By Kim Walter
STEPHENS CITY -- Students, parents, faculty and administration at Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy were caught off guard following a Thursday morning announcement detailing the elimination of the school's superintendent position.
Gene Jones, senior pastor at Shenandoah Valley Baptist Church, sent an email to parents of the academy and members of the church to alert them of several changes.
In the email, Jones said the church's finance committee had recently verified that the school is "facing an extreme budget deficit ... that must be resolved immediately in order for the ministry to remain viable."
During a Wednesday night meeting, the church's executive committee voted on several changes to take effect immediately.
The changes, as enumerated in the email, include a reduction to the school's budget, the elimination of the academy's marketing position, a decrease in administrative salaries, and the elimination of the superintendent position.
After the changes were announced during a staff meeting Thursday morning, word began to spread throughout the school.
Jones said emotions were running high, and things started to unravel after a "former staff member" began opening classroom doors and advising students to protest.
"Rumors started going out that Mr. Quinn had been fired, and others would be next, but that is absolutely incorrect," he said Thursday afternoon.
Robert Quinn, the former superintendent, also is a founding member of the school. Since its beginning in 1976, Quinn has taken on numerous administrative and faculty roles. He is also an associate pastor at Shenandoah Valley Baptist Church.
While his administrative position was eliminated, Quinn was offered a teaching position with a salary of $10,000.
"I don't think I can accept that offer," Quinn said in his office Thursday.
Parents began picking up their students from the school in the confusion on Thursday.
Aaron, a parent from Stephens City who declined to give his last name, said he heard that police had been called and classes had been disrupted.
"This is garbage," he said moments after arriving in the academy's parking lot. "There was nothing on the website, the Facebook, no alerts ... as parents we have a right to know what's going on."
Jones said the decisions were tough to make, but said he felt it was his financial responsibility in order to keep the school open. He didn't say how far behind the school is on its funds, but said it is "a lot."
Jones has a background with the church dating back to 1996 when he became an associate pastor. The congregation voted him in as senior pastor in January.
"I oversee the church's ministries, and the academy falls under that," he said. "I shouldn't have been the one to pick up on this, though. It should've been the school administration."
The church's congregation votes on both the church and school budgets. However, Jones said that a majority of the academy's students and their families are not church members.
Judy Pufnock, a church member and substitute for the school, reacted to the announcement Thursday morning. She attempted to consol staff members and students.
"I never would've voted this man in as pastor if I had known what he'd do to this school," she said. "I can't imagine this place without Mr. Quinn."
Pufnock added that to her knowledge, all but one faculty member had offered to take a pay cut to help with the financial situation. She said she found it concerning that following the announcement, school computer and Internet access was shut down.
When faced with the budget crisis, Jones said he refused to put the weight of the issue on teachers' backs.
"That wouldn't have solved the entire problem," Jones said. "And that wasn't something all the teachers wanted to do."
Other faculty members will absorb duties of the eliminated positions. Ronald Combs, athletic director and former elementary school principal, will become principal, Jones added.
While he would like to see Quinn stay with the school, Jones said there is a level of sacrifice needed to keep the academy from closing.
"The education of our students is our top priority, so we've got to maintain what we have and become solvent," he said. "No one's thinking, 'Wow, this is great.'"
"Today the reaction was of loyalty over financial responsibility," Jones said. "I'm hoping everyone will recognize the reality of the situation, and have the heart to move forward."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org