Board debates Quiz Bowl help; final score is 3-2 in favor

Spirits were jovial and the agenda ticked along at the two-hour Oct. 11 Rappahannock County School Board meeting. After member Larry Grove proposed to add an assistant coach position to the RCPS Quiz Bowl team, the remaining 20 minutes turned into a spirited debate, with a few uncomfortable moments.

Quiz Bowl, or Scholastic Bowl, is an organized academic tournament in which the Panthers have been quite successful. Led by longtime coach David Naser, in 2015 they were Virginia High School League Scholastic Bowl 1-A champions and won the Central Virginia Championship on “It’s Academic” — the world’s longest-running TV quiz show.

The school division’s current stipend for an assistant coach is $500. At the time of the meeting, there were four unfilled assistant coach positions open due to lack of interest. Superintendent Donna Matthews later explained these positions were forecasted based on the number of students in each program.

After the board had adopted an update to the school system’s comprehensive plan, board chair Wesley Mills of Jackson district asked if there was any new business. Stonewall-Hawthorne representative Larry Grove raised the idea of allocating an assistant coach for the RCPS Quiz Bowl team: “I just think it’s an extremely successful program and I hate to see jeopardized by a lack of supervision,” said Grove.

“I’ve been to nine competitions and there have been over 15 kids there every time,” said Grove. “The point is it’s a supervision issue along with the practice schedule.”

Hampton district’s Lucy Maeyer praised the program as inclusive: “ It seems to me if you want to encourage this as a positive for the school. They’ve been successful and if you only take six, you don’t want to discourage people for trying out.”

Grove agreed, adding: “You don’t take your starting 11 on a football team to a football game, you take the team … the experience of being there is worth the time.”

RCHS Principal Mike Tupper agreed with Grove and raised the question of classification and logistics: “When we have teams with those kind of numbers we start dividing up into . . .  JP [Junior Panther, a middle-school-level team], JV and varsity. . . . Is there anything such as a JV Quiz Bowl program anywhere? I don’t know, I know that we have enough numbers that we could create enough teams that they actually compete against each other here in the school.”

Board vice chair Aline Johnson of Piedmont district cranked up the conversation with the issue of parity: “Well is this the only [team] that doesn’t have an assistant coach? To me, if it’s the only one, I don’t think that’s being fair to him [Naser].”

Unused athletic stipends seemed to be a source of frustration to Grove, and Matthews said that there have not been any issues in the past with supervision, that the Quiz Bowl students are “top-notch and don’t require much monitoring.”

Matthews acknowledged the team’s importance, but raised a the larger issue of the overall budget gap. She reminded the board of the $90,000 difference in what the board requested for fiscal-year 2017 and what the supervisors approved.

“To me it’s not the issue of $500, it’s the issue that we added to the budget $17,000 in athletic stipends and the board asked me to go to the principals of those schools and find the most needed positions … I have about a sixty-some thousand-dollar gap with students attendance, I have a $17,900 gap with teacher raises . . . So the idea of adding things to a budget right now, when I’m looking at about ninety-some thousand I’ve got to find . . .” said Matthews.

Wakefield representative Chris Ubben expressed his thoughts on both sides of the issue: “We have bigger issues to deal with at this point. We can come back to it, certainly, but without something for those kids to do, they’re spinning their wheels. . . How long is that going to go on before they get bored?” he said.

Johnson then exclaimed: “Well you know something, if we all did not go to the convention we could do that.” Earlier in the meeting the board discussed who was attending the Nov. 16-18 annual Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) convention in Williamsburg. (Beforehand school board members were awarded recognition certificates and/or bronze or silver pens for their participation in VSBA programs. Mills said: “By the way, we have always been prudent in who we send.”)

“Yes ma’am,” Ubben said, agreeing with Johnson’s comment about the VSBA convention, “if all we are doing is earning silver pens and such.”

The board collectively asked what the cost of each attendee is. Board clerk Amy Rogers said it was about $270 per person.

Mills then said: “So if two of us stay home, we could buy a coach. . . .”

Grove said: “Well, I’ll tell you what, if it meant [getting] an assistant coach, I’ll stay home.”

Mills suggested seeking a volunteer as as short-term solution: “We are going to have 90K less in revenues than we already have in our budget already, and now we are saying, let’s give another $500 here. So there are bigger fish for us to be considering than this one. So that’s why I’m saying the volunteer approach of good-willed people is a good short-term solution. . . .”

Johnson: “Well all we are doing or saying to do is take from Peter to pay Paul. We do that all the time.”

Mills: “Right, I understand that, but whether we rob Peter to pay Paul, we are still 90K short on the bottom line.”

Johnson: “Well, we need to be [doing something about] that 90K short instead of [that] $500.”

Moments later, Mills asked for a motion.

Grove then moved “to utilize one of the non-funded assistant coaches position to fund the assistant coach’s position for the Quiz Bowl team.”

The motion passed 3-2, with Ubben and Mills voting no.

The next regularly scheduled school board meeting is Nov. 8.

To watch a video of the entire meeting — including the evening’s earlier “Presentation of the Comprehensive Plan” by Superintendent Donna Matthews and Executive Director of Special Education Carol Johnson; an update on the “Commit to Be Fit” program; Maeyer’s update on the Headwaters meeting held in September; the VDOE Safety Grant awarded to RCPS; and student representative Jacob Love’s report to the board — visit the Rappahannock Record’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/channel/UCLvUPpawpHiVisnCS6XAkqA.

Documents from the meetings are available at boarddocs.com/vsba/rcpsva/Board.nsf/Public.

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Luke Christopher
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Luke Christopher is a "Best of D.C." photographer who has been published, in print, in The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Washingtonian, DC Magazine, Washington Life, Miami New Times and an international array of web-based media outlets. He started his photography career as a reporter for the University of Maryland's daily newspaper, "the diamondback." Over the years he has also written for "DC One" magazine and served as the entertainment editor for "City Living " magazine.