County officials, legislators meet

Published 10:50 am Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Few promises emerge from discussions

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The conversation ran the gamut from teacher pay to broadband access to proffers as Isle of Wight County officials and state legislators met Thursday in a pre-General Assembly discussion of legislative priorities.

Delegate-elect Emily Brewer, R-64th, and Sen. John Cosgrove, R-14th sat down with members of the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors, School Board and schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton to get an idea of the concerns facing Isle of Wight County, which is located in each legislator’s district.  

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Sen. Tommy Norment, R-3rd, had representatives in the audience.

While Isle of Wight officials provided legislators with a printed list of priorities, school officials brought up some additional topics of concern, such as lagging teacher pay and shortages and Standards of Learning testing. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Thornton complained that the teacher pipeline has dried up and teacher pay is one of the reasons for a shortage of new educators entering the field in Virginia.

He asked that the state abandon “gimmicks” to entice individuals to the education profession and simply fund better teacher pay.

Thornton also said that regulations surrounding hiring teachers have been an impediment for the county’s new Career and Technical Education program, as it is looking for professionals in the field, not necessarily those who have gone through a formal teacher education program.

Cosgrove agreed that teacher education criteria needed to be looked at in the General Assembly.

Brewer said the General Assembly could also look at seat time requirements when it comes to scheduling for innovative programs, such as what is proposed in Isle of Wight’s CTE curriculum.

Thornton has proposed having CTE students alternate their CTE class time with standard education classes in larger blocks of time.

Newport District School Board Representative Vicky Hulick was concerned with SOL testing and that alternatives to multiple-choice tests should be available.

“Not all kids are good test-takers,” she said.

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty agreed that SOLs needed to be looked at after 20 years of implementation. McCarty said legislators were “narrow-minded and lazy” when it comes to SOLs and innovation is needed to better enhance the varied talents of students.

Cosgrove said SOLs are necessary and serve a purpose, and while there may be over-testing, there are pros and cons of the program.

Brewer said it’s not up to legislators to determine how children are educated.

The state needs to be methodical and precise if it plans to wean itself of SOLs because there has been an entire generation of teachers trained on that method, she said.

Other issues that were discussed briefly were suspension and expulsion for elementary age students, special needs adults who have aged out of the educational system, as well as what is known as the “Tebow bill,” allowing home schooled students access to public school extra-curricular activities.

Cosgrove and Brewer said they support the “Tebow bill.”

Neither Cosgrove or Brewer had a definitive answer for special needs adults.

Cosgrove was unsure of how much support the state could provide and Brewer suggested a regional approach to the issue.

Broadband access

Cosgrove said his focus is broadband access, as about a third of his district doesn’t have decent coverage. The problem is people in some areas cannot afford broadband, and perhaps it needs to be subsidized in some fashion, he said.

Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton said the county is in the process of building a new public safety radio system that includes the ability of private broadband providers to rent space on the towers.

However, if broadband providers do not come forward, Isle of Wight doesn’t want to be restricted from providing the service itself, Keaton said.

Cosgrove said he doesn’t want artificial restrictions put on localities that have tower space available.

Taxing authority

Isle of Wight County officials have lobbied in the past for having the same taxing authority as towns and cities, particularly cigarette and meals taxes, and this year is no exception.

Cosgrove pointed out that counties have advantages that cities do not have, but said he would look at it. Cosgrove did not explain what those advantages were.

Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson said the county isn’t looking for a bail out, just equality when it comes to taxation. Robertson was referring to the fact that towns and cities can tax cigarettes, but the county cannot.


Isle of Wight Transportation Manager Jamie Oliver said the state’s new Smart Scale program for allocating transportation funding has made it difficult for smaller localities to compete with large regional projects when it comes to construction funds.

Brewer agreed that, while Smart Scale works for large regional projects, there needs to be a similar system for smaller, local projects.

Smart Scale was designed to rate transportation projects based on criteria tailored to regional concerns, such as congestion or economic development. 


Robertson pointed out that reinvigorated growth in the northern end of the county has turned the focus back on proffers, except that a bill passed in the General Assembly last year no longer allows for proffer negotiations. 

Robertson asked legislators if there are any plans to revisit that issue.

“That’s something that’s really hitting us in the face right now,” he said.

Smithfield Supervisor Dick Grice said an adjustment is needed and he wants the topic to come up again as the new parameters are confusing to developers.

Proffers are cash or other intangibles offered by developers to offset the cost of development on schools, public safety and other government services.

While Cosgrove did not directly address proffers, Brewer said there is some talk of an adjustment, such as a per person calculation, when it comes to covering the cost of growth.

Cosgrove had openly supported the bill at a pre-legislative breakfast at The Smithfield Center in 2016, the year the bill was passed.

Bills submitted

Cosgrove has submitted three pieces of legislation prior to the start of the General Assembly that convenes Jan. 10.

Those bills include SB 49, which requires that registered sex offenders who enter an emergency shelter notify shelter staff of his or her status as a sex offender. However, offenders are not to be denied entry solely on that status, according to the bill.

Senate Bill 72 requires that electrical distribution lines installed after July 1, 2018 over agricultural lands be placed at a height no less than lines that go over road crossings.

Senate Bill 73 calls for no vehicle issued an overweight permit for hauling Virginia-grown farm produce shall be allowed to cross any bridge or culvert in the state if the gross weight is more than the amount posted as its carrying capacity. The bill pertains to vehicles regardless of their axle weights or spacing. {/mprestriction}