District 4 hopefuls participate in forum
Editor’s note: This is part three of a forum held for candidates seeking the District 4 seats on the Board of Supervisors and the School Board.
WOODSTOCK – Candidates running for District 4 seats on the Board of Supervisors and the School Board responded to questions at a forum Wednesday.
Karl Roulston and Michelle Manning participated in the event held at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock. Manning is running unopposed to succeed School Board member Katheryn Freakley who chose not to seek another term. Roulston is challenging Supervisor Cindy Bailey for her seat. Bailey, who is seeking a second term, did not participate in the forum.
The Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce organized the event with the Shenandoah County Education Association, the Shenandoah Forum, Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and the Farm Bureau of Shenandoah County.
Woodstock attorney Paul J. Neal Jr. served as moderator and read questions submitted by the audience at the venue prior to the event. At times, Neal elaborated or expanded on the submissions, inserting some of his own comments regarding the topic raised as he alternated between each candidate. After providing introductions, each candidate responded to the following questions:
What’s your opinion of the current morale of the school system in general, the faculty and staff and if you think it needs improving what ideas might you might have to help?
Manning – Oh, it’s awful. I think in general morale is probably the number 1 thing that is causing our educators and other county employees to seek employment elsewhere. I think that to feel unappreciated and as an expendable commodity to be told well you just should teach for the love of teaching and you shouldn’t want to pursue better benefits, that in and of itself is demoralizing, and I think, as we’ve touched on before, the improvement of morale needs to be a group effort and it needs to be from the top down and there are so many levels in between but all of those levels need to have attention. No one should be exempt within our county and particularly those in the leadership program. They shouldn’t be exempt from the scrutiny that is required to make sure that they are leading by positive example because that often becomes part of, you know, part of the problem is from leadership down. So I would hope to just, again, so much of this is communication. Communication is so key in so many aspects of business life, personal life and all the rest. You can solve a lot of issues if people are just willing to have a conversation about it.
Are there issues with morale in county employees?
Roulston – I believe morale is low. I believe morale is low across the county. All county employees, teachers as well, sheriffs, fire and rescue. I think that somewhere in the trying to be fiscally responsible we forgot to say thank you for the efforts that are going on. We forgot to recognize that with what county employees are doing every day they are doing for us. They’re doing for our quality of life. They’re doing to make our lives what we want to be. It’s not about “I didn’t get a raise.” I will tell you money is a temporary solution in the business world. If someone comes to me and they come to me and I say “I’ll give you a dollar more an hour, I fix the problem for about six months.” In six months they’re gonna be back in my office having the same conversation because they’re still getting treated the same way. People want to feel that what they are doing provides value and that they are valued, and somewhere along the way we have not been doing that for the county employees and that does impact your attrition. You’re gonna lose employees to other areas that do. A lot of the moving isn’t – it isn’t dollars and sense. If you pragmatically look at what they’re transferring to, they haven’t made any money. They’re spending it on the road and gas and mileage expenses. But what we can do for nothing is treat them with respect. What we can do for nothing is build trust with them and that benefits everybody in the county because everybody in the county will benefit when we all feel like we’re on the same team trying to accomplish the same goals. If I don’t feel like you respect me I’m not going to do a lot for you, quite honestly. I’m a passive aggressive sumbitch. It’s a mutual respect that builds relationships and builds trust and allows you to do things efficiently and effectively.
How would you work to increase dual-enrollment opportunities and also opportunities for the technical, occupational education?
Manning – Honestly, I am not hugely familiar with dual-enrollment opportunities as they stand. We haven’t reached that place yet in Eve’s education and it has – we didn’t have dual enrollment when I went to school. We just did advanced placement classes and that’s what we had. So it’s kind of a learning curve for me. I understand what it is. You’re leaving high school with potentially a associates degree in something, which is a great leg up. It also makes me question where things seem to take the place of something else. But as far as Triplett and technical school, I think it’s terribly important. My father is an electrician by trade. I grew up with that environment. I was his apprentice, well, his gopher actually, when I was 16 so I think that there is great merit there. I have heard so many wonderful stories of students coming out of Triplett who are doing better than many who graduate with a four-year degree when it comes to salaries. I think that physical space is necessary to expand that program and the resources have to be there in order to make that happen. I’ve heard stories of students needing to attend certain events in order to satisfy the curriculum set out by the state but the funds aren’t there to hire bus drivers to get the students there so the teachers drive the buses and so resources have to be made available in order to expand the program. But I – my dad would love it based on that.
What are your thoughts on land-use taxation?
Roulston – Land-use taxation I think is an appropriate thing to do in the valley. I have no problem with land-use taxation. It’s a reduced rate to help reduce the bill that is required. I mean farming, what’s the first thing you need? A lot of land. So it sort of makes sense from the, you know, the bulk-buy discount world as well, right? I’ll sell you this for $2 but if you buy a hundred of them I’ll sell it to you for 90 cents. Well, if you’re a farmer, you need a hundred acres so you shouldn’t have to pay a hundred acres to keep cows on the field like I would have to pay a hundred acres to put a hundred houses on the field, maybe not a hundred. So I have no problem with land-use taxation.
What is your view of the recent view plan the School Board just completed for the 20-year review?
