The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors wants to meet with the School Board in January about arming its public school teachers.
The decision to request a joint meeting comes on the heels of the School Board passing, and then pausing until March, a resolution making the ECC auditorium, among its other non-school properties, a gun free zone.
The move angered some members of the Board of Supervisors, as it meets in the ECC auditorium and some of those members bring guns to the meetings.
Westover District Supervisor Ron Scearce, who was particularly upset by the gun free zone as evidenced on his Facebook page, brought up the subject of arming teachers at Tuesday’s work session. He suggested that equipping educators with firearms could be accomplished by having the circuit court appoint some teachers appointed as special conservators of the peace. Scearce wanted to get an opinion on that course of action from the Virginia attorney general.
Board members then expressed disappointment over the School Board’s decision to pass the gun free zone without being consulted prior to the vote at its Nov. 8 meeting.
Chatham-Blairs Supervisor Bob Warren said the Board and the School Board had made great strides in the past several years to shore up its relationship, but this decision on gun free zones did some damage.
Warren said the Board had paid a good deal of money to get the ECC auditorium outfitted for Board meetings, and if the School Board ends up keeping the gun free zone intact, it may have to relocate and spend more money to outfit a new space for meetings. He asked, hypothetically, whose budget would get cut if the Board had to spend the money again.
Staunton River District Supervisor Tim Dudley estimated the Board had spent around $300,000 to equip the ECC auditorium.
The Board of Supervisors is the funding body for the school division.
At the same time, “two wrongs don’t make a right,” said Warren concerning moving forward with efforts to arm teachers without consulting the School Board.
Dan River District Supervisor Tim Chesher said the School Board didn’t seem to give a thought to what it would take to harden the ECC auditorium to make it a gun free zone. He asked if the proceeds from the 1% sales tax would now have to go to that effort, if the resolution is reinstated.
Chairman Vic Ingram said it would have been better if the School Board had consulted the supervisors before passing its gun free zone resolution, but rather than moving forward “too fast and too radical,” it would be better to meet with the School Board to discuss the issue.
As for arming teachers, “I can’t say I’m in favor of that. Arming teachers would be a very dangerous thing to do,” Ingram said.
Scearce referenced past school mass shooting and the role of teachers in protecting their students. Scearce said teachers could receive special weapons training.
Scearce also asked about getting an opinion from the attorney general about arming teachers as special conservators of the peace. County attorney and interim county administrator Vaden Hunt said the most direct way would be to ask a local legislator to ask the question. If the request for an opinion came from the Board of Supervisors, it would need to be far more complex in its presentation, said Hunt, adding that either way, an opinion would not likely be received by March.
In 2018, the Lee County School Board in far southwestern Virginia, was the first in the state to designate some teachers as “conservators of the peace” and buy them guns. However, the Department of Criminal Justice Services denied the Lee County school superintendent’s application to register as an armed special conservator of the peace, which the division had hoped would allow teachers to be armed.
The department, in its denial, cited an opinion from then Attorney General Mark Herring, who deemed it as unlawful. Lee County then sued the department.
Scearce said he hoped that the current attorney general, Jason Miyares, would look more favorably on allowing for armed special conservators of the peace in the schools.
Warren said that although the Board recently approved funding to put school resource officers in the elementary schools, he does have some concern about the adequacy of the protection of those schools, especially those located more remotely from the Sheriff’s Office in Chatham.
The Board needs to be looking at some avenue, whether outsourcing or whatever, to get some protection out there, he said.
Banister District Supervisor Robert Tucker said he supports the Second Amendment, and that it was disappointing for the School Board to “jump the gun” on passing the gun free zone resolution, but arming teachers is a “major, major undertaking.”
Tucker said that he had belonged to the National Rifle Association decades ago when it was mostly concerned with getting certified and licensed to use firearms, but in recent years it has “morphed into a political arm.”
The NRA knows how many teachers there are in the United States and sees arming them as a profit center, said Tucker.
