Author Archives: Bob Rayner

Why Virginia Democrats Should Support the New School Accountability System

President Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act in December 2015.

by Todd Truitt

In 2021, Republican Glenn Youngkin was able to flip the education issue on Democrats to pull off a victory. In 2025, Democrats need to reclaim the education issue to flip the Governor’s mansion back. One way of doing that is by supporting the new statewide public school accountability system, which furthers core Democratic values. If Democrats don’t get out ahead of this issue, Republicans will use it as a political issue.

The Current Broken Accountability System in Virginia

The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to have accountability systems in order tomeasure and hold schools and districts responsible for raising student achievement for all students, and to prompt and support improvement where necessary.” However, referring to the current failure by many states to live up to their responsibility, a long-time New York Times editorial board member said recently:

The federal government made a disastrous choice a decade ago when it abandoned [a federal] accountability system (known as No Child Left Behind) that required schools to focus intently on helping the lowest-performing students catch up with their peers. Since [ESSA returned accountability systems to states], the already alarming achievement gaps that separate poor and wealthy children have only widened.

The COVID era demonstrated the failure of Virginia’s combined accountability and accreditation system. Virginia had some of the largest drops on the national NAEP exams, with the lowest performing students suffering the most. And yet, with accountability tied to accreditation, nearly the same number of Virginia schools were accredited last year as there were in 2019 (92% of VA schools in 2019-20 vs. 89% in 2022-23). Continue reading

Footloose Aaron Spence. Having Fun On Loudoun County’s Dime

Republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed and Unedited.

by Kerry Dougherty 

Let’s just admit it. Those of us who thought Aaron Spence was a disaster as Virginia Beach School Superintendent are experiencing a shameless bout of schadenfreude.

Yep, we’re enjoying the misfortune of others.

Those “others” would be Loudoun County parents and taxpayers. Aaron Spence is their problem now. He left Virginia Beach last year for the greener pastures of Loudoun County, the richest in the U.S.

According to excellent news reporting by tenacious ABC News7 reporter, Nick Minock, Spence has only been on the job for just nine months but has spent 30 days out of the district at a variety of boondoggles, er conferences.

Spence who makes a whopping $375,000 a year, ducked out of Loudoun County 10 times this school year for destinations such as Miami, West Palm Beach, San Diego and Puerto Rico, as well as several closer to home. According to records obtained by the reporter, it appears taxpayers picked up the tab for his conference registrations, hotels and travel, while at least in one instance he slurped up $15,000 for teaching two seminars at the conference seminars.

This would be just another example of a greedy public official living large off the generosity of unsuspecting taxpayers, but this case is much, much worse. Continue reading

Education and Remembrance on the Banks of the James

by Jon Baliles

The Virginia War Memorial sits solemnly upon the edge of Oregon Hill overlooking the city and the James River and honors the 12,000+ Virginia names of those who have fallen in service of our country since 1956. But in recent decades, it has become a place of education as well as of remembrance.

In 2010, the memorial opened the E. Bruce Heilman Amphitheater overlooking the city and hosts annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies plus other events. That same year the memorial also opened Paul and Phyllis Galanti Education Center, named after the retired U.S. Navy Commander Paul Galanti, a Richmonder who was a prisoner of war from 1966 to 1973, and his late wife, Phyllis Eason Galanti, who never ceased in her efforts to bring him and other POW’s home. The center includes classrooms, a theater, and space for exhibits. The memorial’s five acres of green space has also grown with the planting of 87 trees, 375 shrubs, 553 perennials and hundreds of groundcover specimens that earned the Common Wealth Award by the Garden Club of Virginia.

Clay Mountcastle, memorial’s director, told Richmond Magazine, “One of the best ideas Virginia ever had was to add a museum and education center to make it a living memorial.”

