. We’re hoping that we can get that cost down on our subs.”
Other budget drivers include higher fuel costs, the need for more school personnel, and teacher raises. The superintendent said some of the proposed cost-cutting includes an almost $600,000 cut to the non-labor budget; and putting some required positions on hold, such as a maintenance supervisor, an HVAC position, and a transportation mechanic.
“Those are positions that we cannot go multiple years without,” said Ballenger. “We need those positions.”
Included on the capital side of the budget are renovations at LFK Elementary School, where onsite construction started in December 2022. The completion date is set for August 2024. Funding for the LFK project totals $15,316,390, according to Ballenger’s presentation slides, which also include capital improvements for EWM Elementary School and Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School.
“My [budget] presentation is based on the current needs of the school division,” Ballenger said. “This budget is not complete as we are awaiting final numbers from the state that could have an impact on this budget. We will continue to review and refine it.”
The School Board also voted unanimously to approve several other action agenda items, including:
Two quotes totaling $28,875 from MTS Equipment of Winchester, Va., to perform the proposed serving line improvements at both Skyline High School and Warren County High School, where the WCPS Food Service Department is working on efficiency in food service lines in the cafeterias, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Administration George “Buck” Smith.
“Currently, we have air curtain reach-in coolers, which are used for display of our fruits and vegetables, but the coolers are largely inefficient and past their useful lives,” Smith told the board. “The new project will cost less in the long-term than replacing all of the existing coolers as they fail. And this will also be an effort to improve the overall aesthetic and increase our team’s ability to be more efficient when it comes to filling up the servery area.”
The project will add refrigerated drop-in serving wells to each serving line, improving the speed of service, and will be more visually appealing to students, he added.
Calendar changes. Juneteenth is now a division-wide holiday this school year and next year. The federal holiday is celebrated on June 19 to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. The School Board also approved May 23, 2023, as the last day of school for students and May 24, 2023, as a professional work day.
New security cameras for A.S. Rhodes Elementary School and Skyline Middle School will be purchased from Herndon, Va.-based ePlus Inc. in the amount of $22,010.25, which will be covered by a 2022-2023 Virginia Security Grant. WCPS Technology Director Tim Grant said new cameras will replace what isn’t currently working. “They’ll definitely be getting an upgrade on these,” Grant said.
The 2023-2024 Local Perkins CTE funding plan was presented by Jane Baker from the Blue Ridge Technical Center (above at the podium). The local plan provides Warren County with funding to purchase materials and equipment, support professional development, and support members of identified special populations engaged in career and technical student organizations.
The funding enables students to be workforce-ready, Baker said, adding that the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has deemed the plan as “substantially approvable” in its present form, though final numbers are not yet available from VDOE.
“However, it is expected that the funding will be similar to the numbers presented in this document,” said Baker, noting that the numbers are reflective of last year’s allotment.
Specifically, Perkins funding provides WCPS funds to support CTE programs and is not to supplant but to enhance local funding, Baker said.
To watch the School Board’s May 3 meeting in its entirety, go to: https://www.wcpsva.org/schoolboardmeetings.
Front Royal’s Town Council Race: Candidates Share Visions on Housing and Blight
Candidates Open Up About Their Plans and Backgrounds at Recent Forum.
On September 27, the Warren County Builders Association played host to a riveting forum featuring candidates eyeing a seat on the Front Royal Town Council.
Melissa DeDomenico-Payne: A familiar face in the Front Royal political scene, Melissa has been serving on the Town Council since her appointment in January 2023. A local resident since 1971, she vividly remembers the water pollution issues from Avtex during her younger days. Melissa’s approach to blighted properties leans heavily on beefing up the enforcement of rental rules and town codes. She’s vocal about the need for affordable housing. Melissa’s rich background in public service was a focal point during her closing, and she urged builders to establish better communication channels with the council.
Connie Marshner: Branding herself as the “uncandidate,” Connie brings a fresh perspective, free from the binds of political history. She moved to Front Royal in 1995 and recalls a childhood dictated by her Navy family’s frequent relocations. Her take on neglected properties echoes a common sentiment—more hands on deck. She envisions Front Royal as a “lifelong community” with houses everyone can afford. Ending her segment, Connie painted a picture of Front Royal at a crossroads, emphasizing the need to cherish its unique charm and walkable streets.
