School Board approves boundary changes

Sonya Williams-Giersch

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County School Board approved the attendance boundary change, policy revision and proposed operational budget on Thursday.

The approved boundary change will be effective at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

The change was made with a 5-1 vote, with Irving Getz opposing the boundary change.

Board member Sonya Williams-Giersch said it was a very tough decision for her to make.

“I was that sensitive child that would have struggled with a change like this, so I do hurt for those children and families,” she said, “While this doesn’t totally solve the overcrowding issue, it does make us one division and it provides more equity across the division.”

Irving Getz

Equity, she said, is an important issue that needs to be resolved, and the boundary change will help create equity across the three campuses.

“I regret the hardships that it provides children and families, but I do think we have to do this for our division,” she added.

Equity was also on the mind of board member Cynthia Walsh, who addressed a question about where funding for the budget would come from if the Board of Supervisors doesn’t approve it.

“We are going to make it a priority that programs are equitable,” she said. “I am extremely committed and I believe the rest of the board is committed to making sure that those resources are spread as well as the children are spread.”

Getz voiced concern for families whose students may have to attend a different campus from their siblings – a concern he said the community has brought to him.

Cynthia Walsh

Before the board’s vote, two community members expressed their opposition to the boundary change.

Cindy Dellinger, of Edinburg, said, “This is not the time to vote on this boundary adjustment. I do not feel that you have all of the information that you need to make a sound decision for the future of our students, for the lives that will be impacted by these decisions. I do not feel that the time is now.”

Ann Shirkey, of Edinburg, also spoke against the change, asking what the board would do if the Board of Supervisors chooses not to fully fund the proposed budget.

“What are you going to cut?” she said. “And how can you make a decision on this boundary adjustment if you do not know this?”

Along with the boundary change, policy revisions were unanimously approved that granted exceptions to certain groups.

Jeremy Raley

Superintendent Jeremy Raley said the section that allowed the superintendent to grant special permission was removed. He also said the boundaries will be looked over periodically, but no less than every five years.

“They may not need to be done in the future, but we will at least examine the data, look at the figures, and determine whether or not an adjustment needs to be made,” he said.

In the new policy revision, exceptions were also granted.

• Children of full-time school division employees will be granted permission to bring their child to the campus at which they work.
• Students with disabilities or special needs will be allowed to attend a school outside of their attendance zone for programmatic needs offered at a particular school.
• Current ninth, 10th and 11th grade students will be allowed to continue their high school career at their current high school, and will be given transportation by the school division at consolidated bus stops, which will only be used by these high school students.

At the work session held before the 7 p.m. meeting, the board members unanimously approved the $64 million operating budget, an increase of $3.6 million from last year’s budget.

The budget will be presented to the Board of Supervisors for their consideration.

At the public meeting, the board approved the $413,304 school carryover fund balance to be used for one-time capital expenses if granted by the Board of Supervisors.

During a public comment period, two community members spoke in regards to the Strasburg High School boys basketball team incident on Dec. 19.

Tara Greene, of Strasburg, said students and coaches are being treated as “disposable.” The process has created emotional harm, she said, as suspensions have been made.

“This is an educational system,” she said. “What is so educational about not having our students getting the instructional time they so desire and deserve?”

“So it’s time to listen to our community and put our children back where they belong, put our coaches back where they belong. They have served their punishment and then some,” she added.

Katherine Coffman, of Woodstock, also spoke on the incident.

“If Strasburg High School’s current principal’s educational methodology is one of instilling fear in both students and staff, he has succeeded in implementing it,” she said. “I implore you to please address the climate issue at Strasburg High School. You wouldn’t want your children, grandchildren or any child living in your constituency trying to learn in an atmosphere of fear.”

The Board will hold it’s next meeting 7 p.m. April 14.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com