In early 2020, the memorial added the C. Kenneth Wright Pavilion, which includes a new Shrine of Memory listing the names of 175 Virginians who have died in the global war on terrorism on the outside and the inside space includes a lecture hall, a Medal of Honor Gallery and the Veterans’ Changing Art Gallery, which showcases the art from Virginia veterans. Continue reading

Factors Impacting Teacher Vacancies

by Matt Hurt

Last week Jim Bacon published an article about the fact that our teacher vacancy rate problem is not all about salary, and I agree that other factors also contribute to this problem.  Jim also posited that “It’s caused by teachers dropping out of the profession because they think their jobs suck,” and recent data seem to support an approximation of this idea.

This spring some of my colleagues and I were able to obtain and investigate the annual School Climate and Working Conditions Survey results from 2023. We specifically focused on the teacher results and were able to confirm a major tenet in the educational world: climate matters!

The survey questions were categorized as indicated in this spreadsheet. There were significant, positive correlations among all of the categories and SOL performance both at the school and the division levels of analysis. Conversely, these correlations were significant and negative with teacher vacancy rates. One singular question — overall, my school is a good place to work and learn — had the greatest overall correlation with both SOL outcomes and teacher vacancy rates. In other words, teachers were less likely to leave divisions in which they wanted to work, and those divisions produced better student outcomes.

Table 1 below attempts to better illustrate these relationships. Most of the questions were presented in a Likert scale with a range of answer options from one to six (six being the most favorable response). These results were aggregated by region, and the statistics below indicate the percentage of possible points for each category of questions. All values are color coded as follows: green most desirable, red least desirable, and yellow most central.

Table 1: Aggregate teacher survey results, teacher vacancy rates, and SOL pass rates by region in 2023.


Continue reading

EVs More Likely to Kill Pedestrians, Damage Roads and Bridges

by Hans Bader

“A recent study published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that drivers of electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids are twice as likely to hit pedestrians compared to those driving traditional gas-powered cars, potentially leading to more fatal accidents. This conclusion came from a review of British road accidents. The study examined 32 billion miles of EV travel and 3 trillion miles of combustion-engine car trips,” reports Straight Arrow News:

The findings align with earlier studies conducted by U.S. federal agencies. In 2017, the Department of Transportation reported that EVs and hybrids pose a 20% greater risk to pedestrians. This risk increases to 50% during low-speed maneuvers such as turning, reversing and coming to a stop.

Researchers partly attributed these elevated dangers posed by EVs and hybrids to the relative quietness of these vehicles. Unlike traditional combustion-engine cars, battery-powered automobiles produce little to no noise, sometimes leaving pedestrians unaware of an approaching vehicle….The heavier weight of EVs makes the problem worse. Electric cars often weigh 30% more than their gas-powered counterparts. This is because of their large batteries, which can add upwards of 2,000 pounds in some models. This added weight increases the likelihood of fatal outcomes in pedestrian accidents.…Being hit by a car with an additional 1,000 pounds of weight increases the chance of a fatality by nearly 50%.

Continue reading

Two-Mile Moonscape in Virginia Beach: Thanks, Bureaucrats!

by Kerry Dougherty 

Virginia Beach politicians are doing their happy dance. Earlier this week state officials gave them good news: they’re “near the finish line” on the Laskin Road project.

Oh, please.

We’ve seen this movie before.

Let’s review, shall we?

In 2019 construction began on the two-mile-long road widening project through the heavily traveled Hilltop corridor of Virginia Beach.

Continue reading

Amnesty: Governor Youngkin Has No Power at VMI

Introduction: For those unfamiliar with the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), disciplinary actions against Cadets include “demerits” recorded in their records, confinement to barracks, and “penalty tours” (PT) or a combination of those for misconduct ranging from minor infractions (uniform violations, dirty rooms) to major (drinking in barracks, disrespect to cadet officers, breaking VMI regulations).

