RCPS board opts to leave Virginia School Board Assoc. for more conservative group

The Rockingham County School Board will leave the well-established Virginia School Boards Association in favor of a newer, more conservative group.

In a 3-1 vote Monday night, the board voted to enroll in the School Board Member Alliance, a nonprofit professional development organization in Virginia that emphasizes traditionally conservative values. 

Jackie Lohr was the only “no” vote. Board member Ashley Burgoyne was out of town and did not attend the meeting.

The board also awarded several contracts, amended next year’s budget and put off deciding on whether to return two banned books to library shelves.

Board to leave VSBA for conservative organization

The board voted to end its membership with the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) and instead join the School Board Member Alliance (SBMA). The SBMA, founded by a former Virginia school board member, defines itself as a nonpartisan organization on its website, but several RCPS board members said they want to make the switch because it aligns more with their conservative values, including parental rights.

Both organizations provide legal and policy services, professional development and training for school board members. Despite ending its membership, the county school board voted to retain VSBA’s policy services for another year alongside those from the new organization.

Lohr argued against leaving the VSBA. While she said she understands and shares other board members’ concerns that the organization leans more liberal than Rockingham County residents, Lohr said she believes RCPS should stay where it is.

“If we’re not there to provide the conservative voice, no one else will be … There have been several talking points that they’ve pushed in recent years that are not as conservative as I would like them to be, but we can change that if we stay part of it,” Lohr said. “My biggest concern is, the way to make a liberal organization more liberal is for all the conservatives to leave.”

Several other Virginia school boards have made the same switch, including Orange County, York County and Warren County.

Lohr said that as a VSBA member, the RCPS board has a say in which values and policies the organization lobbies to Virginia legislators.

“They’re recognizable,” she said. “They have the ear of the politicians, and we’re losing our long-established, well-established voice there.”

“How has that voice worked out for us over the years?” board chair Matt Cross asked. 

With more conservatives flocking to the School Board Member Alliance, he said he expects there to be more networking opportunities. He also said RCPS still can rely on relationships with local legislators to get its voice in the statehouse.

Lohr said Rockingham’s feedback has sometimes caused the VSBA to pull back on certain talking points. 

“It truly is member-driven, and if all the members leave that think one particular way, then you’re going to lose that two-sidedness of it,” she said.

With the School Board Member Alliance’s newer status — it started in 2022 — Lohr said she also worries it doesn’t have the same influence or as much experience with other services like training. Vice chair Sara Horst, who attended the alliance’s recent annual conference with Cross and member Hollie Cave, said she was impressed with its training sessions and resources.

Although the board’s approved motion said it’d join the alliance, that will be up to each board member personally because the alliance only offers individual memberships. Lohr hasn’t yet said whether she’ll join the SBMA herself.

Another book returns, two others stay in limbo

The school board voted unanimously to reinstate “The School for Good and Evil” by Soman Chainani after the Content Review Committee determined it doesn’t contain sexually explicit content.

The committee had also recommended “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini and “My Friend Dahmer” by Derf Backderf be returned to shelves, but Cross requested that board members take more time to review those books before voting on it. Cave agreed and said she believes both books contain inappropriate content, but Horst and Lohr voted against that motion.

Horst said she trusts the Content Review Committee’s recommendation and that the board needs to follow the policies it wrote. If board members have issues with books that don’t meet the legal definition for sexual explicitness, she said, they need to take that up through the separate complaint process.

Superintendent Larry Shifflett said there had been less consensus with these two books in the committee. The group eventually landed on a consensus to retain “The Kite Runner,” he said, but their vote to keep “My Friend Dahmer” was split, 4-3. 

After more discussion, board members agreed to push the decision on those two books until its next meeting on July 8. In the meantime, board members said they will discuss among themselves — and with Shifflett and committee members — on whether to reinstate those books.

RCPS awards milk and construction contracts

The board voted 3-1 to make Maola Milk the district’s new dairy provider. 

Herndon-based Maola Milk was the lowest bidder, coming in at just over $308,000 and will replace PET Dairy, which RCPS has used for several years. Maola’s bid was about $23,000 lower than PET’s, but board member Hollie Cave opposed the switch, saying PET — a subsidiary of Eagle Foods, based in Cleveland, Ohio — works with more local suppliers and ending that contract would negatively impact those farms. 

Lohr disagreed, saying Maola is more local. Neither cited how they came to those conclusions.

Several other contracts were unanimously awarded at Monday’s meeting:

  • Track restorations at East Rockingham and Turner Ashby high schools will go to ATC CORP, a Maryland-based construction company, for more than $409,000.
  • Updates to bleachers at Spotswood High School’s football field to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act will go to a Broadway-based developer, Lantz Construction Company, for more than $144,000.
  • A mechanical maintenance service contract will go to Riddleberger Brothers Inc. in Mt. Crawford for more than $648,000.

Also of note

The board voted unanimously to amend the budget and allocate nearly $1.87 million  in additional funding, allowing it to reduce its local cash request by $1 million. Since the Virginia budget was finalized, the state allotted the county school district nearly $1.27 million. It will also receive $560,000 in grant money to pay for more school safety resource officers.

Additionally, the school board is considering minor revisions on 25 policies, which board members are expecting to vote on at the July 8 meeting. 

Also, the latest attendance report — as of May 31 — showed 11.47% of RCPS students were chronically absent, meaning they missed 17 or more days of school this year. That’s down from 21.27% in the 2022-23 school year.

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