Parents pack meeting chamber

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By John Barnhart

It was standing room only at Monday night's Bedford County Board of Supervisors Meeting, as representatives from a recently formed citizen's group voiced their thoughts on the upcoming school budget proposal.

The group Concerned Parents for Bedford County brought plenty of supporters with them filling all seats, lining the walls and loudly applauding each speaker.

According to Vanessa Gable, one of the group's speakers, Concerned Parents formed from Staunton River parents following last fall's MRSA scare. They now have 100 members with most of the county's schools represented. She told the supervisors that they had not been recruited by Dr. James Blevins, the county's superintendent of schools, or the county's school board.

While the group called on the supervisors to support the school budget, members also criticized that budget. One exception they took with it is the elimination of some teaching positions.

Testing coordinators at the high schools is another important matter to them. Jan Stinnette said that the schools administer a large number of tests each year and this occupies a great deal of the school's 34 full time guidance counselors' time. As a result, the students aren't getting adequate counseling services, she stated.

"Our counselors don't get the time," she said.

"I support the teacher pay raises," said Chesley Voden, another speaker.

Voden referred to sheets that the group passed out before the meeting noting shortcomings in the school division. She mentioned a statistic from the sheet that states that the county's schools rank 128th out or 136 school divisions in the state for per pupil spending. The group supports a tax increase to improve school funding. According to its figures, a 2 cent per $100 of assessed value increase on a $200,000 house would mean an additional $40 per year in taxes for the homeowner.

Another statistic from the sheet that Voden spoke about were mobile classrooms. According to the group's statistics, the county has 70 mobile classrooms and the entire sixth grade at Forest Middle School is in mobiles.

"When it rains, doors leak," Voden commented, while listing the mobiles' shortcomings.

After the presentation, District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard asked District 4 School Board Member Gary Hostutler if room could be made at Forest Middle School by moving the eighth grade. Hostutler replied that this would only move the problem. Jefferson Forest High School now has room for 200 more students, but there are 350 eighth graders at Forest Middle. Furthermore, the eighth grade curriculum would also have to be moved, creating additional space problems.

"The solution is to build another middle school for 800 students," he said.

There are other middle school problems. Hostutler said the school board would like to take the sixth grade class now meeting at the Bedford Science and Technology Center and it to Bedford Middle School, but the city does not seem interested in adding space to that school. He said next year, the students will go back to Bedford Elementary School. All elementary schools in the Liberty attendance zone have sixth grade classes because of the lack of space at Bedford Middle School. Bedford Elementary's sixth grade was transferred to BSTC, on a temporary basis, nearly 10 years ago.

In business, the supervisors unanimously approved a request by the county's electoral board to change the location of the Bedford County Nursing Home polling place. The chapel at the old nursing home had been used as the polling place for years. In 2007, and again during this month's primary, the new nursing home was used. The electoral board notes that parking is limited and the room assigned as the polling site does not have adequate space, along with issues with security for the nursing home residents.

The resolution passed by the supervisors moves the polling place to the community room at the Public Service Authority building, just across Falling Creek Road from the nursing home. According to Barbara Gunter, the county's registrar, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) must review this change. The DOJ has 60 days to do this. Once DOJ approval has been received, the registrar's office will send out new voter cards to all the precinct's registered voters.

In other business, the supervisors voted to delay action on a proposed 104 unit townhouse development on U. S. 221, near its intersection with Perrowville Road. The proposed development is directly across U. S. 221 from Forest Middle School. The land is currently zoned Planned Commercial Development (PCD). This zoning permits townhouses as a special use. Single family houses are a use by right.

According to Russ Orrison, representing the developer, the townhouses will have less of an impact than the 14-acre site's use by right. He also noted that the developer plans to build a connector road, to Virginia Department of Transportation standards between Perrowville Road and U. S. 221. He said that the townhouse development supports this, but developing single family homes will not. According to Orrison, putting residences there makes more sense than placing them somewhere where traffic to and from them won't have to meander over country roads.

"I'm the biggest property rights guy out there," said Robert Holmes, a Forest resident who spoke at the public hearing for this project. Holmes was also one of the speakers for the Concerned Parents group,

"I just can't see where we are going to put any more people in Forest," he went on to say. "If this developer would build a middle school, I'd say, "OK, let's build it.'"

The supervisors were also concerned about building new residences. District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler, who noted that his home phone number was the only supervisor's phone number listed on the Concerned Parents' fact sheet, wanted to delay action on the special use permit until after the supervisors learn what the General Assembly does with a Senate bill that would replace proffers with impact fees.

District 4 Supervisor John Sharp also wanted a delay, but his suggestion was to delay action until District 7 Supervisor Gary Lowry could be there for the vote. Lowry was absent Monday night.

The supervisors voted unanimously to delay action on the special use permit until their March 10 meeting.

The supervisors also unanimously passed a resolution of appreciation for the county's volunteer firefighters, commending them for their work fighting the multiple wildland fires that broke out this month.