In this Town Talk, our publisher Mike McCool speaks with Michelle Ross, the Executive Director of the Samuels Public Library.
Samuels Public Library serves Front Royal and Warren County. Samuels Library brings people, information, and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. Please visit their website or Facebook page for more information.
So what’s new and exciting at Samuels? Watch and learn.
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
Rugged Terrain Crossfit takes home the trophy at the Waggin’ for Dragons 2022 race
Waggin’ for Dragons 2022 is a wrap.
Thank you to all of the participants and volunteers who spent their day with us down on the Shenandoah River with the 22Dragons crew. This year this fun boat race will benefit the Humane Society of Warren County, Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce, and United Way of Front Royal.
Check out this lineup of teams this year! All of these boats raised at least 1,000 as an entry fee. There were several fierce rivalries that added to the energy and fun!
- Humane Society of Warren County – Foster Fleabags
- Rotary – Rotary River Rats
- Warren County Sheriff’s Department
- State Farm – Good Neighbors
- Element Risk – Risky Business
- Rugged Terrain Crossfit
- Valley Health
- Skyline High School
- Coldwell Banker Blue
The winner of the race on the water was Rugged Terrain Crossfit! Congratulations!!
This tough crew came out and gave it their all. Fun banter between the Sheriff’s team and Crossfit because there was wife vs husband action on the two boats! Be sure to stop by the Rugged Terrain gym to see this gorgeous Waggin’ for Dragons trophy in person. Bragging rights and good luck will live at this gym for the next year!
- GOLD Rugged Terrain Crossfit 1.01.4
- SILVER Warren County Sheriff’s Department 1.01.88
- BRONZE Coldwell Banker Blue 1.02.08
(Numbers are appropriately correct)
There were two other categories that were judged. Most funds were raised and the most spirited teams. The Rotary River Rats brought home both of these honors netting a total of $5,011 in funds raised, a full $2,000 more than next in line. All three of our local Rotary clubs were represented on the boat – Rotary Club of Warren County, Rotary Club of Front Royal, and the Rotary Club of Northern Shenandoah Valley. The team had a representative from the House of Hope, Department of Social Services, and I’m Just Me Movement (a local non-profit that supports our youth through mentoring and positive reinforcement) rowing as well!
Higher adult meal prices, more preschool slots, new division leader on School Board agenda
The Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, August 3 regular meeting unanimously approved several items — including additional preschool slots and higher prices for adult meals served at the schools — and met a new school division assistant superintendent.
Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Christopher Ballenger introduced board members to the school division’s new Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Heather Bragg, a WCPS Instructional Resource Team member for the last five years who specialized in English, history, and foreign language instruction. Bragg replaces Alan Fox, who formerly held the position before retiring in June.
“I believe that my time here [with WCPS] over the last five years… has prepared me to begin the job, but I know that I’ll have a lot to learn and look forward to engaging in those partnerships and continuing those relationships with the principals, teachers, and staff that I’ve already established,” Bragg said, adding that she’s “truly passionate about instruction and curriculum and the positive impact it can have on the lives of our students.”
“They no longer have to quarantine,” said Hirsch. “Persons who test positive for COVID should isolate for five days. If they are asymptomatic, their symptoms are resolving, and they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours, they may return to programming after five days.”
Ballenger added that contract tracing by school nurses also is no longer required. “We’re going back to ‘if you’re sick, stay home; if you’re not sick, then come to school,’” he said.
In School Board action, all members were present, including School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins.
The board unanimously approved 10 items on Wednesday. Among the highlights were approvals for:
1) The 2022-2023 Dual Enrollment Contract between Laurel Ridge Community College and WCPS that sets out the terms and conditions for which courses will be offered to high school students who opt to take college-level courses and receive both college credit and high school credit toward graduation.
2) The first amendment to the lease agreement between Warren County, the Warren County School Board, and the Samuels Public Library for the development and maintenance of an amphitheater adjacent to the library. The original lease agreement between the School Board and Warren County, as well as the lease agreement between Warren County and the Board of Trustees of Samuels Public Library did not permit the library campus to be used for anything except a library, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith. The first amendment allows for a portion of the library campus to be used for the construction and operation of the open-air amphitheater, as well as the library, he said.