Before proceeding with this option, Tucker advised consulting with law enforcement.
School Board Chairman Calvin Doss said he would be happy to meet with the Board of Supervisors to discuss the issue.
The School Board paused the implementation of its gun free zone at its December meeting. According to Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Haskins, the School Board would need to give notice of the gun free zone and that could be done with signage or by a member of the School Board directly telling an armed individual that they have to leave the School Board-owned property, such as the ECC auditorium. If given proper notice and the person refuses to leave, that person can be charged with trespassing — which is a misdemeanor offense, said Haskins.
However, because of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unlawful search and seizure, individuals coming into the building cannot be searched for weapons without probable cause that he or she is armed, he said.
The prohibition of bringing guns to actual schools and grounds is a federal law and a violation is a felony.
Haskins said it was his understanding the school division has ordered signs for the gun free zone.
In other business
At the Board’s work session on Tuesday, Pittsylvania County Director of Finance Kim Van Der Hyde suggested that the Board take another look at its personal property tax due to “optics.”
When people see the rate at $9 per $100 in assessed value they see it is “grossly” more than other localities, said Van Der Hyde.
“It’s shocking” at first site, said Van Der Hyde.
However, the difference lies in the methodology of applying the tax, said Van Der Hyde.
The tax on motor vehicles is based on the fair market value and is 30% of the average trade-in value, said Van Der Hyde.
The difference comes in other segments, such as how the business personal property tax is applied, said Van Der Hyde, adding that there are also boats, campers and mobile homes to consider.
Van Der Hyde said the methodology was devised by a previous commissioner of revenue and is about 25-30 years old.
Warren said the rate is negatively impacting the county and the methodology needs to be reconfigured.
Van Der Hyde said any changes would have to be done along with the commissioner of the revenue and there are plans to bring new options to the Board in the new year. However, implementation would likely not be possible until fiscal 2025.
The Board passed an ordinance authorizing the county to levy a general sales tax not to exceed 1% to be used solely for capital projects for the construction and renovations of the schools. It is the last step required by the state to enact the 1% sales tax referendum approved by voters in November, according to Van Der Hyde.
Once passed, 120 days must pass before the tax can be collected and that will begin July 1, said Van Der Hyde, adding that the county will likely not see how much the tax will generate until September 2023.
Van Der Hyde said the county will also set up a dashboard on its website so residents can see the funding and what it is being spent on.
Warren noted that it will be the Board of Supervisors that borrows the money for the school improvements and it will be responsible for paying it back with taxpayer dollars.
The Board tabled a suggestion by Ingram that the future new jail be named after the late and former Pittsylvania County Sheriff Taylor McGregor.
Warren was concerned that naming the jail now, before construction had begun, would bind future Boards of Supervisors to the name. Warren did not take issue with naming it after McGregor, but said the entire Board could be completely flipped by the time the jail is built.
Tucker was concerned that by naming the jail now, it would narrow the field and not allow for input from residents.
Warren wanted to table the Ingram’s motion because he wasn’t aware that the suggestion had been before the naming committee.
Hunt said the naming committee is in charge of naming county-owned buildings. The bridges named earlier this year for fallen law enforcement are owned by VDOT and are not required to go before the naming committee, said Hunt.
Ingram had been the one to have the bridges named after the law enforcement officers.
Hunt said a person has to be deceased for five years and then it has to go to the naming committee and receive input from other entities before it can be approved by the Board.
The suggestion by Ingram was tabled.
The Pittsylvania County Youth Commission reported that it is back up and running after being dormant during the pandemic.
Its mission is to act as a voice for youth and be a link between them and county officials and the Board of Supervisors. It arranges social events to foster a sense of community, said Kelsey Myers with Pittsylvania County Parks and Recreation.
Members on the commission include Learn Slattery, Brady Slattery and Ella Bray from Tunstall High School; Kaleigh Johnson and Gracie Johnson from Dry Fork Christian; Amare White from Dan River High School and Shermariah Jones from Chatham High School.