The Rappahannock County School Board — which holds its first public hearing on its as-yet-unrevealed 2015-2016 budget at 7 tonight (Thursday, Feb. 12) in the high school auditorium — took a few lighthearted moments between controversy and budget-crunching at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday night to appreciate its staff (and be appreciated in return).
February being the Virginia School Board Association’s annual “School Board Appreciation Month,” the staff, led by superintendent Donna Matthews and high school principal Mike Tupper, gave the board members certificates of appreciation, gift cards and framed photos taken by students in the high school’s new photography class. School board chair John Lesinski in turn awarded certificates of recognition to school board clerk Amy Lilly and deputy clerk Donna Oliver, saying the framed documents “were not really adequate to thank you for the work you have done for the last year.”
The board also heard from its technology director Robin Bolt that the recent availability of federal technology funds earmarked for schools and librarys would make it possible for the elementary and high schools to upgrade their technology infrastructure. She said the division had received a low bid for $38,000 from Harrisonburg-based Computer Cabling and Technology to connect the school board offices by fiber-optic cable with the high school (the school board office and the adjacent elementary school are already connected with fiber-optic cabling).
The board’s longest and least lighthearted discussion took place at the end of the meeting, when Stonewall district representative Larry Grove started a nearly 30-minute back-and-forth by asking whether the board shouldn’t announce that the public portion of its monthly meetings would start at 7 p.m. (The public session follows a standard closed session that begins shortly after the board convenes at 6 p.m., during which personnel and business matters exempt from Virginia Freedom of Information Act restrictions are covered.)
The discussion was colored by the board having been taken to court last month by a Sperryville resident who had filed a VFOIA request related to the board’s discussion of negotiations with an Arlington cell tower builder. (The board last month voted 3-2 against the controversial lease of high school property for the tower, and settled out of court with petitioner Eric Tollefson, primarily promising to follow VFOIA regulations to the letter in future — meaning that disclosure of topics to be discussed in closed session be made clear both before and after each closed session.
Grove, on the other hand, just thought the public should know what time to arrive for the “public” portion of the board’s meetings. In the end, with Wakefield school board member Chris Ubben arguing that the board should continue as they are now and take “as much time as needed [for the closed session], and not waste anyone’s time with a 40-minute break if the closed session only takes 20 minutes,” the board agreed not to change anything, and adjourned.
After that, there was School Board Appreciation Month cake.