Cadets accumulating more than 75 demerits in a semester (80 for freshmen) are placed on conduct probation. Those with 100 demerits in a semester are recommended for suspension from VMI. Subject to Commandant staff approval, cadets march in a supervised formation, attend a study hall or labor in a “work detail” where each 50 minute session eliminates one PT. 

Confinement physically restricts Cadets to the VMI barracks, without class privileges, except for limited official duties such as meals, classes, etc. For example, the highest (Penalty #1) receives a ”15-4-60”or 15 demerits, 4 months barracks confinement, 60 penalty tours (50 hours). The second most severe punishment (Penalty #2) receives a “10-4-55” or 10 demerits, 4 months barracks confinement, and 55 penalty tours (46 hours).

Amnesty releases all cadets from confinement and eliminates penalty tours. In some cases over VMI’s history, it expunged demerits from cadet records. In Virginia amnesty is the ultimate embodiment of the Governor’s authority as Commander-in-Chief of VMI, over all Virginia Military forces, and over  the VMI Superintendent.

The following article originally appeared in The Cadet, a student-led publication at VMI, and is republished here with permission:

****

by The Cadet Editorial Staff

Editor’s note: The Superintendent and Commandant documents referenced are available in the online version of the article at www.cadetnewspaper.com

To many observers the Corps’ muted reaction to Governor Youngkin’s order granting amnesty to the Corps during the parade on April 10th came as a surprise given the traditional uproarious responses from Cadets in the past. It seemed to surprise, and possibly somewhat embarrass the Governor to the point he pointedly, and repeatedly, granted the Corp permission to “show emotion” at his announcement. Cadets were hesitant to react upon the announcement as they were told to maintain bearing if amnesty was granted, yet even the second attempt was somewhat lackluster. While this may have been a result of confusion on how to respond on the part of the Corps, it is somewhat representative of the diminished perception of amnesty’s legitimacy. To address Cadet perceptions of amnesty and the failure of the administration in some cases to fully absolve all Cadets of their crimes, it is necessary to examine the history of amnesty at VMI.

Reaching into the VMI archives back to the first mention of “amnesty” in 1919 supports this conclusion and reveals a traditional amnesty scope beyond not only the Governor but also one that, in application, provided meaningful incentives to those cadets who abided by Institute regulations. Continue reading

Lack of Credit, RVA Edition

by Jon Baliles

City Hall has spent the last few months trying to fix the meals tax fiasco where they were charging restaurants thousands and tens of thousands of dollars in penalties and interest which accrued that the restaurants never knew about and about which the city never made any attempt to contact them, so that their bills were ballooning. At first it was just a handful of complainers, according to Richmond’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), but then it was acknowledged it was 500, and then finally the auditor discovered there were 673 affected accounts.

So the city began to stem the bleeding and started resolving the situation.  They refunded some restaurants that had paid a lot of money just to stop the interest from continuing to accumulate, and others had the charges the city said were owed wiped out. Anything to stop the buffet of media stories and bad press.

City Council moved faster and passed legislation in February that requires the city administration to apply payments only to the month for which they are submitted. They city had been following the worst practice of taking a portion of a payment and applying it to a delinquent account balance that the restaurant owner never knew about because they weren’t notified; they were unknowingly constantly in arrears while the interest and penalties continued to grow. That’s why some restaurants had balances of $37,000, $68,000 and $180,000 outstanding.

But the legislation that Council passed also included making the administration notify accounts if they had a credit on their account. The fixing of the fiasco and reimbursement of the erroneously billed accounts and wiping out of phantom balances began after the passing of the legislation because City Hall needed this issue to disappear ASAP because they didn’t want the other shoe to drop — the shoe that might show possible credits on accounts. Continue reading

Riley Gaines: Role Model

by Kerry Dougherty 

We live in a world hungry for role models for our young children. Especially girls.

I met one yesterday.

Twenty-four year old Riley Gaines. Champion athlete and accidental feminist. Poised, proud and witty. Listen to her speak for an hour and you’ll be convinced this smart and attractive  dynamo can accomplish almost anything.

