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Mecklenburg supes tee off on school board
SoVaNow.com / August 13, 2014Members of the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors, making plain their displeasure with the School Board’s recent vote to extend the contract of Superintendent James Thornton, suggested Monday that decision is likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars if future trustees seek a change in leadership for the division.
An otherwise short regular monthly Board meeting was drawn out Monday by an extended discussion of Thornton’s status by the supervisors, with each who spoke up voicing unhappiness with the deal.
Bill Blalock, a frequent school board critic, launched the opening salvo as he shared concerns brought to him by area citizens. Conceding that supervisors do not control the School Board, Blalock said he felt the need to express his and his constituents’ frustrations.
“Everybody that talked to the School Board, except for a few people working with the school system, were against giving him [Thornton] a new contract. It seems to me that all they did was tie the hands of who might be on the school board a couple years from now.” Blalock predicted that the contract extensions would “cost us [the county] a pile of money.”
Jim Jennings also predicted that Thornton’s contract extension would cost the county over $200,000 when a new school board convenes in 2016, after elections are held the preceding November.
Advancing a theme that was repeated by several supervisors, Jennings noted that from what he has been told by departing teacher, “it’s not a money thing. Morale is the top priority.” He noted that low morale among Mecklenburg County educators was driving “the people who should be in public education out of public education.”
Glenn Barbour, Board chairman, also noted supervisors don’t “have anything to do with the function of that [school] board” but told voters to “voice their dissatisfaction at the ballot box.”
It was David Brankley who had the most to say about the School Board. A member of the joint education committee, comprised of members of both boards, Brankley said he had not given up on the possibility that all involved could work together amicably to address the needs of county schools. But “I have a problem that as an elected official, I ask questions and get beat on. I’m just bringing up questions being asked,” said Brankley.
His comment was made in reference to Thornton’s comment deriding Brankley for suggesting that public schools need to tighten their belts when it comes to spending on items such as trips out-of-county to a water park resort for professional development.
Echoing Jennings, Brankley said he, too, has spoken with a number of teachers leaving Mecklenburg County Public Schools. “I keep hearing that it is the money. I’ve talked to a lot of teachers leaving and at no point has money been addressed.”
Dan Tanner criticized School Board chairman Robert Puryear for the way he has handled his disagreements with the Board of Supervisors. “ I don’t think we should fight our battles in letters to the editor. Puryear should come to the board,” said Tanner.
Tanner also said he doubts the sole reason for the drop in Mecklenburg County’s school rankings, as compared to the state, was solely due to funding levels. “If we are ranked so low now, what caused this change? I don’t think it was all money.”
School officials have consistently noted that the drop in test scores is largely due to changes in Virginia SOL testing to make the exams more rigorous. The declines, note educators, have been widespread throughout the state.
During their earlier business session, supervisors approved a resolution proposed by County Tourism Coordinator Justin Kearns declaring that Kerr Lake, which includes Buggs Island Lake and the shoreline, is a region and directing VDOT to install signs on I-85 recognizing this fact.
“Way finding,” according to Kearns, is very important to the tourist trade. The best way to drive tourists to your area is to have clear directional signs identifying important sites in the area.
Also, supervisors approved the commonwealth attorney’s request to appropriate $20,328 for new equipment and temporary staff. The money is not new, but comes from reserved funds from the compensation board. The compensation board exists to improve the efficiency of the offices held by Constitutional Officers, and to enhance their level of service to the public.
They also approved an additional appropriation of $28,285.90 to the Southside Regional Library to cover expenditures made during the 2014 fiscal. County Administrator Wayne Carter said the library budget was $774,598, and while it brought in more money than expected, its expenditures were greater than expected. The $28,285.90, appropriated to the library was not new money but taken from a reserve held by the library.
Supervisors also approved an insurance settlement of $142,000, paid by VACO for the garbage truck that caught fire and burned last month. The check will be deposited into the County’s equipment replacement fund and used to purchase a new truck. Carter said the hydraulic line on the nearly 5 year old truck developed a leak. The fluid spraying from the line igniting and caused the truck to burn.
Supervisors also approved an amendment to County Code section 66.2, which authorizes the County to assess 10 percent interest per year, as well as penalties on delinquent tax payments.
Andy Hargrove asked for a letter of concern to be sent to VDOT seeking recommendations to try to lessen the number of accidents occurring at two intersections on Route 58, at 15N and 58 near Clarksville and at Routes 58 and 92 near Boydton. Several supervisors, including Dan Tanner, Gregg Gordon, and Carter suggested that VDOT add rumble strips to Route 92 as a way to catch the attention of drivers that they are approaching an intersection and required to stop. The existing flashing red light and stop signs seem to have little effect on many drivers, noted Carter.
Glanzy Spain and Barbour also suggested that the speed limit on Route 92 be lowered for cars approaching the intersection.
Jim Jennings noted that rumble strips would not help the problem at the 15/58 intersection. “Driving [that intersection] at night coming from Chase City is very treacherous. It is too easy to turn into the wrong lane when coming from Chase City and going to Boydton.”
In response to a question from Claudia Lundy, VDOT Residency Administrator, Billy Smith said that paving had not yet started on Lucinda Dirt Road. VDOT was still in the permitting process.
Dr. James A, Hudson Jr. was named to the Welfare Board in place of Sarah Lassister, whose term expired on June 30.
Fred Gailor of Adam & Eve Landscaping and Tree Service was again in front of the Board of Supervisors complaining about unlicensed and uninsured tree services. Gailor claims these tree services are defrauding the public and that if someone who is not licensed and insured causes damage to a property or a structure, the one who caused the damage is not liable.
Carter explained that he’d researched the issue and found that none of the surrounding counties, including Brunswick, Cumberland, Lunenburg, Halifax, Prince Edward, Amelia, or Charlotte, regulate or license landscaping services. In response to Gailor’s repeated objections, Barbour told Gailor, “When people hire someone, they need to do their due diligence. We can’t legislative everything.” Bill Blalock added, “We have enough rules and regulations and don’t need any more.”
At the request of Gregg Gordon, supervisors passed a resolution honoring Harrison Walker, of Buffalo Junction, who was elected Governor of Virginia Boys State. Walker was elected to the top office at this year’s Boys State, held at Radford University the week of June 15-June 21 with 700 young men in attendance.
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