Ressie staff, parents voice concerns for repairs

FRONT ROYAL – As the Warren County School Board prepares for the new Warren County Middle School groundbreaking ceremony next week, many are reminding them of the pressing repairs needed in current facilities.

Staff at Ressie Jeffries Elementary, parents of students there and both candidates running for the South River District School Board seat spoke about the school’s state of disrepair at the School Board meeting on Thursday, and each speaker was met with applause from those in attendance.

Carol Vorous was the first to speak during the community participation section of the meeting, asking the School Board to “take us off  the list'” and address roof leaks and inadequate HVAC systems. She said those issues have caused gymnasium temperatures of up to 100 degrees in hotter months, black mold on ceiling tiles and one classroom needing to empty a dehumidifier twice daily.

“This is not a healthy or safe environment for anyone, least of all our children,” she said.

Vorous presented Superintendent Greg Drescher with photos of safety hazards found throughout the school. Kindergarten assistant Kim Freeman said asbestos at the school poses risks, and parent Brandi Beaty said she has concerns for her son going to school with his seasonal allergies. Beaty said that although she loves the school that both she and her father attended, it has become increasingly difficult to defend it in light of those issues.

Donna McEathron, who is seeking the board seat, brought up possible sources of revenue for repairs to the school. She said funding could come from more than $100,000 from the Water Street property sale and from more than $2 million of extra revenue left over from the $35 million allotted for the new middle school.

Candidate Shawn McClosky described his own visit to the school in his response, saying, “For the sake of the kids, please give this the attention it deserves.”

When School Board Chair Catherine Bower asked if anyone else wished to speak, a member of the audience called out, “We’ll be back.”

The board and superintendent responded sympathetically to the concerns as part of their reports later in the meeting, but as Joanne Cherefko pointed out, “the board is constrained by funding sources from the state, the federal government and local funding.” Many audience members and most of those who spoke had already left at that point.

Drescher said the board has ideas for solutions and reminded attendees that he also dealt with buckets in the hallways catching leaking water when he worked there in the early ’90s as vice principal. As a building with a flat roof, the school has required several repairs.

“I really do commend you guys; it’s a tough place to work sometimes … you guys do a really nice job working together,” he said. “I hope what you’ll see soon is some action that way. I’m positive you will.”

Arnold Williams Jr. brought out the recent increase in SOL pass rates at Ressie Jeffries as a marker of staff devotion, and other members commended their professionalism and hard work. Cherefko stressed the importance of additional priorities in raising teacher salaries and retention rates, and said she was encouraged to hear Board of Supervisors candidates echoing that sentiment at the forum earlier in the week.

In his report, Drescher also spoke about the groundbreaking ceremony next week and October as Virginia School Board Association’s Bullying Prevention Month. Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch then described a list of programs and initiatives that Warren schools utilize for student guidance.

The School Board unanimously approved action agenda items that appointed members to the Gifted Advisory Committee and Special Education Advisory Board, allowed employees to contribute employee-sponsored 403(b) retirement plans, submitted the division’s Title III program and reclassified the Payroll Clerk position as a Payroll Specialist position with salary scale changes.

Two grants were accepted at the October School Board meeting. The $129,760 21st Century Learning grant will fund the School’s Out program at Warren County Middle School, which provides further learning opportunities for students after school. The Virginia Department of Education awarded Warren County schools with The Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports grant, which will give the schools $25,000 for expenses associated with implementing the corresponding initiative.

The School Board also donated a 2001 Chevrolet van unsuitable for use to the Warren County Sheriff’s Department and accepted a 2005 Toyota RAV 4 for Blue Ridge Technical School’s Automotive Technology Program.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or