The White House someday? I wouldn’t be surprised.

You’ve heard of her, no doubt. She was the swimmer from the University of Kentucky who tied Lia Thomas, a 6’4” transgender competitor, for fifth place in the NCAA Women’s Championship 200-meter free style in 2022.

Even though they finished at the exact same time, event officials made sure it was the man in a tank suit who held the trophy aloft.

“Sorry, Riley. There’s only one trophy and we need Lia to hold it for the photos,” she was told as they presented the hardware for the fastest women’s collegiate swimmer to a man.

It seems that moment was her awakening. Continue reading

No, Virginia Beach Did NOT Cut Taxes

by Kerry Dougherty 

I don’t normally link to Virginian-Pilot stories. Today is an exception.

Find the fiction in this one: “Virginia Beach Adopts $2.6 Billion Budget, Cutting Taxes and Increasing City Worker Pay.”

Once again, the press joins the city in spreading a fantasy. This time it’s that when the city council lowered the property tax rate from .99 per $100 of assessed value to .97, our magnanimous elected officials “cut” taxes.

I’m calling BS on that.

As John Moss pointed out in his clear-eyed analysis of the budget here yesterday, to actually keep taxes about the same for most Beach residents – given the sharp rise in assessments this year – the city should have lowered the rate to .92. Continue reading

Virginia Beach Budget Will Lower Your Standard of Living

When Councilman John Moss narrowly lost his seat on City Council in a 2022 three-way race, Virginia Beach lost the lone elected official who actually understood municipal budgeting. Moss could be counted on to make city budgeteers squirm as he peppered them with intelligent questions about why they continually funded vacant city jobs and then used the surplus as a slush fund for the pet projects of city cronies. Plus he ALWAYS pressured his colleagues — fruitlessly, as it turned out — to lower the annual real estate tax rate to give homeowners relief from soaring assessments.

John Moss, who was first elected to City Council in 1986, is running for mayor. We asked Mr. Moss for his input on the budget City Council will vote on tonight.

—Kerry Dougherty 


by John Moss 

No Beach family or resident who lives alone needs to be told they are losing control over their economic lives. We all know our purchasing power is in free fall.

Inflation benefits only tax collections.

There is one group in our community that is clearly detached from the economic reality that Beach residents — and all Americans — understand and experience each day.

That group is the Virginia Beach City Council. Continue reading

Frosted Fame in Chesterfield

by Jon Baliles 

The Chesterfield County weekly newsletter featured a great story last week about Bailey Sheetz, a 13-year old Chester resident who is now on a first-name basis with Jerry Seinfeld and Melissa McCarthy in Hollywood. Sheetz made his movie debut in Seinfeld’s new Netflix movie Unfrosted, the satirical comedy about the launch of what we now know and love as the Pop-Tart.

Sheetz walked the red carpet with the venerable comedian and has become noticed in Hollywood and has his own agent and an IMDb.com page. A few years ago, at the tender age of eight, CBS6’s Wayne Covil ran a story about Sheetz and his innate ability to fix old vacuum cleaners and his appreciation for anything antique. From that story, Sheetz was sought out and cast in the Season 4 premiere of Little Big Shots.

After his Little Big Shots appearance, Covid shut down the filming industry for a while but Sheetz got an agent and received a callback. He finally got a voiceover role in the Duck and Goose animated children’s series and then received a callback in early 2022 to audition for Unfrosted. He recorded his audition tape at home with his parents, Bryan and Nancy, both teachers in Chesterfield schools, reading with him and filming him. A month later, Bailey received an invitation for a Zoom callback that was conducted by Jerry Seinfeld himself. Continue reading

Mother’s Day in Virginia

by Kerry Dougherty 

It all began in 2020. Our annual Mother’s Day escape.

