In this Town Talk, our publisher Mike McCool speaks with Ken Knesh, Principal at Warren County High School. On December 11, 2021, WCHS will be hosting a Holiday Craft and Vendor Bazaar from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. The school is located at 155 Westminster Drive in Front Royal.
Come out and start your holiday shopping at this event and help support the parents ‘Cat Pack’ programs and the 35 local vendors. Free admission and parking.
Some vendors include Avery Hess, Apron Love, Betts & Coop Boutique, Cardshop Bakers, Chantill’s Cupboard, Collectively Emily, ColorStreet, Darling Daughters Crafts, Dot Dot Smile, Essential Bodywear, Facial Aloe’s, Farmasi, Freshie Start, Malena’s Closet, Mama Bears Canned Goods, Norwex, Pampered Chef, Paparazzi, Park Lane Jewelry, Peace Pillows, and Scentsy.
Town Talk is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders, and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied, but hopefully interesting. If you have an idea, topic, or want to hear from someone in our community, let us know. Send your request to news@RoyalExaminer.com
Governor Glenn Youngkin declares State of Emergency in advance of Hurricane Ian
Governor Glenn Youngkin declared a State of Emergency in advance of Hurricane Ian, which is expected to impact portions of Virginia starting on Friday, September 30, 2022.
“Hurricane Ian is a large, powerful storm, and current predictions indicate that it may impact parts of Virginia later this week into early next week,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “We want to ensure that our communities have the resources to respond to and recover from any potential effects from the storm. While we recognize that the storm track is still uncertain, I nevertheless encourage all Virginians and visitors to make a plan, have supplies on hand, and follow official sources for the latest forecast information and guidance. Suzanne and I will pray for those in Florida in the storm’s path.”
This State of Emergency allows the Commonwealth to mobilize resources and equipment for response and recovery efforts. Virginians should be prepared for the potential of severe rainfall, flooding, wind damage, tornadoes, and other storm-related impacts.
The Virginia Emergency Support Team (VEST) actively monitors the situation and coordinates resources and information to prepare for this storm. The Virginia Emergency Operations Center (VEOC) will coordinate preparedness, response, and recovery efforts with local, state, and federal officials.
Recommendations for Virginians
Make a plan. Plan in advance a route to a safe place, how you will stay in contact with family and friends, and what you will do in different situations. Additional planning resources are available at https://www.vaemergency.gov/prepare/make-a-plan/.
Prepare an emergency kit. For a list of recommended emergency supplies to sustain your household before, during, and after the storm, visit VAemergency.gov/emergency-kit.
Stay informed. Virginians should follow the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on Twitter and Facebook for preparedness updates and their local National Weather Service office for the latest weather forecast, advisories, watches, or warnings. Download the FEMA app on your smartphone to receive mobile alerts from the National Weather Service. Power outages are always a concern during weather events—make sure you have a battery-operated radio available to still receive life-saving alerts.
Skyline High students protest pending ‘anti-trans’ legislation forwarded by Governor Youngkin
Thirteen public school students gathered on the Skyline High School campus Tuesday morning to protest Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s initiative in forwarding what they termed an “anti-trans law” in Virginia. The students, aged 14 to 17, were orderly throughout as they moved from the front of the school to the football field authorized for the students’ expression of distress at what they believe would become legalized discrimination against transgender students. One of the student organizers who contacted media about the event scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to noon termed it a “Trans Rights Walkout”.
Asked about the student demonstration, Skyline High Principal Danelle Sperling told Royal Examiner: “When the student-led walkout began, I spoke with two of the organizers and made a plan with them to provide adult supervision to ensure safety, and I made plans to communicate with the involved students’ families about our response. Obviously we want students in class, but our desire was to make sure they remained safe and that their civil liberties were respected. This group of students were peaceful and extremely respectful for the duration of their protest and returned to their school day after about 30 minutes without incident.”
Online research of the recent legislative initiative of apparent 2024 Republican Presidential hopeful Youngkin led us to several reports, including mid-September Washington Post and National Public Radio stories. The Post in particular cited civil rights attorney’s questions about the legal basis for the governor’s mandate regarding bathroom, locker-room and other school facilities uses by transgender children.
But of the legislation itself, NPR notes that, “The Virginia Department of Education released its 2022 Model Policies online Friday (Sept. 16) … The new rules will effected the more than 1 million children enrolled in the state’s public school system.
