Group grades supervisors on school funding

Thursday was the last day of school in Shenandoah County, and the Parents’ Alliance for Strong Schools has issued its own end of the year report card for county supervisors.

On an A to F grading scale, supervisors earned a C+ average — the highest an A+ and the lowest an F — based on their relative support for local educational funding, according to PASS.

PASS founder J. Daniel Walsh, of Edinburg, said the report is meant to bring attention to each supervisor’s voting history as it relates to school funding. Individual grades for the county’s six supervisors are intended to reflect each member’s statements and voting record on education funding during the last two years.

Though the operating budget the Board of Supervisors approved for the coming school year left schools with $1.9 million in unfunded projects, supervisors later relented and gave schools another $162,000 from unallocated funds.

“We believe Shenandoah County schools are under funded,” Walsh said.

The alliance, which has 620 likes on Facebook, was formed as a way of helping solve other educational issues, too, he said, “but none can be solved until our schools are adequately funded.”

Using information from a Virginia Department of Education’s report on per-pupil, per-year spending for the 2013-14 school year, Walsh pointed out that Shenandoah County students received less than the regional average of about $10,300 each, less than most other area districts.

Clarke and Frederick counties rated above the regional average, with about $10,500 for each child; Warren County rated below average, but higher than Shenandoah.

Though recognizing Shenandoah’s low taxes, Walsh said, “There are counties that are larger or smaller that are investing in their children’s education.”

Here are the PASS grades of supervisors:

  • Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese, District 1: C-
  • Supervisor Steve Baker, District 2: A+
  • Chairman David Ferguson, District 3: A-
  • Supervisor Cindy Bailey, District 4: F
  • Supervisor Marsha Shruntz, District 5: D-
  • Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley, District 6: A-

The grades are based in large part on supervisors’ voting records and history of visiting area schools, according to the news release.

Though the release stated Shruntz’s voting record is “indistinguishable” from Bailey’s on school matters, it boosted her grade because she toured Sandy Hook Elementary School this spring.

“Her slightly higher grade is attributable to fact that some small amount of credit is due for simply showing up,” the report stated.

Bailey, PASS stated in the release, “adamantly refuses to undertake the office school visits and tours that each of the other Supervisors have done. … She once described paying competitive salaries to our teachers as ‘keeping up with the Joneses.'”

Responding to the criticism, Bailey said, “This is one man’s opinion.” An opinion she said is wrong.

“I am in the schools, and they know it,” she said. “I adamantly refuse? That is not true.”

“Who doesn’t want strong schools. How dare they say I don’t,” she went on to say.

“Why? Because I won’t give them everything they want, because I argue everything? Well, this is not going to change,” she said.

“We share the same goals for strong schools for our children,” she stated in an earlier email. “I, however, refuse to accept that significantly increasing the school budget every year is going to accomplish this goal. My job is to question how tax dollars are being spent. The county board allocates what money we can to the school board and they chose how to spend the money.”

Shruntz, of Strasburg, said she would support greater opportunities for businesses to bring jobs to the community and, in turn, raise more income for schools.

Neese, of New Market, agreed: “We need to attract more business in order to get a better revenue base, yes.”

Though the county’s comprehensive plan restricts business development to certain areas, both supervisors said there’s room to grow.

“We’ve got several sites in the county that are available for use,” Neese said. “We haven’t attracted the right ones, I guess is the problem.”

Attempts to contact Ferguson on Thursday in time for publication were not successful.

But Helsley, of Strasburg, pointed out that education is integral to encouraging people to do business in the county.

Having spoken with companies interested in bringing business here, he said, “One of their questions was the school system and how the school system rates.”

“I’m not writing a blank check here,” he said, ” … but I’m open minded about it.”

Baker, of Mount Jackson, said he was humbled to be recognized by PASS for his regular tours of schools and voting support.

“I’ve always felt that of course schools is the biggest entity of the county and young people are our future, and we need to provide the best possible education that we can, I guess with monies that is available,” he said.

“I’ve always tried to do the best I can, and if they feel I’ve done my job, then I’m very humbled by that grade.”

Contact PASS at http://www.shencopass.org. Contact the Board of Supervisors at http://shenandoahcountyva.us/bos.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com

The PASS Report Card

The following comments are from the PASS news release:

Dick Neese, District 1: C-
“Neese represented the swing vote both years, and in the end, such increases as were adopted were limited to what Mr. Neese would accept. PASS appreciates that at least Mr. Neese was willing to support some increase in education funding; however, the amounts of increase he was willing to accept were well below what our schools need and our kids deserve. In addition, Mr. Neese’s statement that he would not even consider additional revenues in 2015 limited the options available to the Supervisors. He does periodically visit the schools.”

Steve Baker, District 2: A+
“Every motion to increase funding for the schools in the last two years was offered by Mr. Baker. He supported fully funding the schools in 2014, and he offered two motions to increase funding incrementally in 2015. Mr. Baker has taken on the mantle of the leading education supporter on the Board, and he regularly tours the schools, and meets with educators and administrators to hear their concerns.”

David Ferguson, District 3: A-
Historically, Chairman Ferguson has had a fairly down-the-middle record on schools; in past years, he was a foil to some of the more enthusiastic education supporters like former Supervisors Dennis Morris and Sharon Baroncelli. However, in 2014, he was willing to support full funding of the schools, and he supported the modest increases given in 2015. In a recent hearing of the BOS, Mr. Ferguson explained his votes to cut school budgets by citing the recent recession and the need to contain real estate taxes. He recognized that, with the recession over, it may be time to revisit that approach. Mr. Ferguson has visited the schools and read to the children.”

Cindy Bailey, District 4: F
“In addition to consistently voting against school funding, chronic absenteeism is partially to blame for Ms. Bailey’s failing grade. Ms. Bailey adamantly refuses to undertake the official school visits and tours that each of the other Supervisors have done. She has stated her consistent opposition to any additional funding for our schools, and voted accordingly. She once described paying competitive salaries to our teachers as ‘keeping up with the Joneses.'”

Marsha Shruntz, District 5: D-
“Shruntz’ voting record is indistinguishable from Ms. Bailey’s. Her slightly higher grade is attributable to fact that some small amount of credit is due for simply showing up. Ms. Shruntz recently broke with her previous refusal to tour the schools and did a tour of Sandy Hook Elementary. However, she has been withering in her criticism of the School Division, and vocally opposed to efforts to bring teacher compensation in line with competing districts. She has voted against every attempt to raise funding for our schools. If voting records were all we considered, she’d receive an F.”

Conrad Helsley, District 6: A-
“Helsley’s record in many ways reflects Mr. Ferguson’s. Never an opponent of school funding, he was nevertheless more tepid in his support than some of the Board’s education champions of the past. However, in recent deliberations, he has been picking up the mantle of an education supporter; perhaps this in response to the vehement opposition of Ms. Bailey and Ms. Shruntz to school funding. He supported efforts to fully fund the School Board’s proposed budget in 2014, and he supported the modest increases of 2015.”