3) Increasing the adult breakfast rate to $2.40 and the adult lunch rate to $4.00 effective August 9, in order to meet the 2022-2023 Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) minimum Adult Price requirement. Smith explained that adult meal prices must be high enough to compensate for the total paid reimbursement and the commodity value that is not provided by the federal government for these meals. “The paid reimbursement and commodity rates change each school year, meaning adult meal prices may change each year,” said Smith.
4) One additional Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) teacher and three additional VPI assistants at a cost of $145,000 and $5,000 in non-labor funds for a total of $150,000, covered by an increase in the VPI state allocation. The superintendent is also authorized to request additional appropriations from the Warren County Board of Supervisors. Hirsch said that WCPS has experienced an increase in pre-K enrollment that, in turn, warranted an increase in the allocation from VDOE. “Our new allocation is 173 slots, which brings our dollar allocation to $714,044,” he said. “Our current appropriation for this school year was $564,044.”
5) Five wheelchair-accessible vehicles to transport students that will be largely funded through the $309,038.12 American Rescue Plan flowthrough grant WCPS was awarded in July 2021. Hirsch said the vehicles will alleviate space issues and support social distancing in vehicles. The total cost of the vehicles is $298,450. The balance of $10,588.12 will be used to support plexiglass, car seats, and other accessories that will enhance COVID-19 mitigation strategies, said Hirsch.
Town Planning Commission moves to officially join Council at Aug. 16 special work session to allow group feedback on contractor Summit Design’s Comp Plan update
After getting new electronic tablets from IT Director Grant Autry as part of a municipal move away from paper material expenses, and approving four items for advertisement for public hearings, a three-person quorum of the Front Royal Planning Commission got an August 3rd briefing from Planning Director Lauren Kopishke on the status of the Comprehensive Plan update currently underway. Present for that briefing were Chairman Darryl Merchant, Vice-Chair William Gordon, and Commissioner Connie Marshner. It was explained that former Chairman Douglas Jones, who is retiring at the end of the month, had a scheduling conflict and that Josh Ingram was dealing with a family medical emergency.
Pointing for commission feedback on the Comp Plan draft by the end of the month and both commission and council public hearings on approval of a revised Comp Plan by October, Kopishke suggested that commission members attend an August 16 Special Work Session called by the Town Council that includes a presentation on the status of the Comp Plan update from consultant Summit Design and Engineering.
So that commissioners can participate in the work session Q&A with Summit and council it was suggested that the planning commission join council in the call for the Special Work Session, making it a joint session the planners can legally participate in as a group, as opposed to one designated representative.
“You all need to be there,” Kopishke told the commissioners of the 6 p.m. special work session on Tuesday, August 16. “We want to be more involved than last year,” Gordon told his colleagues of what was described as minimal, if any involvement of the planning commission in the launch of the Comp Plan review and update process last year.
After review of the consultant’s draft packet, Planning Director Kopishke observed, “So far – knock on wood – there is nothing controversial in it.” She pointed to a summary page near the outset of the draft Comp Plan citing four major “Big Themes” based on public feedback:
- Preserve Downtown and Create more of what we Love (though exactly what that collective “we” loves was not immediately apparent);
- Improve Town Aesthetics;
- Enhance Safe Mobility and Choice;
- Increase Access to the River.
Those four themes were supported by 10 specific “goals and objectives” which were:
- Small town character;
- Economic Sustainability;
- Environmental Sustainability;
- High Quality Development;
- Housing sustainability;
- Public Health & Safety;
- Reliable Utilities and Services;
- Responsive and Accountable Governance.
Well, okay then.
After reviewing the draft Comp Plan update, Commission Chairman Merchant wondered if a town-wide projected future land use map would be included. Vice-Chairman Gordon offered, “I like the ideas, not the execution” of portions of the graphic presentations in the draft packet.
“And from this we start the ordinance process,” Merchant observed.
“That’s why it’s important we wrap this up by October, November at the latest,” Planning Director Kopishke observed. And on that note the 6 p.m. work session was adjourned at 6:46 p.m.