Glenn Wood: A true Front Royal son, Glenn’s roots trace back to his school days in the local institutions. After dedicating half a century to manufacturing and human resources, he hung up his professional boots, although his heart remains tethered to community service. Glenn expresses deep concern over blighted properties, advocating for prompt actions. On the housing frontier, he’s all for partnerships that benefit those earning under $50k annually. In wrapping up, Glenn put his planning commission experience on display, pledging to ensure the well-being of Front Royal’s residents.
Missing from the forum was the fourth candidate, Skip Rogers, who couldn’t make it to the event. The discussions from that evening painted a clear picture of each candidate’s vision for Front Royal, especially on burning topics like blight and housing affordability. As election day approaches, the residents of Front Royal are undoubtedly better equipped to cast their votes.
Warren County Builders Association Spotlights School Board Hopefuls: Pence & Mabie Talk Education
Candidates Pence and Mabie Weigh in on Bullying, Homeschooling, and Community Engagement.
With the Warren County Builders Association as the backdrop, a pivotal discussion surrounding the direction of local education was presented, showcasing school board candidates Kristen Pence of the South River District and Amber Mabie of the Shenandoah District. Their perspectives, experiences, and solutions took center stage, providing Warren County residents with an in-depth look into their educational aspirations for the region.
Kristen Pence: A Warren County High School alumna, Pence has roots deeply embedded in the community. With a dual role as a veterinarian and a parent, Pence leveraged her four-year tenure on the school board, emphasizing her unwavering commitment. She drew attention to her consistent efforts over the past term, treating the board seat as a full-time job, and her constant engagement with students, parents, and teachers.
Amber Mabie: Mabie’s narrative was equally compelling. A long-standing resident of Warren County and a mother to eight, Mabie exhibited her intimate familiarity with the local school system. With a rich tapestry of experiences ranging from classroom volunteering to substitute teaching, Mabie made a strong case for her grassroots approach to education. She was passionate in her stance against political interference in schools, underscoring the need for an untainted educational environment.
The Core Issues:
Bullying and Student Violence: Rick Novak, the evening’s moderator, didn’t hesitate to address one of the most pressing issues: the alarming increase in bullying and student violence. Mabie passionately voiced her perspective, emphasizing the paramount importance of teacher safety and advocating for reinforced in-school support. Pence, while echoing the sentiment of robust support, stressed the necessity of not just having discipline policies but also ensuring they are effectively enforced.
Homeschooling vs. Public Schooling: This debate took an interesting turn, with Pence acknowledging the growing homeschooling community in Warren County. She advocated for the respect of diverse educational choices while emphasizing her commitment to bolstering public education. Mabie, on the other hand, emphasized the crucial insights gained from having children within the public system and was candid in her skepticism about school board members without this connection.
As they wrapped up, both candidates exhibited a deep-seated commitment to the community. Pence focused on student behavioral challenges and underscored the importance of family engagement. Mabie, casting a wider societal net, championed inclusivity, safety, and the urgent need to address pressing social challenges affecting students.
As the election date of November 7 nears, voters will undoubtedly be reflecting upon the depth and breadth of perspectives presented during this seminal event.
Solo Spotlight: Candidates Stand Alone at Warren County Builders Association Forum
Warren County Builders Association Hosts Noteworthy Candidate Forum.
Warren County’s Builders Association took a significant stride in strengthening community ties and promoting transparency by hosting its first-ever candidate forum.
George Cline, President of the Warren County Builders Association, expressed gratitude for the overwhelming participation and emphasized the Association’s continuous commitment to the community. Since its establishment in 2006, the association has launched various philanthropic initiatives, from scholarships at the Blue Ridge Tech Center to supporting local veterans and families in need.
Here’s a look at their messages.
- Melanie Salins – North River School Board
Melanie, a re-election candidate, emphasized the importance of parents in the education process. Voicing concerns about elitism in education organizations, she advocated for increased parental involvement. Salins also acknowledged the positive strides Warren County Public Schools have made, including the accomplishments at Blue Ridge Tech.