“The revamped rules explicitly state that students must only use bathrooms and locker rooms associated with the sex assigned to them at birth. If a student wants to participate in a sport or other extracurricular activities, they must, again, only participate in teams that align with the sex assigned at birth.
“Further, the legal name and sex of a student can’t be changed ‘even upon written instruction of a parent or eligible student’ without an official legal document or court order.”
The Post story by Rachel Weiner quotes employment and civil rights attorney Joshua Erlich stating, “Gov. Youngkin is trying to pick a political fight by attacking trans students, but his model policies are in conflict with recent court rulings … Discrimination against transgender individuals is illegal discrimination on the basis of sex.”
The Post story also notes that, “Recent federal court decisions have upheld protections for transgender people, including a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision, written by Trump appointee Neil M. Gorsuch, that determined that civil rights law barring sex discrimination covers transgender people,” and that, “In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that a transgender student could not be barred from using a boys’ bathroom. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that ruling last year.”
The Post also noted conflicting legal messaging and a failure to clarify from the Virginia governor’s office: “The directive, which does not go into effect until after a 30-day public comment period beginning later this month, says schools must comply with federal precedent and the Virginia Human Rights Act, but it does not explain how. A spokeswoman for the governor declined to answer specific questions about the policy, saying in a statement that it ‘requires that schools treat every single student with dignity and respect.’ Some districts have vowed to resist it,” the Post reported.
And so it goes from Richmond to Front Royal and Warren County, as around the Commonwealth, as established legal precedent and human rights butt heads with political ambition and the nation’s widening social divide.
Warren Heritage Society host tour of Bel Air Mansion
On September 24, 2022, the Warren Heritage Society hosted a tour of the Bel Air Mansion in Front Royal, Virginia. In this exclusive Royal Examiner video, you will hear Maral Kalbian, Architectural Historian, provide some historical remarks on Bel Air and how it has changed over the years. Also, excepts from Luck Buck’s Diary and letters, read by Hallie Groves, President of the WHS Board of Directors. WHS Archivist Tony Carter welcomed the guest and introduced the speakers.
Richard Hoover, a WHS Board member, gives the history of the Warren Heritage Society along with welcoming remarks from Jeff LeHew, the current owner of Bel Air. The Warren Heritage Society wants to thank Lorraine Hulquist, Suzanne Silek, Tom Lockhart, and Hallie Groves for their generosity in helping sponsor this event.
Bel Air Mansion, built in 1795, was home to 19-year-old Lucy Buck, whose detailed diary entries during the war have been invaluable for historians. General Robert E. Lee and his staff stopped here for refreshments on July 22, 1863, as his army retreated from Gettysburg.
School Board again delays action on VSBA items; approves lease for Elements Program
A new lease to house the Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Elements Program received unanimous approval from the Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, September 21 meeting, and the board received updates on several WCPS items during its coinciding work session.
At the same time, members present to vote during the meeting — School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins — again delayed action on three items related to the board’s potential 2022-2023 membership in the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA).
The VSBA-related items were removed from the agenda prior to the meeting “in order to receive additional information and will be added to the October 5 meeting,” according to the School Board’s revised agenda.
Removal of the three VSBA items — to approve renewal of the board’s VSBA membership; to renew the VSBA Policy Services Agreement; and to select a delegate and alternate delegate to attend the 2022 VSBA Annual Convention — again delays board action initially requested months ago and which continues to lag mainly due to concerns expressed largely by Salins, who objects to the School Board’s membership in the association.
The board members voted 5-0 to approve each of the three other action items on the agenda — including improvements for handicapped accessibility at Skyline High School and a one-year contract for the Schoology learning management system.
Following a motion by Funk and a second by Salins, the School Board first approved a WCPS lease agreement for the Raymond Santmyers Youth Center for the WCPS Elements Program, which WCPS Special Services Director Michael Hirsch (above) said is a transition program to bridge the gap between high school and adulthood for qualified students with disabilities.
Specifically, Elements is a community-based program for students ages 18 to 22 that focuses on pre-employment, supported employment, and employment strategies, said Hirsch.
“Some students with disabilities don’t have the option to go to college, particularly those with significant cognitive impairments,” Hirsch explained, “so we decided to work with Lord Fairfax Community College and create our own program named Elements.”
