The Warren County School Board, during its regular meeting Wednesday, August 3, voted unanimously at the table until the board’s next working session on whether to renew the Membership and Policy Services Agreement with the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA).
VSBA is a voluntary, nonpartisan organization for Virginia School Boards that provides members with a variety of services, including governance training; Strategic planning services for the development and implementation of focused action plans; assistance with research and selection of a supervisor; networks; subscriber policy services based on state and federal laws and regulations, and case law; Legal information and limited counseling with an attorney; and collective bargaining services.
“The Warren County Board has been a member of the Virginia School Board Association for years at an annual cost of $9521.19,” Christopher Ballinger, director of Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) told school board members, adding that VSBA also offers high quality webinars, and conferences, conferences, meetings, podcasts, and other trainings for school board members and for school board development.
At the same time, Ballinger said, the VSBA also provides “a powerful voice in lobbying and advocacy locally, statewide, and nationally.”
Several school board members have expressed concerns about the use of taxpayer money to fund lobbying efforts in the organization.
“I’ve obviously had issues with the VSBA for some time now,” said board member Melanie Salins, who noted that while the group calls itself non-partisan, she said she has attended VSBA training and events where specific political agendas have been promoted.
For example, Salines said that the VSBA Capital conference she attended in January was a lobbying conference that she described as “very uncomfortable” because it “offended a lot of the new school board members who were there because most of the school board members were conservatives.”
“And the things that were said were totally weird,” Salines said. “They were making fun of their parents. They were making fun of our Republican delegates and senators.”
Salines then played a video through her microphone of some of the comments she said had been made during that conference. It was not clear who was making the variety of comments or in what context. “I don’t think lobbying belongs in this council,” said Salines, who later clarified that no lobbying group should be funded by taxpayers’ money, whether it leans to the right or the left.
During the community engagement portion of Wednesday’s board meeting, two residents also criticized the school board’s involvement in the VSBA and urged members not to renew their membership with the association for 2022-2023.
Then Morris said, “Why would we use taxpayer money to fund a left-wing lobby?”
Also during the community engagement portion of the school board meeting, President Kristen Pence read letters from seven residents objecting to board membership in VSBA, which they claimed is a deeply partisan and biased organization that is also anti-parents.
Andrea Lo, a member of the school board, said her experience with VSBA differed from her experience with Salins and described a VSBA conference she attended in November 2021 which was not a lobbying conference and no one specifically addressed politics. Instead, Lu said, “conference participants specifically addressed schools.”
During one of the conference’s plenary sessions, Low also said that it was announced that the VSBA was withdrawing from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) because the NSBA had supported comments made by President Joe Biden about the investigation of parents who were speaking on the school board. meetings.
“I feel if there are some points where liberals are upset and some points where conservatives are upset, maybe [VSBA] “It is more halfway,” Lo said, adding that the VSBA is a member-led organization that responded to what local members wanted in this case, which was against a VSBA supporting the NSBA and comments made by a Democratic chair. “I don’t think this is a liberal move,” she said.
Lou also questioned what other policy advice would be available to the Warren County School Board if it decided not to renew the Policy Services Agreement with the VSBA. She asked Ballinger if he had distributed this information from the council’s attorney.
The superintendent said he did, noting that in the first year, the initial cost to the school board would be $40,000 to $50,000 to have an attorney present and review policies, their implementation and use, and to ensure they comply with state or federal laws. After that, the price may vary from year to year based on newly issued or updated laws and guidelines.
“I want to make sure that while we’re still trying to approve our budget for the 2022-23 school year, we won’t now add $50,000 or $40,000 in attorney fees to make sure we don’t do that,” said Kristen Pence, chair of the school board. Is that our other plan?”
Another plan, Ballinger said, could be for a WCPS central office employee to “follow up on what’s going on legislatively.” Then, if Warren County decides to handle this business on its own, the school department and board will have to go through such legislation and try to write their own policies in accordance with new law or updated guidelines, for example. But he said that work would also have to be reviewed by an attorney who would charge a fee on a case-by-case basis.
Ballinger said he was not aware of another entity that could provide such services besides what the VSBA or an attorney would offer, and said it was important for the school board to make sure its policies were updated regularly. “Because that’s where you can get into trouble,” he said.
“We have to make sure that we are supported in our policies,” Funk said. “I am not comfortable deciding on this now because I need to know what our plan is going forward.”
School Board Vice President Ralph Rinaldi supported the proposal, which was approved by all board members, including Vice President Ralph Rinaldi, Pence, Funk, Lou, and Sallins. They also made a relevant provision on selecting a school board delegate and alternate to attend the 2022 VSBA Annual Conference.
Most school board members agreed that the board should not use taxpayer money to fund lobbying efforts at the VSBA.
Watch the August 3, 2022 Warren County School Board meeting here.