Five of the county’s six supervisors passed this school year with flying colors according to recent grades from the Parents’ Alliance for Strong Schools.
PASS has been handing supervisors their grades for the last five years with mixed results in every class. This year the rubric appears to have changed as every supervisor except Richard Walker received an “A” — the first time PASS has handed out so many.
The report card, which PASS started in 2015, evaluates the county supervisors on their voting records and support for Shenandoah County Public Schools.
“The letter grade issued to each supervisor is intended to reflect that member’s statements, actions and votes with respect to education funding,” comments on the report card states.
In the past, supervisors were graded on a number of factors including their level of involvement in school functions such as tours. This year, the grades were handed out based on three major votes the Board of Supervisors took in the closing stages of the county’s budget process.
Dan Walsh, president of PASS, said the organization moved away from factoring in activities such as touring schools because they’re no longer useful in differentiating among the supervisors. In the past, he said, some supervisors were “very committed” to not touring schools, creating a major divide between supervisors that PASS could use to evaluate them.
PASS graded supervisors on whether they approved the overall budget — the school division requested $30,081,905 and the supervisors approved $29,989,710, whether the supervisors approved of letting schools hold on to unspent funds from the 2017-2018 school year, and whether they approved letting schools use unspent funds from the current school year to update textbooks.
Two supervisors who received nearly polar opposite grades last year each fell back a bit this year. Walker, who received a D+ last year, received a D this year and Karl Roulston, District 4 supervisor, dropped from his A+ to an A.
Walsh said the PASS Board of Directors vote on grades for the supervisors and it worked out that no supervisor received a plus or minus grade this year.
Last year, Walsh said, Roulston received an A+ for his advocating full funding of the school’s requested budget. The county didn’t fully fund the budget but as Roulston was the only supervisor to support the idea, he received that top grade.
Walker, who has not received a grade better than C- since he joined the board in 2016, was the sole supervisor to not receive an A this year.
Walker endorsed one of the three votes PASS used as criteria — he voted in favor of the schools holding on to unspent funds from the 2017-2018 school year — but cast the lone dissenting vote on the other two measures.
Walker said PASS’ focus on grading according to education funding wasn’t a surprise.
“PASS has nothing to do with education,” Walker said. “They have everything to do with money.”
Walker said he has invested in education in Shenandoah County, although it hasn’t always been through the budget process.
He emphasized his efforts to recruit volunteers and start local connections to the National and Junior Achievement Office programs in local schools. He said he has spent days volunteering with the program and has an “excellent” relationship with Shenandoah County Public Schools’ Superintendent Mark Johnston.
Walker’s best grade from PASS came in 2017 when he voted against cutting education spending by $3 million but also declined to increase funding, casting him solidly in the middle of the road.
“My approach is to participate in the education process,” Walker said, “to try to improve the educational system ... all I can say is PASS is a political organization that is dedicated to one thing, and that is not increasing education, it’s increasing funding.”