Lord Fairfax Community College is now known as Laurel Ridge Community College. Hirsch said the Elements Program was located at the college for years until March 2020 when WCPS had to stop holding its class there. Hirsch said the plan now is to go back to the college with an expanded program that will allow WCPS to serve more students than the nine it currently serves this school year.
“We want to give students who don’t graduate with a standard or advanced diploma the option to stay [in WCPS] until their 22nd birthday,” Hirsch said. “We don’t like to see students sitting in Warren County High School or Skyline High School for eight years in a restrictive setting, so we’re creating options in the community and at the college.”
Until WCPS can hold its Elements class at the college again, Hirsch said the division wanted the community-based program for students with disabilities to continue operations. Warren County stepped up and offered free space at the Santmayer Youth Center to home base the Elements Program. This year’s nine students in the program will go into the community to work in positions with the Town of Front Royal and for all types of local business partners as they “learn how to work competitively,” said Hirsch.
WCPS plans to have two program bases when the college reopens its doors in the spring, Hirsch said. From the college site, students will be able to work a variety of positions, such as in the mail room, in food service, or in the student union, he said, while from the youth center they will be able to work in Front Royal-located positions.
“We love it and we’re very thankful to the County for stepping up and providing this resource to us,” said Hirsch.
With the School Board’s approval of the action item, WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger is now authorized to execute either a lease or a memorandum of agreement with Warren County for the occupancy of a portion of the youth center, which is on East 8th Street in Front Royal.
In other action, the board approved WCPS purchasing the 2022-2023 Schoology learning management system totaling $16,147.17 for use this school year in the elementary schools. WCPS has used the system for the last two years during the pandemic and upon completion of a survey this year decided to continue using it, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Heather Bragg. The system is used by teachers to communicate with students and parents, among other tasks.
The last action item approved by the School Board regarded a request to install additional curb cuts at the bus loop/parking lot entrance at Skyline High School where a painted pedestrian crosswalk currently exists to increase student and staff safety and to improve handicapped accessibility.
The board approved a contract totaling $19,235.83 that will be awarded to the Gordian Group, which will install the handicapped-accessible curb cuts that will be compliant with federal laws.
Among several items discussed during the work session portion of the School Board’s meeting, WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith outlined information related to the planned renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser (LFK) Elementary School.
The Warren County School Board Building Committee — which also met on Wednesday prior to the School Board’s meeting — worked through value engineering items and looked at identifying additional funding sources for the LFK project.
For example, roughly $245,800 would be available for the LFK project from the WCPS cafeteria fund to use for new appliances and their installation, said Smith, who added that tens of thousands of dollars in project savings also could be derived from modified renovations that would cost less and not detract from the overall project’s scope.
Smith told School Board members that the building committee will have a contract that has been reviewed by the division attorney ready, as well as a presentation for the School Board so that it can possibly take action on it during the board’s October 5 meeting.
Watch the exclusive Royal Examiner video of the entire Warren County School Board Building Committee meeting below.
In another work session item, Superintendent Ballenger reported that there are 5,042 students currently attending WCPS, not including the roughly 173 to 175 students in pre-kindergarten.
Ballenger also pointed out that class sizes are growing at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, which is expected to need five teachers per grade level within the next two years. E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School also may need additional teaching supports, he said.
After discussing some options for providing such additional support — which is needed now to come back from pandemic-related deficits in reading and math in Ressie classrooms — Ballenger said he will present an item for board action on how to do so at its next meeting.
“We are pushing the limits of the number of students per class,” Ballenger told board members, “and we still are having to do a lot of remediation. We want to make sure we’re giving students the best services possible.”
Another work session item that will come up later for School Board action included removing the gender specifications from both the Warren County Educational Foundation Scholarship and the Thompson Scholarship, which are awarded at each WCPS high school to the male and female student with the highest academic GPA who also meet the criteria for the scholarships. The scholarships are usually in the amount of $3,000 each but may be adjusted depending on the amount of money available for distribution.
WCPS would like the School Board to consider making that change to the scholarships’ criteria in order to recognize the two students at each high school with the highest academic GPA, regardless of their gender, said Bragg.
Also, due to increased demands on the WCPS Finance Department, Ballenger said there is a need to add a new position to the department. This work session item also will come up at a future board meeting for consideration.
