BOS scrutinizes schools non-resident tuition

Frazier: ‘I feel like Rodney Dangerfield. The BOS doesn’t get any respect’

The best surprise of Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting was that there was no surprise . . . or very few. And no raised voices for the second BOS meeting in a row. Maybe this “civility” thing is taking hold.

Instead, the BOS conducted the county’s business in less than three hours total — for both the afternoon and evening sessions.

Perhaps the most controversial topic of the day was School Superintendent Dr. Shannon Grimsley’s amended rules for tuition for children of non-county residents attending county public schools. Under the new plan, children of county employees and others who work in the county at least 30 days a week might be eligible for free tuition even if they live outside the county.

(Offering a seat in the schools to non-resident children has been in practice in Rappahannock since 1993, and many other school districts do the same. Under the arrangement, the state pays a certain percentage of the cost of educating each non-resident child and the child’s family pays the rest as tuition).

Jackson supervisor Ron Frazier asked Grimsley about it after her regular school report to the BOS. Frazier also added a discussion of the topic to the BOS agenda.

His concern was that the school district was setting county policy when, he said, only the BOS is authorized to do that. At one point he likened the BOS to comedian Rodney Dangerfield, whose signature line was, “I don’t get no respect.”

“I feel like Rodney Dangerfield,” Frazier said. “The Board of Supervisors doesn’t get any respect.”

“I feel blindsided to read about [the policy] on Facebook,” Frazier said. He suggested that “maybe the Superintendent usurped the power of the Board of Supervisors to set public policy.”

Piedmont supervisor Christine Smith agreed and reported that she had been getting comments from her constituency about the economic effects of free tuition.

“I’m concerned about a policy that has community impact that the Board of Supervisors doesn’t know about,” she said, fearing that the program could have “unforeseen impacts.”

“We thought it was a school policy,” Grimsley said, and noted that the county schools and the BOS “were making history” by working so closely together for the first time in years. However, she said she would welcome a BOS member attending certain school committee meetings.

Grimsley explained that she too was surprised by the community reaction after she posted to Facebook. When she first announced the policy, she said, she received no response, so she posted it on social media to help get the word out.

She told the BOS that the annual cost per pupil is around $13,000 to $15,000. In-county students are covered by their taxes and a state contribution of around $6,300. Out-of-county students would pay the difference between the total cost and the state contribution. This year, she said, that tuition amount is around $7,000.

The impact to the county would be minimal, she said.

“I would be surprised if we have five applications.” Last year, she said, the schools had one out-of-county student for half a year.

Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish said he could see no downside to the plan.

“It doesn’t strike me as the school trying to control policy,” Parrish said. “My impression is that the [cost per pupil] shortfall is made up by the state. It’s a wash.”

Meanwhile, the residents of Ben Venue Road made themselves heard during the meeting’s public comment session. For some time, the BVR residents have complained about large semi-trailer trucks using the narrow, winding road as a cut-through to get from route 211 to route 522 in Flint Hill.

Late last week the road’s residents heard that someone in the VDOT bureaucracy recommended denying their and the Board of Supervisors’ request to restrict through-truck traffic on Ben Venue Road. The application was sitting on a Commonwealth Transportation Board Commissioner’s desk awaiting a decision.

Ben Venue Road and Wakefield resident Sandra Renzy told the BOS, “You may not know [about the potential denial], as we didn’t until last week. We are completely baffled at the [thought of] denial.”

She directed a very pointed question to VDOT Warrenton Residency Engineer Mark Nesbit: “What will you do at this late date . . . to make Ben Venue Road safer?”

Later, in his own report, Nesbit told the Board that it was not he who denied the request, as some of the road’s residents thought.

When Parrish asked about next steps for the application, Nesbit said, “It’s in the Commissioner’s office. I have heard that he’s received numerous calls and emails [in support of the restriction].”

“[Approval] does seem like a no-brainer to me,” Parrish said. One of the BVR residents was heard to say “Amen.”

(Editor’s note: Patty Hardee lives on Ben Venue Road.)

 In other business

The BOS voted four-to-zero (Hampton supervisor John Lesinski being absent) to:

  • Approve the installation of a new antenna on the existing monopole tower located behind the Amissville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company. The antenna — to be mounted 180-feet above the ground (above the current cell phone company antennas) — will provide improved first responder paging for fire and rescue personnel.
  • Authorize Chair Roger Welch to sign a letter requesting state representatives to properly fund Registrar/Director of Elections Office salaries.

The letter, written by the County Electoral Board and Registrar Kim McKiernan states, “In addition to the low state salary scales, the current state reimbursement to localities, for the position of Director of Elections and the stipend for Electoral Board members, is only 69 percent. This rate has systematically been reduced over the years, further eroding the perceived value of election administrators in all localities.”

  • Appoint Mary Katherine Ishee to the Planning Commission as the Piedmont representative. Ishee will fill out the term left vacant by Sherry Cillo’s resignation. The term expires in 2022.

Curry reported that the consultant hired to study and evaluate repair work on the Courthouse Row buildings has completed its survey of how the buildings are used and have measured the spaces. The next step, Curry, said is for a team to inspect the electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems.

Representatives from the USDA told the BOS about Rural Development loans and grants available for public and non-profit organizations in rural communities. For instance, the USDA is currently working with the Rappahannock County Water and Sewer Authority, but they offer a broad array of programs that may also support the county in general.

Curry and Welch re-instituted a recently dormant practice of recognizing county employees for their years of service. The two presented honorary plaques and service pins to employees who have served the county for five years or more. Among the honorees were Pat Giles, who works in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, and Sheriff Connie Compton for their 30 years of service each. Circuit Court Clerk Peggy Ralph was recognized for 38 years as a county employee.

An unedited video of this meeting can be found online at rappnews.com/video, or on the newspaper’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/RappNewsPlus. The meeting agenda and related documents are online at boarddocs.com/va/corva/Board.nsf/Public.

About Patty Hardee 294 Articles
Writer, consultant, actor, director, recovering stand-up comic, Patty covers the county’s courts and other topics of interest for Rappahannock News. She lives with her grape-growing husband Bill Freitag in Flint Hill.

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