Four years ago Ralph Northam’s reign of Covid despotism was underway and we were desperate to shake off the suffocating restrictions he imposed on a weekly basis. (The governor’s Thursday press conferences were a source of stress and dread for many of us.)

Confident that rural Virginians were as skeptical as we were of masks, social distancing and not gathering in groups larger than 10, our family snuck out of town, rented an Airbnb in Meadows of Dan, and celebrated Mother’s Day. Pre-pandemic style.

For four glorious days that first year, when the pandemic was in its infancy and the lunacy was cranking up, we were able to forget that society at large was losing its collective mind.

Thus began our annual Mother’s Day weekend trip to explore Virginia with those near and dear.

In 2021 we went to Onancock. Next year it was a river house in Gloucester. After that, a creek-side place in Madison.

This year we found ourselves in a sprawling log cabin on Lake Anna. Big enough for 11 of us – plus three dogs.

Continue reading

Spying in Salem

by Scott Dreyer

On March 9, 2010, in the heated struggle to approve the controversial “Obamacare” legislation (aka “Affordable Care Act”), then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) made national headlines when she tried to support the bill and remarked, “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it….”

Pelosi’s line comes to mind regarding the roiling debate in Salem about proposed surveillance cameras that may (or may not) be installed at some yet-unclarified locations around town.

The Roanoke Star reached out to Salem Mayor Renée TurkVice Mayor Jim Wallace, and City Manager Christopher Dorsey, who began his position on January 8, 2024.

The questions were as follows:

  • Do you have any statement about the issue of city-funded surveillance cameras, and your personal perspective on it?
  • Do you know about how many cameras there will be, and how much it will cost to install and operate them?
  • Who will have access to all that information collected, and where and how long will it be stored?

Vice Mayor Wallace did respond, City Manager Dorsey did not, and Mayor Turk did not respond but delegated the task to Communications Manager Mike Stevens.

It’s unclear if Stevens realized he was taking a page from Pelosi’s playbook, but twice he essentially claimed (paraphrased), “The cameras haven’t been approved yet, so it’s too early to talk about it, but if they are, then we can have a discussion.” Continue reading

Parking Decks, Debt, & Trap Doors

by Jon Baliles

On Wednesday afternoon at 3:00pm in City Council chambers, City Council will vote and approve the plan presented by the Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to allow Richmond to issue $170 million in bonds to pay for the new baseball stadium on ten acres that will be surrounded by about 57 acres of new development built out over the next decade plus.

Two years after kicking off the Diamond District process, the new plan announced a month ago was suddenly hailed as the fastest way to build a new stadium so Major League Baseball (MLB) doesn’t move the franchise for failing to upgrade stadium facilities as promised since The Diamond is too archaic to be retrofitted or modernized.

Wednesday will be a rosy “kumbayah” meeting in which all the positives will be laid out in front of the Council and the public and none of the negatives or risks will be discussed. The public hearing will take place, but many people will be at work in the afternoon or picking kids up from school, and others might decide to stay home knowing this deal will be approved by Council on a 9-0 (or maybe an 8-1) vote.

The city’s “leaders” and financial experts promise this new plan will save millions over the next three decades because of lower interest rates and “almost no risk,” compared to the original plan they started out with two years ago. But the Mayor and CAO, in their desperation to get any deal done and not lose a second baseball franchise, forgot to put any protections in the deal for the city and managed to leave a trap door.

They swear up and down that the development that has been occurring organically in and around Ashe Boulevard and Scott’s Addition will continue (which is very probable), and that the new development in the Diamond District will produce enough new tax revenue to cover, or almost cover, the annual debt required to pay the bonds back (or so we are told).

But what no one will talk about on Wednesday is the trap door in the form of a blank check called the Community Development Authority (CDA) that will have a real impact on future city budgets and city services for decades to come. Two years ago when the Diamond District was announced, the plan was to create a CDA to issue bonds for the stadium that would be paid back by tax revenue from the development within the district’s boundaries. Continue reading