Warren County School Board Building Committee meeting of September 21, 2022
Warren County School Board Meeting/Work Session of September 21, 2022
Town Planning Commission adds a member, another short-term tourist rental; sees another attempt on Main Street micro-housing on the horizon
The Front Royal Planning Commission introduced its newest member at its regular meeting on September 21. Daniel Wells joins the commission, replacing retiring former Chairman Douglas Jones, who served on the commission for 15 years. Chairman Daryl Merchant expressed the commission’s appreciation for Mr. Jones’ hard work and long service.
A consent agenda portending a wave of new short-term tourist rental applications was approved for authorizations to advertise public hearings. The following public hearings would be at the Commission’s regular meeting on October 19:
- For Doug Ichiuji, a special use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 200 East Main Street in the Historic Overlay District.
- For Aaron Hike, a special use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 1116 North Royal Avenue in the Entrance Corridor Overlay District.
- For the Minick Group, LLC, a special use permit for a short-term tourist rental at 206 Lee Street in the Historic Overlay District.
Also on the consent agenda for authorization to advertise was a special use permit for SeeSuu, LLC, to convert an existing commercial structure at 131 E. Main Street in the Historic Overlay District to a greater number of dwelling units up to a height of sixty feet. The project description was very short on details, but the preliminary sketches look similar to proposals floated earlier in the year for a large-scale overhaul of the old Murphy Theater building on East Main Street to create a six-story building with 40 housing units as small as 320 square feet (s.f.), none larger than 640 s.f.
The proposal also states that valet parking will be acquired to meet any needed parking space. The description indicates that the first two stories are potentially retail/commercial spaces.
Regardless of how the project plays out, the conversion of such a prominent building in the Downtown Historic District would have a broad impact on the entire downtown and is certain to attract public feedback.
On its action agenda, the commission held a public hearing on a request from Vesta Property Management for a short-term tourist rental at 30 Fairview Court on property zoned Residential One (R-1). The Vesta representative, Chloe Phillips, answered commissioners’ questions. Chairman Merchant asked “for the record” if the rental was going to be owner-occupied. The Chairman has previously voiced his concerns, in particular during the development of the Zoning Ordinance amendment, about non-owner-occupied properties as short-term rentals. The answer was “No.”
Commissioner Gordon noted that the application indicated the applicant intended to rent the whole house, a maximum of six guests, and wondered if the parking would be adequate if the driveway only accommodated two vehicles. There followed a discussion about the language of the ordinance requiring parking “in driveways or other designated areas”. In many neighborhoods, on-street parking is allowed for residents; however, a question remains as to whether on-street parking can be considered a “designated area” for the purpose of short-term rentals. The Vesta representative indicated that the language of the ordinance did lead to confusion about which requirements were applicable to short-term rentals as opposed to bed and breakfast facilities or hotels/motels. Under those sections of the ordinance, owners must provide one parking space per guest room.
After the commissioners had discussed the difficulty of nailing down a specific requirement for parking for short-term tourist rentals, Planning director Lauren Kopishke agreed to take a look at the language of the ordinance to see how it can be made clearer.
On a motion by Commissioner Gordon, seconded by Commissioner Ingram, the Commission voted 4-1 in favor of recommending approval of the application. Chairman Merchant was the dissenting vote. The application will now go to the Town Council for final action.
Chairman Merchant announced that there will be a Civic Pride workshop entitled “Revitalize or Die” sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce on September 27 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Royal Cinemas on East Main Street. The event will feature consultant Jeff Siegler, and tickets are available at the Chamber office at 201 East 2nd Street.
Planning Director Kopishke gave the commission a summary of Planning Department activities for August – 26 zoning permits, 31 Code Enforcement Cases, seven land use applications, four sign permits, and 22 business licenses. Thirty-four new dwelling permits have been issued so far in 2022.
The meeting adjourned at 7:34 p.m.
Additional Public School Budget requests approved as part of Supervisors Consent Agenda
At its regular meeting on Tuesday, September 20, the Warren County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a 10-item Consent Agenda that included three appropriation requests from the Warren County Public School system (WCPS). Approval of the requests, including the transfer of $1,500,256 of $5,714,541 already appropriated into the school system’s Fiscal Year-2023 budget into four specific budget categories, comes in the wake of discussion by the Joint Finance Committee recently established to improve communications and the supervisors understanding of the public schools budgetary processes.