- Angie Moore – Clerk of the Court
Angie provided an insight into the vast responsibilities of the Circuit Court. During her tenure, she has made significant strides in digitizing documents, securing grants, and maintaining operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moore showcased her qualifications, emphasizing her commitment to the role.
- John Bell – Commonwealth Attorney
With a personal touch, John shared his family stories and the importance of justice in a small-town setting. He discussed the challenges brought forth by the pandemic and the need for a prosecutor who understands the community.
- Crystal Cline – Warren County Sheriff: Crystal underlined the importance of bolstering resources for the Sheriff’s Office. She commended the dedication of deputies, highlighting the need for specialized training and equipment. Crystal stressed the importance of dedicated school resource officers and effective community support.
- Janice Butler-Shanks – Warren County Treasurer: Janice, the Republican nominee for Treasurer, emphasized the Treasurer’s role in managing and collecting taxes. Drawing upon her extensive background in local businesses and government, she committed to upholding the highest standards in office.
- Sherry Sowers – Commissioner of Revenue: As a long-serving Commissioner, Sherry discussed her dedication to assisting Warren County residents. She addressed the improvements in liaising with contractors regarding business licenses and encouraged community members to seek help when needed.
The inaugural candidate forum by the Warren County Builders Association marked a significant step toward enhancing community engagement. Each candidate, though unopposed, showed a deep commitment to their roles and a vision for a better Warren County.
Warren County’s Crossroads: Voices of the Future
Board of Supervisor Candidates Share Visions for Warren County’s Growth and Governance.
On September 27, 2023, the Warren County Builders Association hosted a Candidate Forum at the Government Center, showcasing the diverse visions of five remarkable candidates for the Board of Supervisors.
Rich Jamieson – North River District
Having dedicated a significant portion of his life to industrial engineering, Jamieson brings a keen analytical perspective to the table. With nearly 30 years of experience focusing on financial and operational enhancement, he firmly believes in the integration of these principles into local governance. Jamieson has consistently promoted the notion that a systematic and engineered approach can solve even the most intricate community issues. His campaign theme, “Professionalism in Governance,” mirrors his dedication to elevating county management standards.
Nicole Wanzer – North River District
Wanzer’s campaign resonates deeply with those who hold Warren County close to their hearts. A third-generation resident, her stories weave a tapestry of love for the land, its history, and its people. She speaks not as a distant politician but as a neighbor, sharing joys, concerns, and hopes for the community’s future. Wanzer is particularly passionate about ensuring the voices of North River residents are at the forefront, pushing for public safety measures, fiscal transparency, and a departure from divisive politics that have plagued community discourse.
Walt Mabe – Shenandoah District
The journey of Mabe, the Shenandoah District representative seeking re-election, stands as a testament to his resilience and adaptability. Although initially challenged by his lack of political experience, Mabe’s narrative is one of growth and transformation. He speaks of lessons learned during his tenure, emphasizing the importance of collective action and continued progress. His message, “We’ve faced challenges, but we’ve always risen,” encapsulates his unwavering optimism for Warren County.
John Stanmeyer – Shenandoah District
Stanmeyer, with his background in economics from the University of Virginia, combines academic rigor with on-ground practicality. He offers a vision rooted in metrics, accountability, and efficiency. He seeks to balance tourism growth while preserving local interests and wants to confront the drug epidemic using data-driven strategies. His campaign, focused on “Data and Dedication,” highlights his belief that evidence-based policymaking is the key to sustainable growth.
Cheryl Cullers – South River District
Cullers, the incumbent representative for the South River District, embodies a legacy of dedication to Warren County. She champions numerous causes, from pushing for broadband access to enhancing emergency services. Her tenure is marked by a non-partisan approach, always prioritizing community needs over political allegiances. Her rallying cry, “I represent you, not the politics,” embodies her service ethos.
Warren County stands at a crossroads, with each candidate offering unique paths forward. Their collective vision showcases a future rich in potential:
- Jamieson: A future of systematic, professional governance.
