Relations between the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors and the School Board reached a new low Tuesday after the supervisors voted to terminate a power-sharing agreement with the School Board that has been in place since 1995.
"Enough is enough," Board of Supervisors Chairman Larry L. Weeks (R-Scott) said in an interview after Tuesday's meeting. "We are streamlining the process."
Weeks said the action, decided in executive session, stems not only from acrimony during this year's budget process but also from the awkwardness of the arrangement, which divided authority over some county departments between the county administrator and the school superintendent.
In a letter to the School Board, Weeks also threatened to freeze school funding if school officials persist in preparing next year's budget in a computer format that is not compatible with those of other county departments.
School Board Chairman Mary Charles Ashby (Scott) said the termination, which is to take effect next June 30, left her feeling "betrayed." Ashby said that Weeks and County Administrator G. Robert Lee assured her they would not make such a move before Ashby had a chance to consult with the rest of the School Board.
But Weeks said the supervisors voted only after a majority of School Board members, including Ashby, submitted letters to a local newspaper, rejecting the action that Weeks said would have saved the so-called consolidated services agreement. Weeks and the other supervisors had asked that the School Board abolish the new budget office it created after this year's budget fight.
At budget time, School Superintendent Dallas M. Johnson and School Board members not only complained about the level of funding approved by the Board of Supervisors--$1.7 million less than requested--but also questioned the validity of the county budget office's figures.
In a recent interview, Associate Superintendent Rebecca S. Hayes said the county budget office, which reported to Lee, was not providing adequate or timely information to school officials. "We needed to have financial information readily available," she said.
More than three months ago, the School Board created a position for a comptroller who reports directly to Johnson, essentially duplicating services already performed by the county. The Board of Supervisors cited the comptroller's hiring in its decision to terminate the agreement.
"By expending public funds to hire personnel for functions duplicative of those provided by the consolidated departments, the school system has repudiated the consolidation process and agreement and once again rejected the saving of scarce taxpayer funds realized through that process," Weeks said in his letter.
The agreement was reached in 1995 as a sort of checks-and-balances system between the Board of Supervisors, which appropriates education funds, and the School Board, which decides how to spend them. The county administrator had authority over the finance, computer services and management and budget departments, while the superintendent had authority over the personnel and support services departments.
A committee of supervisors and School Board members oversaw the power-sharing arrangement.
Supervisors interviewed Tuesday said that the arrangement was not working: "No servant can serve two masters," Supervisor David C. Mangum (R-Lee) said.
Under the new arrangement, according to Weeks's letter, Lee will have authority over all the departments, "which will be made available for use by the School Board on a contractual basis."
The services will be made available free, but if the schools want their own budget office, Lee said, "they'll have to take dollars from education and put it into support services."
Ashby said she had not received a copy of Weeks's letter or the Board of Supervisors resolution, but she said, "I have favored and supported consolidation, and I think that it should remain." She said that the School Board would have a formal response after its meeting Monday.
Limits Voted on Communications Towers
The supervisors passed an ordinance Tuesday requiring special exception approval for telecommunications towers higher than 80 feet.
Several representatives of the telecommunications industry spoke out against the measure. Apart from the height restrictions, they said requiring towers to be 1,000 feet from roadways and residential structures and 5,000 feet from wildlife areas were too restrictive and could violate the federal Telecommunications Act.
"A lot of people are going to look back and say, 'You have eight towers now where we used to have two,' " said Thomas J. Carroll, a Washington lawyer representing AT&T Wireless Services, who said the height restriction would mean companies would need more towers to provide the same services they could provide with fewer tall towers.
Industry representatives also complained that they were shut out of the negotiations leading up to the ordinance's passage. Weeks invited the groups to a new round of talks aimed at tweaking the legislation.
More than 20 tower applications are pending before the Fauquier Planning Commission. Weeks said that since there previously was no ordinance regarding their construction, all towers had to go through the special exception process. The new measure, he said, would make it easier for the telecommunications companies.
Board Adopts New Land-Use Strategy
The board voted unanimously to adopt zoning changes in response to legislation passed earlier this year that strips the county of the special exception procedure that has been used for approval of some residential development.
The new rules require developers to provide water and sewer hookups and roads for certain residential developments. Those requirements will be waived if the property owner agrees to submit to a version of the special exception process in which supervisors can place conditions on their approval of the project. The current special exception process was eliminated this year by the Virginia General Assembly.
By allowing developers to opt out of zoning ordinances, local lawmakers said they believe that they have satisfied the General Assembly.