School Board candidates weigh in on issues

EDINBURG – Candidates for the District 3 seat on the Shenandoah County School Board weighed in on issues at a forum Wednesday.

The Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, the Shenandoah County Education Association, the Shenandoah Forum, the Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and the Farm Bureau of Shenandoah County are hosting a series of forums for candidates running for local and state offices. Attendees submit questions in the hour before the forum.

Organizers held the District 3 forum in Charter House School in Edinburg. D. Roger Barbee, Cyndy Walsh and Steve Wood are seeking the District 3 seat on the School Board. Wood did not participate because he had a previous engagement.

Each candidate made introductory and closing statements and had two minutes to respond to questions submitted by attendees in the hour before the forum. George Daugharty, a certified public accountant, moderated the forum. Cheri Wright, executive director of the chamber, said candidates could use 30 seconds to rebut responses. Rebuttal time was not used in the forum held for District 2 on Monday.

What are the top 3 issues facing the school system and what would you do as a board member to handle each?

Walsh said budget, capacity and an over-emphasis on testing. Walsh said she would want to make sure the schools are funded and the system should aspire to provide an excellent education for the children. Walsh said she looked forward to seeing a consultant’s options to solve overcrowding.

Barbee said teachers need more daily support beyond cards of appreciation. Barbee commented that the division needs to do a better job of managing its money.

What option do you support to alleviate overcrowding at W.W. Robinson Elementary School? Trailers, boundary adjustments, shuffling grade levels or build new schools.

Barbee said he would support boundary adjustments because the other three wouldn’t work well.

Walsh said any of the options would be unpopular, that she doesn’t like any and would prefer to look at long-term solutions.

What is a needs-based budget; how is it developed and how does it contribute to good, financial management?

Walsh said she trusts the superintendent and administrators to say what they need. Walsh said she doesn’t feel the system should be happy with the minimum. She noted that a majority of the funding goes to instruction. Needs-based goes from benefits to technology and other areas.

Barbee said needs-based involves good planning and vision and requires foresight and management skills.

What are your plans to support more agricultural classes for schools?

Barbee said the system has an active FFA program and shows other signs of participation in agriculture. Barbee said agriculture teachers need to be asked what they require.

Walsh said the county is doing well in the agricultural education and doesn’t know what more is needed aside from continued support for those programs.

Is it true that there’s a shortage of funds, as a result of a decrease in students, and what would you propose to respond to this?

Barbee said he doesn’t understand why spending would be frozen now if the budget is already set. Barbee asked if the system is down 125 students, or about 10 teachers, what are those educators doing.

Walsh said the decrease in enrollment is troubling and that freezing discretionary funds is a precautionary move. Walsh said the decrease is spread out across the system and doesn’t mean 10 teachers are without students.

Barbee asked why the decrease is such a shock if it was expected to happen.

How will you support public education in the county when some members of the Board of Supervisors do not appear to?

Walsh said the School Board needs to advocate for the system’s needs and she could not make supervisors support its plans.

Barbee said as a School Board member he would need to demonstrate the system’s needs. Barbee said he doesn’t know if some supervisors do not support the School Board. He then questioned why the School Board would hire a consultant to look into the system’s space needs after a committee came up with same options.

What are your thoughts about the ratio of administrators to teachers in the county and how would you address it?

Barbee said a 2014 study performed by the Virginia Department of Education shows county teachers rank fifth, assistant principals third and principals first for salaries in the seven-county region. Barbee said he wants to see more money go to teachers.

Walsh said she’s heard the system is top-heavy but the county’s schools have more students compared to other jurisdictions where there are fewer students for each administrator. Walsh said she isn’t opposed to looking into this matter and cutting from the top if elected but doesn’t see that as an issue. Walsh noted that the teacher-student ratio also is low.

What would you do to alleviate a shortage of special-education teachers in the county?

Walsh acknowledged that one special education teacher was requested in the budget but not funded. Walsh said she thought such a shortage might be a statewide issue.

Barbee said he doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of a shortage but noted that such teachers have a tough job. If elected, Barbee said he would seek to find more coaches to work with special-needs students.

What changes would you support in light of reduced funding?

Barbee said staffing is the biggest expense and he would look at where to cut spending in staffing, not programs.

Walsh said the system would need to be careful when looking at cutting staff.

An efficiency report shows almost $1 million in savings the system could realize so would you entertain those suggestions?

Walsh said she would need to see the line-item recommendations before supporting any of them.

Barbee said he had heard of the report and that its recommendations have helped other jurisdictions, adding that he would want to look at spending on administrators.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com