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Request for school activity buses draws ire of Mecklenburg administrator

SoVaNow.com / August 16, 2017
A Mecklenburg County School Board request to lease up to four activity buses drew the ire of County Administrator Wayne Carter Monday during the monthly meeting of the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors.

Director of Transportation Bill Mayhew and school trustee Dale Sturdifen asked supervisors to consider allowing the school division to lease three 44-passenger and one smaller 28-passenger bus which would be used by the school division as activities buses. Currently, newer-model, regular school buses are pulled from their ordinary route and used to transport students to various activities.

The long-distance travel — such as field trips to Richmond and Williamsburg, or football games in Southampton — puts additional wear and tear on the buses, which will shorten their useful life, explained Mayhew.

The white-colored activity buses will have larger seats and WiFi access with storage underneath, eliminating the need for an extra van to travel on field trips. Any extra-curricular activity program will have access to the buses for those students.

Carter pointedly noted that no one from the school division had informed him of the request ahead of Monday’s meeting and there was a protocol for handling such request — that is, to have the supervisors’ finance committee review the matter before sending it to the full board for a decision.

Mayhew quickly replied, “We are only mentioning the buses to start a dialogue. We are not asking for a decision.”

Carter then reminded supervisors that the School Board was asking to amend their budget a mere six seeks after it was approved, something board members have said in the past they did not like to have happen.

Despite Carter’s obvious displeasure with the handling of the request, supervisors appeared willing to consider the petition, particularly after learning that the buses currently used for activities log over 100,000 miles per year and that this lease agreement, which could be for 3, 5 or 7 years, depending on the favorability of the terms, would eliminate the need to charter buses for certain events.

“It’s getting harder and harder to find companies with good records who can provide drivers that meet school safety standards,” Mayhew told supervisors.

Finance chairman Gregg Gordon agreed to bring the issue to the finance committee. He suggested the county could allow the school division to use any budget funds left over from the prior fiscal year to cover the cost of the lease, but also wondered if the school division was willing to shift around monies in its existing budget to cover the cost of the lease. Mayhew nodded his assent.

In other business, Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols invited the supervisors to three upcoming events. The first is today at 5 p.m. at Clarksville Elementary School, when U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and state Sen. Frank Ruff will announce a program to provide advanced technology training for teachers to prepare them to teach coding and computer science to elementary, middle and high school students.

On Aug. 23, the Virginia Board of Education and state superintendent will hold a public hearing at Park View High School to receive feedback on their Virginia Portrait of a Graduate Program and the new standards of accreditation for schools and the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. That hearing begins at 6:30 p.m.

Nichols said Mecklenburg County was chosen as the site for these announcements because of the innovative curriculum changes, particularly in the area of career and technical education. “They provide us with two great opportunities to put forward a good foot.”

Finally, on Aug. 28, at 9:30 a.m., Nichols asked supervisors to join school trustees on a tour of the existing middle and high schools in the county. Nichols said the tour is being held in preparation for the upcoming vote on a site for the new consolidated high and middle school complex.

Nichols and director of maintenance Brian Dalton want to point out some of the problems and issues they face with the existing school facilities, “to put it out of anyone’s mind that there can be any delay in building a new school. If we don’t move on something now, then maintenance costs will be unbelievable.”

A public hearing was held during which local residents could express their support or opposition to the county’s plan to eliminate the vehicle decal. No one spoke. Starting with the tax bill issued at the end of this calendar year, vehicle owners — cars, trucks and motorcycles — will see an additional $25 added to their property tax bill. Owners of farm equipment and veterans are exempt from having to pay this fee.

Effective Sept. 1, supervisors agreed to impose an additional $5 as part of the costs in each criminal or traffic case in district or circuit court. The money will be used to purchase an electronic summons system for the sheriff’s office.

VDOT Residency director Billy Smith announced that paving work was complete on Route 617 (Old St. Tammany Road) and Route 753 (Turtle Road), and ongoing for Route 740 (Red Store Road). Carter said he is looking into new ways to fund upgrades and improvements to both Old Cox Road and Herbert Drive in Boydton, including a reapplication to VDOT.

Dominion Power has announced plans to upgrade electrical service to the Oak Hill area on U.S. 15 to alleviate their problems with recurring power outages.

Mark Warren was reappointed to the Planning Commission and Mona White was reappointed to the Lake Country Area Agency on Aging board of directors

Supervisors passed a resolution acknowledging that the Bluestone Solar Farm Project – a 300-acre 50 MW photovoltaic solar facility proposed for Spanish Grove Road near Chase City is “substantially in conformity to the county’s comprehensive plan.”

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