- Wanzer: A future that embraces history, unity, and community voices.
- Mabe: A future forged through resilience and optimism.
- Stanmeyer: A future steered by data and unwavering dedication.
- Cullers: A future that prioritizes the community over politics.
The impending election is pivotal, shaping the trajectory of Warren County’s journey. It’s more than a vote; it’s a declaration of belief in a prosperous tomorrow.
Building a Better Tomorrow: Candidates for VA Delegate District 31 Outline Their Blueprint at Warren County Builders Assoc Forum
Hopes, Challenges, and Community: Candidates Share Visions for District 31.
On September 27, 2023, the Warren County Builders Association hosted a Candidate Forum at the Government Center. Three hopefuls—Steve Foreman, Grace Morrison, and Delores Oates—took center stage to articulate their aspirations and plans for District 31 of Virginia.
Delores Oates passionately highlighted her deep-seated roots in Warren County. Citing her multifaceted roles in the community, from a baseball mom to a mentor for teen mothers, she emphasized the community’s significance in her life. Expressing concerns over Warren County’s segmented representation in the past decade, she pledged a unified, committed voice in the State House of Virginia.
Steve Foreman’s professional background shone through as he referenced his 25-year tenure with Sprint, delineating duties that married technology with project management. Affirming his commitment to the entirety of District 31, he vowed to equip citizens with the resources they need to thrive.
Grace Morrison brought forth her unique perspective as a conservative independent. With family roots deep in the Virginia building legacy, Morrison presented herself as a bridge between tradition and progress. She underscored her commitment to genuine representation, free from the binds of corporate interests and partisan loyalty.
Moderator Rick Novak probed the candidates on their strategies for maintaining connections with Warren County constituents. Each candidate emphasized accessibility, with Oates advocating for individual conversations and Foreman prioritizing regular community meetings.
In discussing the top issues for Warren County, education was a resonant theme. While Morrison drew from her teaching experience to emphasize support from Richmond, Oates spotlighted the integration of trades in the educational curriculum. Foreman, on the other hand, highlighted the importance of retaining public funds in public schools.
The forum concluded with each candidate outlining their visions. While Oates focused on her roots in Warren County and the importance of economic development, Foreman advocated for pragmatic compromises and solutions that serve communal needs. Morrison reiterated her role as a trustee and servant to the people.
With a shared love for Warren County, each candidate offered their unique lens on progress, challenges, and community welfare. While the election will ultimately decide District 31’s representative, the forum provided a valuable opportunity for the community to gauge the visions and priorities of each contender.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Mourning Dove
How is a juvenile dove different from other songbirds?
Last week, this little one was the unfortunate victim of a cat attack. Upon admission, this patient was having trouble breathing and multiple puncture wounds were found over the hips. They were in otherwise good condition and well hydrated—signs mom was taking great care of them prior to the attack.
Mourning Doves grow incredibly quickly, which is why renesting a healthy fledgling with their parents is so important when possible—they’re learning a lot and ready to be on their own within just a few short weeks.
This baby will have to grow up under human care due to the extent of their injuries. There are many babies of various species everywhere still, unable to fully fly or run, and are at great risk of predation in general. This is one of many important reasons that cats should be kept indoors.
Mourning Doves are not like other songbirds we often receive. They are in the family Columbiformes, which only includes pigeons and dove species.
They’re characterized by short, stocky bodies and the presence of a crop, which is a muscular pouch off of the esophagus that holds seeds, allowing them to digest slowly.
They also have a gizzard (“second stomach”) that helps grind up these hard seeds, with the assistance of small rocks (“grit”) stored in the organ.
Because this species almost exclusively eats seeds, babies are fed something called crop milk which is produced in the lining of adults’ crops and is regurgitated into the crops of babies.
In rehabilitative care, nestling doves are fed a slurry that mimics the nutritional composition of crop milk until they are ready for seeds.
Thankfully, after just one week, this dove has grown quickly and figured out how to use our “seed tube” to feed itself, allowing us to be more hands-off, which is always the goal in rehabilitation! (Click here to see it in action!)
We expect this bird to be ready for outdoor conditioning in another week or two and released shortly after that.
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