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September 19, 2017

School board slams “edicts” from county supervisors

File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
“I was somewhat taken aback by the tone of the letter,” school board member “Duke” Bland (Marshall) says. “In fact, I was downright offended.”
I am pleased they final gave us a number; I wish they had given us a number a year ago. They must know they cannot legally make these conditions. We’ve got the (state) code right here.
— School board member Donna Grove (Cedar Run District)
Two Aging Schools
> Taylor Middle

• Where: 350 E. Shirley Ave.

• Built: 1951, with addition in 1981.

• Enrollment: 443

• Capacity: 547

• Building: 93,000 square feet.

• Acres: 12

• Parking spaces: 58

> Warrenton Middle

• Where: 244 Waterloo St.

• Built: 1934, with addition in 1981.

• Enrollment: 417

• Capacity: 545

• Building: 94,000 square feet.

• Acres: 18

• Parking spaces: 103
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Fauquier’s school board wants the funding but not the board of supervisors’ edicts on what to do about two aging structures in Warrenton.

School board members Monday night slammed an unusual Sept. 14 letter from supervisors Chairman Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run District) that pledges $27.5 million in debt financing for Warrenton Middle School’s renovation and expansion.

The letter makes the offer with conditions that the school board sell surplus property and reuse Taylor Middle, also in Warrenton.

“I was somewhat taken aback by the tone of the letter,” school board member “Duke” Bland (Marshall) said. “In fact, I was downright offended.”

State law prohibits the supervisors from dictating exactly how the school board spends appropriations, deals with excess property and configures buildings, Mr. Bland and his colleagues said.

“It is this board’s responsibility to identify the needs of this county and go to our fiscal agent (the board of supervisors),” Mr. Bland continued. “They should not be in the position to make these decisions for us.

“What are we doing here? Why are we here if they are gonna run the schools and the funding? I don’t think they have the legal footing to do this . . . .

“I cannot agree to all these conditions.”

The two-page letter, emailed to school board Chairman Brian Gorg (Center) last Thursday, says a board of supervisors majority would:

• Agree to fund the $33-million WMS expansion/renovation without a referendum.

• Raise the debt limit for the project to $27.5 million and help the school board “cash fund” the remaining $5.5 million.

• Require, after consolidation with WMS, Taylor Middle School’s reuse to house Head Start and other community programs. The school board also could choose to move the Southeastern Alternative education program there from Midland.

• Require sale of the Warrenton Community Center, adjacent property and, possibly, Southeastern Alternative School to help pay down the project’s debt.

> Letter at bottom of story

If the school board rejects the proposal, the supervisors would allow a $33-million bond referendum question for the WMS project to go before voters, the letter says.

Since February, the two boards had met three times — most recently Sept. 7 — in unsuccessful attempts to reach consensus on funding a plan to address the aging middle schools in Warrenton. Mr. Gerhardt talked repeatedly with his four colleagues to hammer out the “compromise” proposal.

“It seems like a leap from that (last) meeting,” school board member Suzanne Sloane (Scott) said of the letter. “We would have welcomed recommendations. I would have appreciated a robust conversation. It just seemed liked the meeting ended abruptly.”

Since August of last year, they had sought guidance on the supervisors’ potential funding for the project, school board members said Monday.

“I am pleased they finally gave us a number; I wish they had given us a number a year ago,” said Donna Grove (Cedar Run), echoing her colleagues. “They must know they cannot legally make these conditions. We’ve got the (state) code right here.”

School board members decided they would accept the $27.5 million if the supervisors let them determine how to use it to address the needs for housing sixth- through ninth-graders in Warrenton.

They agreed to send a letter from Mr. Gorg to Mr. Gerhardt explaining their position.

“Then, we say, ‘Let us find the best use of this money’,” Ms. Grove suggested. The supervisors “haven’t thought about about instruction; they haven’t thought about about safety. The only thing they’ve thought about is the money.”

Competitive bidding might reduce the cost of building a new middle school — his board’s preferred option, Mr. Bland suggested. His board also could consider short-term loans and the sale of excess property to help fund construction of a new school, he said.

“That’s our business,” Mr. Bland said. “That’s what I would agree to do, not all this other BS.”

Mr. Gorg said he would like to “play ball . . . . I see the value in the (Warrenton Middle) renovation plan. I still think the new building is the best plan.”

But, school safety, “21st-century learning,” programming needs and student capacity remain “non-negotiable,” Mr. Gorg added.

The supervisors “all have acknowledged those buildings need to be addressed,” Ms. Grove said. “Would they give us the opportunity to explore what is the best use of that 27.5 million?”

School Superintendent David Jeck said: “We do share a common interest with the board of supervisors in terms of this project. We both recognize something needs to be done.

“It’s important that we focus on that. I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude and a positive spin on this.”

Ms. Grove said she hopes the boards can reach an understanding.

“But, there’s no need if they’re tied to this plan,” she said of the supervisors. “Then, we’d need to go to court. I don’t know what we’d do.”

School board member Don Mason (Lee) missed Monday’s meeting.

BOS to School Bd 9 14 17 by Fauquier Now on Scribd

Extended Middle Schools Modernization Study 080417 by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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