Prior to that adjournment and the Comp Plan conversation, as noted above the commission authorized four matters to go to public hearing on August 17. First up was Poe’s River’s Edge LLC and Eagle Sky Industrial Park LLC’s request for a Special Exception on the zoning-recommended width of a private street to service the River’s Edge LLC parcels listed at 508 Kendrick Lane and originally proposed for camp site development. The applicant cited a precedent in the town government’s granting of a similar special exception as justification for its application. While not stated, it would appear the referenced previous exception was to Mayor Holloway for his subdivision private road in town.
After some discussion, Merchant noted the circular pattern of the narrower 20-foot width as opposed to the zoning-recommended 36-foot width street through its service area. “I have no problem with it. We’ll see what the public thinks at the public hearing on the 17th.”
The other three applications were for Special Use Permits (SUPs) for short-term tourist rentals at 107 Highfield Lane in an R-1 zone (by William and Melissa Gordon); at 12 Chester Street in a C-2 Zone (Lea Justice); and 124 Luray Avenue in an R-3 zone (Phillip Vaught/Vaught Real Estate LLC). Vice-Chairman Gordon recused himself from discussion of his and his wife’s SUP request.
Front Royal father and son perish in Potomac River drowning
A Front Royal, Va. man and his son drowned Monday afternoon in the Potomac River at Swan Point in Charles County, Md., according to the Maryland Natural Resources Police Department.
According to Maryland Natural Resources Police Captain Chris Morris, around 4:55 p.m. on Monday, August 1, officers were dispatched to the Swan Point area of the Potomac River in Charles County for a report of missing swimmers.
Elias Isai Sandoval Pimentel, 43, of Front Royal VA, his wife, and three children had anchored their 23’ bowrider on the Potomac River. Two of the children (ages 10 and 12) were swimming when both children began to struggle in the water. Police say Mr. Pimentel entered the water to help both children. Pimentel and his 10-year-old son disappeared in the water and did not resurface. Captain Morris wrote in the release that the 12-year-old child was recovered from the water and transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Maryland Natural Resources did not identify the minor child in the release, though family members posted information on social media stating that Mr. Pimentel and his son, Samuel Pimentel Spain, 10, perished by drowning on Monday.
Morris said that Samuel’s body was recovered by the Charles County Dive Team at 10:44 p.m. Monday evening, with search efforts continuing throughout the night. Mr. Pimentel’s body was found at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, August 2.
Natural Resources Police, United States Coast Guard, Cobb Island Volunteer Fire/EMS, Charles County Dive and Rescue, Newburg Volunteer Fire, Bel Alton Volunteer Fire and EMS, Hughesville Volunteer EMS, Charles County Department of Emergency Services, Seventh District Fire Company, Calvert County Dive Team, and the Naval District Washington Fire/EMS, assisted with the search of the area.
Community groups and businesses donate almost 500 backpacks
This week several local organizations came together to prepare backpacks and school supplies for our Warren County students. State Farm is a good neighbor in more ways than one. This school year, State Farm has made backpacks available at a reasonable rate for their agents to purchase for give-back campaigns. Our local agents, Ellen Aders and Bill Powers, took advantage of their companies efforts and applied them in a joint effort. Aders brought the project to the Rotary Club of Warren County who together purchased 270 backpacks for our youth.
Powers connected with the Kiwanis Club of Front Royal and combined purchased 200 more! The Salvation Army stepped up and helped organize the purchase of all of the supply inserts. MDUB Chauffeur supported the efforts as well.
Once the packs were stuffed with supplies, the boxes were delivered to Diversified Minds for distribution. Thank you to our Warren County Public Schools representatives, Superintendent Chris Ballenger & Shane Goodwin of Director of Personnel, for helping to get these backpacks to the Warren County children who need them most!
School Board debates membership in Virginia School Boards Association
The Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, August 3 regular meeting voted unanimously to table action until the board’s next work session on whether to renew its membership and policy services agreement with the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA).
The VSBA is a voluntary, nonpartisan organization of Virginia school boards that provides members with a variety of services, including governance training; strategic planning services for developing and implementing focused plans of action; assistance with searching and selecting a superintendent; networking; subscriber policy services based on state and federal laws, regulations, and case law; legal information and limited attorney consultation; and collective bargaining services.
