LOW MOOR — The Alleghany County School Board is seeking to recoup $75,000 in legal fees that are directly linked to allegations made by one of its members.
The school board, meeting Monday night at the Central Office Complex in Low Moor, voted to ask the county board of supervisors to reimburse the $75,000.
The school board says that’s the amount of money it has spent to mount a legal defense against allegations from Donnie Kern, the board’s Clifton Forge West District representative.
Kern was appointed to the school board by the board of supervisors in July 2018.
“I absolutely think we should,” said Sharon District school board member Jennifer Seckner of the move to recoup the money from the county.
“(The board of supervisors) needs to think long and hard before they appoint certain people to the school board that will cost us $75,000,” Seckner said.
The school board hired an attorney in late 2018 after Kern filed a complaint with state officials that contained numerous accusations against the school division. The state cleared the school division of those allegations.
Kern levied more accusations against the school division earlier this month. In a Sept. 5 advertisement in the Virginian Review, Kern made several allegations against the school board and the school administrators. Individuals were named in his allegations.
The board of supervisors later announced it will summons Kern to testify under oath sometime in October. Kern’s testimony will determine how the supervisors proceed with an investigation into the matter.
Last year, supervisors asked Kern to resign after derogatory comments he made about special education students were made public.
His latest round of accusations drew comments at Monday night’s school board meeting.
“There’s no excuse for a board member to act that way,” Seckner said in reference to his Sept. 5 newspaper advertisement.
Speaking on behalf of the school board’s administrative staff, Jeff Alleman, director of technology, called Kern’s allegations “hurtful and detrimental to spirit.”
While referring to the allegations as “unwarranted and unsubstantiated,” Alleman said the staff remains “committed to the public trust.”
“We will not allow distractions to dissuade us from our purpose,” Alleman said. “As previous allegations made by the member of this board have been refuted by the state and local agencies, we have no doubt that the same outcome will result in the recently announced board of supervisors’ investigation.”
Members of the school board voiced support for the administrative staff.
“I 100 percent appreciate the job you all do and the work you put in, and I am sure you will be vindicated,” said Gerald Franson, the Covington District representative.
Kern did not attend Monday’s meeting.
The board voted 5-0 to return $500,000 in leftover funds from its 2019-2020 budget to the county. In talks prior to approval of the 2020-2021 budget, the school board agreed to return the $500,000 in lieu of having its budget cut by that amount.
Plans to potentially merge county schools with Covington schools continue to be discussed.
The school board was updated Monday on the school-merger proposal.
The plan was approved two weeks ago by both school boards, the Alleghany County Board of Supervisors and Covington City Council.
Nonetheless, county school board members said they were disappointed by comments made during a public hearing at Covington High School Sept. 10. The hearing was held prior to merger votes by the Covington City School Board and city council. Some of the comments were critical of Alleghany County schools.
“It shouldn’t be an us-versus-them attitude. We are better than that,” Seckner said.
“At the Covington meeting, a lot of people were kind of harsh,” Franson said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that [merger] is something that we needed to do for all of the kids .. we had no choice.”
The Joint School Services Committee will meet again today via Zoom at 6 p.m. The committee developed the merger proposal over the course of a year.
Jacob Wright, chairman of the county school board and the Joint Schools Services Committee, said discussions at tonight’s meeting will center on expanding subcommittees and giving them a more focused approach.
Wright said the merger plan will be filed with the Virginia Department of Education soon. The Department of Education will review the plan before forwarding it to the Virginia Board of Education.
In other business Monday, the school board:
— Recognized the three initial inductees into the Alleghany Public Schools Employee Hall of Fame: Betsy Carter, Jeff Bartley and Dorothy Bartley.
— Presented a $300 check from board members for weight room renovations at Alleghany High School. The AHS Class of 1984 also presented a $600 check.
— Recognized AHS student Grayson Asboth for achieving a perfect 600 score on the World History I SOL.
— Approved the appointments of Andrea D. Brown, part-time custodian at Sharon Elementary School; and Brenda C. Daniels as a substitute shuttle driver and bus attendant.
— Accepted the resignations of Anita B. Bird, teacher assistant at Mountain View Elementary School; and Brenda C. Daniels, bus driver at Clifton Middle School.
The Virginian Review has been serving Covington, Clifton Forge, Alleghany County and Bath County since 1914.