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Parents urge Board to keep schools open

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By John Barnhart

    It was a full house at the regular Monday night meeting of the Bedford County Board of Supervisors as parents turned out to urge the supervisors to keep Body Camp Elementary and Bedford Primary open.

    Parents, who spoke before the supervisors, are concerned about the larger schools that will be created by moving the children now attending these two schools to other schools, arguing that smaller schools are better, particularly for children coming from less affluent families. One        parent,        Kara Sensenig, said that 61 percent of the children at Bedford Primary qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Elizabeth Flynn, another parent, added that 12 percent of the children at Bedford Primary are in special education programs.
    “We are a school that serves an at-risk population,” she said.
    Flynn said that moving the children from Bedford Primary to Bedford Elementary School will leave that school over-crowded.
    Wanda Gardner said that closing two schools and moving the children currently attending them to three others affects 1,300 children at five schools. This will be done on short notice to teachers who are already getting ready to adapt to new starting times next year. She urged the supervisors to fund the school budget request with one condition.
    “Please fund with the stipulation that no schools be closed,” she said.
    Barry Tosh echoed this sentiment, urging the supervisors to hold back funds for the school division unless the school board guarantees that no schools will be closed to fund new programs.
    “Closing schools to pay for new programs is irresponsible,” Tosh said.
    Anne Briscoe drew attention to the school division’s central office staff.
    “We have a total of 48 people working in school administration,” she said.
    “We know what Dr. Schuch makes,” she said, adding that other members of the central office staff make high salaries.
    Briscoe noted that Bedford County is a rural area.
    “I feel like 48 folks in school administration is a lot,” she said.
    John Briscoe said that he believes the school division isn’t telling the truth about a number of issues. He suggested that the two schools on the chopping block this year are being held hostage.
    “Last year it was Thaxton Elementary School that was held financially hostage,” he commented.
    Briscoe also spoke in favor of reverting back to an appointed school board. He said that he was one of those who voted, in a referendum, in favor of elected school boards. Now, he’s having second thoughts about that.
    Candace Adkins also expressed concern about the proposal to close two schools, then add blended learning, a program that would add online learning to the curriculum.
    “It was obvious that school board members were surprised by the budget,” she said.
    She urged the supervisors to support the budget, as it was revised last week, “providing there are no surprises.”
    In the business portion of the meeting, the supervisors approved two Verizon cell towers, one near Big Island and the other near Otter River Elementary School. The tower near Big Island will be an 80-foot monopole with an antenna array that raises its height to 84 feet. The tower near Otter River will be a 90-foot monopole. Its antennae will raise its height by an additional 4 feet.
    During a public hearing, Terri Klein spoke against the proposed tower in Big Island.
    “Where you are talking about building that tower is in my backyard,” she said.
    Klein said that the back of her property is close to the spot on a neighbor’s property where the tower is to be built.
    “It’s nice back there,” she said. Klein is worried about noise and light.
    She also questioned the need for the tower.
    “I have cell phone service and it’s pretty clear,” she said. Klein’s cell service is provided by one of Verizon’s competitors.
    “It has everything to do with what Verizon wants to do,” she said.    
    “My property lies directly below this,” said Marshall Hamilton, the only other speaker at the public hearing.
    “I’m 100 percent in favor of this tower being built there,” he said. “I think between the planning commission and Verizon, they have done a good job.”    
    Marshall said that he doesn’t hear the same criticism about how power lines look and noted that a power transmission line already crosses that area.
    “My carrier gives spotty service to no service in Big Island,” he said.
    An attorney representing Verizon said that there won’t be any lights on the tower. The only light will be a light triggered by a motion sensor for a serviceman. There will be a diesel generator at the site but it is an emergency generator that will only run during a power outage. The only other time it will run is for 20 minutes during a weekly test, the timing of which can be worked out with the neighbors.
    Both cell towers were unanimously approved by the supervisors.
    The supervisors also approved the purchase of two ambulances. According to Jack Jones, the county’s director of fire and rescue, the ambulances will replace two of the five that are staffed by career personnel. The county staffs five ambulances and Jones said that these ran 140 calls during the first 10 days of March. He said that these ambulances have a two-and-a-half to three year useful lifespan.
    The ambulances will cost $150,000 each and Jones asked the supervisors to approve an amount of  $310,000 to provide a margin for error.
    Actually, the county’s fire and rescue department already has the money, but Jones must get the supervisors’ approval to spend it. The county began billing people’s insurance for reimbursement when an ambulance responds for a call. Jones said that the department has been setting aside money generated by these payments from insurance companies for equipment purchases.
    “I’m one of those people who believe in public safety,” commented District 7 Supervisor Gary Lowry.
    The supervisors also declared April to be Apple Blossom Month in Bedford County.
    “Remember that agriculture is still Bedford County’s number one business,” commented Danny Johnson, who owns Johnson’s Orchard.
    “I’d like to thank each and every one of y’all,” said Ronnie Gross, who runs Gross’ Orchard along with his father Walter Gross. “On behalf of all the growers in Bedford County, we thank you.”
    At the end of the meeting, District 4 Supervisor John Sharp brought up a recent action by Campbell County to ask Shentel to reconsider cutting its services. Sharp mentioned that he has received a lot of e-mail about TV station WGN out of Chicago that Shentel will no longer carry.
    “I guess a lot of people watch the Cubs,” he commented.    
    County Administrator Kathleen Guzi replied that County Attorney Carl Boggess has asked Shentel to send representatives to talk with the supervisors.
    District 2 Supervisor Chuck Neudorfer said that he hopes that these will be the same representatives who spoke to them when Shentel first took over service in the county. He said that those representatives gave glowing promises about what they would provide.
    The next supervisors meeting is a budget work session scheduled for April 4 at 5 p.m.