“For years the Warren County Board has been a member of the Virginia School Boards Association at an annual cost of $9,521.19,” Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Christopher Ballenger told the School Board members, adding that the VSBA also offers high-quality webinars, conferences, conventions, meetings, podcasts, and other trainings for school board members and for school board development.
At the same time, said Ballenger, the VSBA also provides “a strong lobbying and advocacy voice locally, statewide, and nationally.”
Several School Board members voiced concerns about using taxpayer dollars to fund an organization’s lobbying efforts.
“Obviously I’ve had issues with the VSBA for quite some time now,” said board member Melanie Salins, who pointed out that while the group calls itself nonpartisan, she said she has attended VSBA trainings and events where specific political agendas were being promoted.
For instance, Salins said the VSBA Capital Conference she attended in January was a lobbying conference that she called “extremely uncomfortable” because it “alienated a lot of the new school board members that were there because most of the school board members were conservatives.”
And “the things that were said were outright outlandish,” Salins said. “They were making fun of parents. They were making fun of our Republican delegates and senators.”
Salins then played a video through her microphone of some of the comments that she said were made during that conference. It was unclear who was making the variety of comments or in what context. “I don’t think lobbying belongs on this board,” said Salins, who later clarified that no taxpayer dollars should fund any lobbying group, whether it leans left or right.
During the community participation segment of the board’s Wednesday meeting, two residents also slammed the School Board’s participation in the VSBA and urged members against renewing its membership with the association for 2022-2023.
Then Morris said, “Why use our taxpayer dollars to fund a leftist lobbying group?”
Also during the community participation segment of the School Board’s meeting, Chair Kristen Pence read letters sent in from seven residents objecting to the board’s membership in the VSBA, which they claimed is a partisan and heavily biased organization that is also anti-parent.
School Board member Andrea Lo said her experience with VSBA differed compared to Salins’ and she described a VSBA conference she attended in November 2021 that was not a lobbying conference nor did anyone specifically address politics. Instead, said Lo, the conference attendees “specifically addressed schools.”
During one of the conference’s general sessions, Lo also said an announcement was made that the VSBA was withdrawing from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) because the NSBA had supported comments reportedly made by President Joe Biden about investigating parents who were speaking at school board meetings.
“I feel if there are some points where liberals are upset and some points where conservatives are upset, maybe [VSBA] is more middle of the road,” said Lo, adding that the VSBA is a member-driven organization that responded to what the local members wanted in this instance, which was against VSBA supporting NSBA and comments made by a Democratic president. “I don’t think that’s a liberal move,” she said.
Lo also questioned what other policy advice would be available to the Warren County School Board if it decided against renewing its policy services agreement with VSBA. And she asked Ballenger if he had parsed out such information from the board’s attorney.
The superintendent said he did, noting that in the first year the initial cost to the School Board would be $40,000 to $50,000 to have an attorney come in and review policies, their implementation and use, and to ensure they adhere to state or federal laws. After that, the price would vary year to year based on newly issued or updated laws and guidance.
“I want to make sure that at a time when we’re still trying to get our budget for the 2022-23 school year approved, we’re not now going to add $50,000 or $40,000 in attorney’s fees to make sure we don’t come into a liability issue,” School Board Chair Kristen Pence said. “What is our other plan?”
Ballenger said another plan could be for a WCPS Central Office staff member “to follow what is going on legislatively.” Then, if Warren County decided to handle this work on its own, the school division and board would have to go through such legislation and try to write their own policies according to what came out in a new law or updated guidance, for instance. But that work also would have to be reviewed by an attorney who would charge on a case-by-case basis, he said.
Ballenger said he’s unaware of another entity that could provide such services besides what is provided by the VSBA or an attorney, and he said it’s important that the School Board makes sure its policies are regularly updated. “Because that’s where you can get into trouble,” he said.
“We have to make sure we’re supported in our policies,” Funk said. “I’m not comfortable deciding on this right now because I need to know what our plan is moving forward.”
School Board Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi seconded the motion, which was approved by all board members, including Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, Pence, Funk, Lo, and Salins. They also tabled a related item on selecting a delegate and alternate delegate from the School Board to attend the 2022 VSBA Annual Convention.
Most of the School Board members agreed that the board should not use taxpayer money to fund VSBA’s lobbying efforts.