Manning – I am not wholly familiar with all that was discussed in the review. I think that it’s great, it’s imperative to have a plan moving forward. I think our lack of long-range planning and our short-sightedness over the past years has put us in the predicament that we find ourselves on many levels. But you can plan all day long but if you don’t implement the parts of that plan where you can and when you can, it becomes – it’s nothing but plan and a plan not put into action is failed. So I hope the things that have been discussed, which, like I said I’m not familiar with everything that’s on there, would be things that would improve the situation that we’re facing and be long term and set a precedent for the advantage of long-term planning.
Do think divisiveness on the Board of Supervisors has had an impact on economic development?
Roulston – Yes. Much like quality of life, a business relocating is going to look at a lot of things when they plan to pick up and move or build a new facility. One of those things is the political environment and what is going on in the political environment. If we have an environment with a group that can’t even – if everything ties in 3-3 vote, it’s very adversarial. We have to dwell on decisions made in the past that are not even relevant anymore. They’re behind us but we have to bring it up over and over. That’s not good government. That’s picking fights and pressing personal agendas. Business is going to look at that, you know, those aren’t secret. They’re recorded. You can listen to them. You can watch the video. They’re out there online. Before they make a commitment to move their facility and move their employees, they’re gonna research what that area really is like. So, yes, I think it does – Economic development is a lot of different things. There’s a lot of balls in the air. But I will tell you as a business owner with Regulus we always wanted to be part of the discussion when the FAA was talking about a new contract. We wanted to be there early so that we can form what they’re gonna do contract wise, what’s the scope, what the cap of that contract price should be and you want your phone ringing from everybody who thinks they’re gonna bid on that thing so that you can get in as early as possible. That is what economic development needs to do as well and that is done with the full-time economic development position with that Rolodex to make those calls to keep those contacts and to keep you in the game.
How willing are you to dig deep into the issues of our school system even if it means pressure on our School Board office? How do you see that relationship between the School Board members and the School Board office in working to fix some of the problems that you’ve talked about tonight?
Manning – To the first part, how willing I am to dig deep, the person who asked that doesn’t know me very well. I am a truth seeker. At the same time I also – I’m not a speculator. I don’t like speculation. When people talk about well this has happened or so-and-so left because of this – until I hear it from the horse’s mouth or read it in the report myself, I have a difficult time latching on to something as truth just because someone said so. So it is kind of my nature to delve into things wholeheartedly to the annoyance of many to get to what is the meat of the problem. I have not had the opportunity to work with members in the office of the School Board at this point in time since I am not on the School Board yet. Thus far I have found them to be agreeable and helpful in the small realm that I have had interaction with them. I sound like a broken record but communication is imperative and my integrity matters more than anything to me and I need to be able to go to sleep at night knowing that I have fought the right fight sometimes at the risk of offending or hurting. But if I feel convicted because I’ve done my research and my homework in something I will be the first person to speak up and hold the line.
If you’re elected will you trust the expertise and guidance of the School Board as presented in their needs-based budget?
Roulston – I think I’m gonna echo some of what Michelle has said. When you have trust with the people you’ve worked with it really is a trust but verified position that you’re in, where it keeps honest people honest position. What I would hope to get to is not just one meeting, go over the budget, we’re done, but multiple meetings to try and outline what we’re trying to accomplish and why we’re trying to accomplish it and build a budget around it. A budget isn’t just to throw a bunch of numbers on a page. A budget is a planning device. A budget is a tool that you use in business to try and accomplish an objective or a goal. So there’s a lot of back-and-forth in there. So do I trust the professionals I’m gonna work with? Yeah, I’m gonna trust them. I mean trust is something that builds over time. But I don’t come into the room immediately not trusting. I trust but verify. I think the same applies for any budgeting process and that give-and-take is very important and in so doing you actually are developing the trust. You understand how the budget builds up, how it comes from and you might just say I want this simple little thing but it adds up to a lot of money because that simple little thing impacted a lot of different areas. If you build your budget more of trying to establish what your goal is, it becomes a valid means of value engineering where you say, “all right, we wanted to get to this building of widgets at this date but to do this we’re going to have to hit to all these milestones along the way.” You can spend the money and check, “am I where I’m supposed to be for that milestone?” If I’m not, we’re gonna have to slow down and take a look at why we didn’t hit that and maybe reassess the whole thing. But you are checking it all along the way so that when you get to your building widget, you’re there where the right dollar amount that you said you were gonna be there.
What drove your decision to seek a position on the School Board?
Manning – As I mentioned, I’ve been involved and enjoyed every moment of volunteering at all the institutions where Eve was obtaining her education. I like people and I like to help and I like to feel needed. I think we all do if we’re all honest about it and this was the most perfect timing opportunity. I have big shoes to fill – Mrs. Freakley – and I was honored to be approached but the timing was just ideal. Eve has just entered ninth grade. It’s a four-year term. Whether or not I would seek a second remains to be seen. But it just gave me the opportunity because I wasn’t really quite sure where I could fit in in a high school on the day-to-day basis that I’m so used to volunteering on, you know, day-to-day or a weekly basis. And this kind of – it couldn’t have been more perfect in its timing and opportunity. And it also has given me the opportunity to become more involved in the community as whole, not just within Woodstock but for the county as well.