And the fact those requests weren’t pulled for additional discussion would seem to indicate that Joint Finance Committee is successfully accomplishing its mission of improved communications between the school administration and the supervisors who control the local portion of the public schools’ operational and capital improvement budgets.
In addition to the above-cited transfer of $1.5-million already appropriated funds into Administration, Attendance, and Health; Pupil Transportation; Operations and Maintenance; and Technology categories, the supervisors approved the transfer of $1,677,113 from the public schools’ FY-2020/21 surplus to three specific uses; and additional appropriations totaling $207,633 from outside funding sources to Operational/Maintenance and Instructional category use.
The outside source revenues included $38,500 from a “recently awarded Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) grant” to Operations and Maintenance that will allow the school division to contract with a third party to create digital maps of each school that can be used by school administrators and first responders in emergency situations. Another $20,000 received “from additional State Medicaid reimbursements” (to Instruction) will be used to provide a $5,000 annual stipend to instructional assistants with an active Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) license.”
And a final $149,133 “from a greater-than-anticipated Federal Title VI-B funding” will be divided in the Instruction category: $33,133 to fund one Special Education Instructional Assistant position, with the remaining $116,000 used to cover special education costs for contracted services and instructional supplies.
The transfer of $1,677,113 in surplus funding from the last fiscal year was authorized for use: To the County’s Capital Improvement Fund for School Projects ($1-million); To the County’s Asset Replacement Fund for School Buses ($409,913); And to be retained by the County in the General Fund Contingency Reserves ($267,200).
Other matters included in the Consent Agenda approval were:
“Approval of the FY-2023 Performance Contract with Northwestern Community Services Board” and “Adoption of a Concurring Resolution Regarding a Financing by the Northwestern Community Services Board”;
“Approval of a Transfer Request and Award Notice” to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for four vehicle replacements. The previously awarded contract to Hall Automotive of $164,358.60 was approved, along with the transfer of $1,597.86 from an FY-2023 budget line item. The staff agenda summary also noted a previously authorized funding total of $260,000 for the vehicles and operational accessories, with the final cost of $261,597.86 requiring that late line-item transfer.
“Award for Senior Center Phase 1 Restrooms and Mechanical Renovations” in the amount of $393,300 to Lantz Construction Company of Winchester. The Senior Center is being relocated to the 15th Street Health and Human Services Complex at the old middle school site. The staff agenda summary noted a total project cost estimate of $850,000.
Several personnel matters rounded out the Consent Agenda. They included:
The reappointment of Art Saffelle and Thomas McFadden to the Warren County Board of Building Code Appeals, for four-year terms ending September 30, 2026;
The appointment of Gregory Huson to the Shenandoah District seat on the Warren County Planning Commission to fill the remaining portion of the four-year term of Joe Longo, expiring on December 31, 2023. Longo resigned recently over what he called a lack of transparency from the county government regarding the use of Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District tax revenue he asserted may have been transferred, perhaps illegally, to uses outside the Farms Sanitary District.
And the nomination of Christy McMillin-Goodwin for reappointment to the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging Board of Directors for a four-year term ending September 30, 2026.
Earlier in the meeting, one person appeared to address the board on non-agenda matters during Public Comments. That was Linda McDonough, who was critical of a recent “News Letter” she said had been issued by the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF) critical of the County’s management of the Farms Sanitary District. And surprise (not really) – long-time POSF critic McDonough berated POSF for the content of its News Letter and lauded the County’s management of the sanitary district.
Following board and staff reports and its approval of the Consent Agenda, at 7:28 p.m., the supervisors moved into Executive/Closed Session. The motion to close indicated discussion of EDA legal matters related to “possible liabilities of the EDA, the recovery of EDA funds and assets, and the outstanding indebtedness of the EDA” as well as the dueling litigations initiated by the Front Royal Town Council over lost asset claims. While the County and EDA had a big month of July with civil case rulings in the EDA’s favor for the return of about $15 million in assets and punitive damages, attorneys for all four civil case defendants found liable have filed motions to overturn the jury verdicts, requiring additional legal expenses to counter those filings. There were no announcements or actions out of closed session, and the meeting was adjourned at 8 p.m.