School board has a candidate

The Rappahannock County school board has apparently settled on a final candidate to replace retiring Superintendent Robert Chappell, but isn’t saying who it is.

“We can’t,” said Chairman J. Wesley Mills, asked if he could identify the candidate after Tuesday’s monthly Board of Education meeting at the high school. “We are still negotiating.”

Pressed for details, Mills would only say that the finalist is not currently serving as a superintendent elsewhere, and that “he” holds a position at an unnamed university.

“We hope, as I said during the meeting, to have the new superintendent here at our April meeting to meet the community,” Mills said.

The school board, which during Chappell’s tenure has traditionally played close to the vest major management decisions until the moment they are formally and publicly announced, also listened Monday night as a parent, coach and student protested a separate decision made public last month when Chappell put forth a frugal 2010-2011 school budget proposal.

That decision would be his proposal to re-up Rappahannock to the Virginia High School League’s Bull Run District.

“It’s a terrible idea,” said RCHS senior Aidan Demolli, a veteran of the varsity Panthers football team. “Playing in Bull Run District [which the Panthers did until switching to a independent, smaller-school schedule two years ago] was suicide. In three years we lost every game, by an average score of 45 to 7. Going back into the district is wrong and, I feel, irresponsible. You will demoralize the players and it could cause serious injury.”

Demolli said the Bull Run District’s other five schools, being generally at least twice as large as Rappahannock High School’s current enrollment of about 300 students, allows them to build teams that are unfairly matched against RCHS.

His points were echoed by parent Joe Reinboldt of Viewtown, who said that larger teams – both in number and size – were “having fun demoralizing our kids, which is just not right . . . Manassas Park one year had three linemen over 350 pounds. Our biggest lineman was 175 pounds.” When you have a pool of 75 players to field a team, Reinboldt said, it’s much different from having Rappahannock’s pool of closer to 30.

Rich Hogan, an assistant football coach and parent of three Rappahannock student-athletes, was moved close to tears when he asked the board to reconsider the move back to Bull Run District. He cited several informal student surveys indicating what students thought about the move, and requested that the board look into those, and ask students, parents and athletes what they think about it.

“I have no personal animosity against Dr. Chappell and we have in fact worked hard together and I’m proud to have worked beside the man,” Hogan said. “This is a tough issue for us and I just wish we’d step back and review it.”

“We’ve had two years of competing against schools our own size to help rebuild confidence on the part of the coaches and the players,” Chappell emailed yesterday. “With competition against Bull Run district schools in basketball starting this coming year [because of scheduling policies, football would not start until 2011-2012], we’ll be able to continue our competition against smaller private schools while also playing in the Bull Run district. Personally, I believe we can rebuild our basketball programs so that they can be successful in the Bull Run District just like the success our boys’ soccer, softball, volleyball, baseball, track and wrestling teams have experienced off and on for years.”

Mills said afterward that the board would revisit Chappell’s VHSL proposal – which was seen by some as a repudiation of athletic director Bob Czekaj’s decision two years ago to leave the conference, a decision that one school employee who asked not to be identified said is still supported by the high school’s administrators.

On that topic, both Chappell and Mills said the board had not, as reported to the Rappahannock News in a number of emails and calls over the last two weeks, taken any action on renewing – or deciding not to renew – Czekaj’s contract as athletic director for next school year.

Czekaj, reached Wednesday, declined to comment.

The band played right-on
In happier news, the board heard from Chappell that the Rappahannock High School Band had performed so well at last Friday’s district band festival that it will now be recognized as a “Virginia Honor Band” – the highest achievement available to a school band in the state, and the first such designation in the band’s 28-year history.

The RCHS band wins top state honors.

The designation comes after the band achieved a superior rating from all judges at Friday’s festival, which when combined with the superior rating the band earned at last October’s Marching Band Festival, designates them as an “honor band.”

“I have great pleasure and pride in what the band was able to achieve,” band director David DeBoer wrote in an email to supporters, parents and others this weekend. “Being a successful band is not easy, and requires discipline, teamwork and strong commitment to excellence. I am reminded each and every day of how lucky I am to teach in such a supportive community that values music education.”

Altering the index
While the board waits – most likely until this weekend, Chappell said – to know more specifically what type of budget cuts state legislators will pass on to school districts, the board also heard a short presentation by Fauquier School Board Chairman Sheryl Wolfe and member Sally F. Murray.

The two are spearheading a statewide movement to change a process that Murray has studied closely for 15 years: specifically to persuade the state to re-configure the formula used to determine a county’s Composite Index, the figure that determines how much aid the state will give local jurisdictions to operate its schools.

Murray said Fauquier, like Rappahannock – and dozens of other counties throughout rural Virginia – have “been suffering long enough” because of the growing disparity between the “fair market value” and “land use value” of real estate – a situation that she says has come unintentionally to pit agriculture and education against each other.

The alliance of counties that the Fauquier group is building, she said, has no desire to tamper with land-use valuation in support of agriculture. It seeks, instead, to decrease the weight that real estate values hold in the current state formula for determine a county’s composite index.

Rappahannock’s index, at .80, is among the state’s highest. At that rate, the state contributes just 20 percent of the school system’s costs of meeting state educational standards.

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 544 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.