Three vie for Galax School Board seats

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Two incumbents and a newcomer are seeking appointment to two seats on the board.

By April Wright, Reporter

Three people are vying for two seats on the Galax School Board this year.
Board chairman Ray Kohl and member Helen Kyle, whose seats are set to expire June 30, are seeking reappointment, and community member Jerrold Bennett hopes to be selected.
During a public hearing at Galax City Council on Feb. 27, Kyle, Kohl and Bennett each explained why they should serve on the school board. Each candidate also submitted a letter of interest to the city manager to be considered for selection.
School board members are appointed by council.
“The main reason I want to be on the board is because I feel like we’re already on a good path,” Kohl told the board.
The school board, he said, works diligently to overcome financial challenges and create a balanced budget.
When Galax School Board members attend statewide meetings, many individuals at those meetings talk about how the school boards and the governing bodies are at odds with each other, said Kohl. But that doesn’t happen in Galax, where city council and the  board collaborate to support the school system.
“We appreciate that you listen to us, and we’re proud of Galax schools,” said Kohl, who has children that have graduated from Galax, and another that attends Galax High School.  
“It is my belief that continuity on the board is critical at this time as we face difficult budgetary times and a recently initiated legal action,” Kohl said in his letter of interest.
(Recently, Galax schools filed suit against Vannoy Construction and architecture and engineering firm OWPR Inc., due to an ongoing problem with leaking windows that were installed at the Galax High School by Bell Windows during a renovation project that began in 2007.)
Kyle, who is completing her first term on school board, read a poem to council, “It Matters to Me,” telling the members why serving another term is important to her.
“It matters to me that children receive quality education,” she said.
In her letter of interest, Kyle wrote that “My first three years went swiftly as our board faced challenges as well as opportunities. I look forward to continuing my work with such a cohesive board as we strive to serve the children of our commonwealth.”
Bennett, who has two children enrolled in Galax schools and a three-year-old who will attend Galax Elementary School in two years, said that he will bring new talent and attitude to the board, allowing the school system to grow.
“I want the school board to do everything it can do to do the best job,” he said.
Bennett has worked as a financial planner, and his training background covers corporate and financial services, he wrote in his letter of interest.
Galax City Council interviewed candidates during a closed session last Monday. Council will make an appointment at the March 12 meeting.

In other action, council:
• set March 12 as the public hearing for comments on the city’s amendments to the budget for fiscal year 2012. This is to address grants that the city has received throughout the year, which were not included in the budget.
• heard from Galax Schools Superintendent Bill Sturgill on amendments to the education budget for fiscal year 2012. The requested changes represent an increase in the overall budget due to additional state, federal and program funds. The revision will increase the budget from $12.91 million to $12.97 million.
The $54,000 increase is the result of becoming a fiscal agent for Smart Beginnings, which received a grant this year, and other federal monies from stimulus funding. Also, basic school aid increased due to the addition of five students and sales tax revenue increased by $10,000.
Sturgill said no new expenses were created as the result of the $54,000 increase.
City council approved the budget amendment.
• heard from Mandy Archer, director for the Crossroads Small Business Development Center, and from Ken McFadyen, director of Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority.
So far, four businesses have been funded in 2012, employing seven people, Archer said.
An iPad training session was held at the Crossroads Institute, sponsored by SBDC. About 45 attended the two workshops, with the oldest participant being 99 years old.
Since the SBDC’s inception, 800 jobs and 200 businesses have been created over the past four years.
McFadyen said Wildwood Commerce Park in Carroll County is undergoing engineering and technical work. The construction of the park will be complete next year.
Recently, the regional project received $598,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Commission for grading the land; another $7 to 8 million is needed to fund all of the project.
McFadyen said the BRCEDA will approach Virginia Tobacco Commission later this year to request the additional funding.
• heard from Michael Armbrister, of the Mount Rogers Planning District Commission, on the comprehensive plan update.
The city’s population has grown 3 percent each decade since the 1970s and has become more diverse, he said. What makes the city unique is the availability of industrial space. He recommended creating mixed-use zoning areas, with both residential and business development.
• adopted a resolution on the MRPDC hazard mitigation plan. Over the past year, the commission, with assistance from member jurisdictions and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, completed a required 5-year update of the hazard mitigation plan.
As determined through the update process, there were relatively few changes that needed to be made to the original plan.
By adopting the updated plan, Galax is eligible for pre-disaster hazard mitigation grant assistance.
• heard from the city’s grants administrator Brenda Marrah on the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant proposal to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was submitted Feb. 24 on behalf of the Galax Fire Department.
The city is seeking a grant for four years to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters. There is no local match required, and the city is not obligated beyond the four years of the grant.
The grant would cover salary and benefits for a full-time recruitment and retention coordinator for four years, with starting salary at $40,000 with 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment in years two through four, (about $220,000 total); marketing, $2,000; physicals for new recruits at $500 each; budgeting for 30 new recruits over 4 years; turnout gear for new recruit following physical, $3,000 per recruit; station duty uniforms for new recruits, $300 per recruit; tuition assistance for higher education and professional certifications and instructor certification training, $1,500 per recruit; and length of service awards program for new recruits based on operational requirements, per $750 per new recruit.
The intent is to assist in recruiting and training of new firefighters in order to maintain a strong and effective local volunteer department.
• heard from Marrah on the Competitive Emergency Management Performance Grant allocations. The city has applied for and received three allocations from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
Each award requires an equal dollar match with non-federal funds. The first grant was for a mobile answering point for E911 and the allocation was amended for the full purchase price of the equipment, $12,996.
The second allocation is for $14,425 to equip the primary Emergency Operations Center at police headquarters with 12 tables, 26 chairs, two radios and a smart interactive whiteboard system.
Council approved the allocation.
The third allocation is for $20,285 to equip the alternate Emergency Operations Center at the Galax Volunteer Fire Department with three computer servers, a firewall, printer, technology equipment, six cameras and a smart interactive whiteboard system.
Council approved the allocation for funding from VDEM.
• heard from City Manager Keith Barker on the Virginia Department of Transportation’s 6-year project addition. As part of the Bottom Area Project to alleviate flooding, the city is trying to address storm water issues in the neighborhood.
A preliminary engineering report was performed by Adams-Heath Engineering, and it estimated a pipe replacement project at $1.1 million.
As the total Bottom Area Project grant would potentially be $1.4 million, additional funds are needed to perform the storm water improvement portion of this project.
Barker said city staff is requesting that a new 6-year VDOT project be adopted and $500,000 in funds from the city’s VDOT projects be allocated to this project.
Because of the revised Glendale Road Project and cost savings on additional approved VDOT projects, the city has about $1.5 million in unobligated 6-year funds available from VDOT that can be allocated to the project.