Superintendent replies to facilities plan criticisms

The Shenandoah County Public Schools long term facilities plan continues to be one of leading topics this election season.

One of the most sharply critical comments about the long term facilities plan was made during a Board of Supervisors meeting.

“The School Board’s decision to accept the DeJong-Rickart plan for the long-term plan for our county and the school system is beyond ridiculous,” Marsha Shruntz said. “It’s the worst plan ever imagined for our county. It would dismantle the campus concept. They want to tear down the plan itself. They want to tear down schools and build new ones. This is ridiculous.”

Shruntz and fellow supervisor Cindy Bailey  voted against funding the long-term facilities plan, arguing it would not help with immediate needs. Bailey in the past challenged why the board was spending money on  the plan when the schools needed maintenance.

The plan for the school division covers 25 years. It recommends replacing Sandy Hook Elementary School. W.W. Robinson would receive capital and renovations with suggested replacement in 15 to 20 years. Ashby Lee Elementary School would close after the construction of a new high school and two middle schools would be converted into elementary schools.

 

Superintendent Mark Johnston addressed some of the criticisms in an email to the Northern Virginia Daily.

“Having listened to some of the public commentary during this heightened electoral season, I would say that the campus model currently is NOT working. We have the largest non-magnet elementary school in the state. We have trailers serving as classrooms at one of our elementary schools that have been there 11 years when they were supposed to have been temporary. Our three largest schools are our elementary schools which is upside down compared to every other jurisdiction in Virginia and most across the country, and we have common spaces such as cafeterias. libraries, and gymnasiums, that are inadequate for the size of the populations they serve, which causes us to start lunches at 10:30 a.m. and serve to 1:30 p.m.,” Johnston stated.

No work has begun on the facilities project. The status of the report continues to be as “accepted” by the Shenandoah County Board of Education.

“The accepted status indicates that unlike some policy matters, the plan provides a road map for future capital investment under conditions at the time the report was submitted and is not set in stone. For example, any major capital investments would require an updated set of facts and circumstances so as to be as responsive as possible,” Johnston stated.

The long term plan could be thought of as a long term strategic guide for capital, such as for building maintenance, upgrades, and replacement, Johnston said.

“To implement any aspect of the plan would require broad discussions with input from a broad cross section of the community. No funds have been expended. Zero,” Johnston wrote.

Prior to this long term facilities plan, no such long term planning existed. Administrators have stated on numerous occasions that it is foolhardy not to have such a plan when the school system owns 12 buildings (10 schools, a maintenance shop, and a transportation garage), Johnston stated.

Funding for major capital projects is typically done through bonding, which is essentially long term financing, Johnston stated. The Board of Supervisors would need to provide approval for any debt since they typically carry debt on their balance sheets. Bonds could be made available through the Virginia Public School Authority (VPSA) but that would need approval of the Board of Supervisors since there would be debt service on the bonds.

The plan for the school division is a 25-year road map for the schools. It recommends replacing Sandy Hook Elementary School. W.W. Robinson would receive capital and renovations with suggested replacement in 15 to 20 years. Ashby Lee Elementary School would close after the construction of a new high school and two middle schools would be converted into elementary schools.

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