By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Oct 26, 2017 | 12:40 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – With Election Day fast approaching, voters will be deciding a pair of key races within Prince George County, namely, who should fill the District 1 and 2 seats on the Prince George Board of Supervisors and School Board as part of the shift to staggered terms.
Ahead of the election, The Prince George Journal asked all supervisor and school board candidates running in the 2017 General Election to answer a questionnaire so voters can learn more about them before the November 7 election in the county.
All candidates were sent the same questionnaire and given the same deadline for sending their responses back in. This week we feature the responses of those running for the District 1 School Board seat, Sharon Jadrnak and Robert E.L. Eley.
Their answers are presented as submitted by the candidates themselves without alteration.
Candidate responses for District 2 School Board candidates will be featured in the November 1 edition of The Prince George Journal and online.
Q – Please provide any biographical information that you feel is important for voters.
a. 42 years old
b. Resident of Prince George County for 31 years
c. 1993 graduate of Prince George High School
d. 20 plus years with County Parks and Recreation Department
e. Married to Amanda Eley
f. Three children: Lee Eley graduated with honors from the 2017 Class of Prince George High School and is now a freshman at Virginia Wesleyan University and one of 40 students in the first class of the Batten Honors Program. Berkley McCabe 12 years old and in the seventh grade at JEJ Moore Middle School. Lillie Rhian Eley 6 years old and is in the first grade at Walton Elementary School.
JADRNAK – My husband, son, and I moved to Prince George County in 2010 to live in a rural area with good schools.
I grew up in Hammond, Indiana (near Chicago, Illinois); attended college in Atlanta, Georgia; worked in State College, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC; and moved to Virginia in 1997 (lived in Petersburg, Sussex County, Emporia).
More information about my background, ideas, and why I am running are available on my campaign website at www.sharon4pgschoolboard.com.
Q – What experience do you have that qualifies you for this office?
ELEY – I feel that I am very qualified to be a School Board member. Over the past twenty years I have worked with Prince George County youth and parents and am very familiar with current issues. If elected to the District 1 seat, I feel that my knowledge and experience will prove extremely helpful. I have with the school system since 1993, a volunteer coach or some capacity. Lastly, I think that by having a child that just graduated from Prince George High School with Honors and two more still in the school system that I am very familiar with the school system, from the elementary through the high school.
• Substitute in PG Schools – 3 years: secondary school offices, classrooms, libraries
• Volunteer in PG Schools – 5 years: FLL and FTC robotics teams, Moore MS PTO, Clements JHS PTA, Gifted Advisory Committee
• Coordinator, PG Youth Workforce Academy & J.O.B.S. Program – 5 years
• Over 30 years of work experience in for-profit, nonprofit, government, and education sectors.
• College degrees: George Tech, Mechanical Engineering B.S. and M.S. & VCU, Business Administration Master’s Certificate
• Prince George County Citizen’s Academy; Sorensen Institute for Political Leaders at UVA; Washington Internship for Students in Engineering in DC
Everywhere I have lived I have gravitated toward leadership roles. In various organizations since high school, I have held the titles of president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, or committee chair. I have kept the books and created budgets, worked with many people from diverse backgrounds, conducted meetings, and spoken before groups large and small. I am not afraid to speak up and stand up for what I believe in, and I like to solve problems. I can get passionate about issues sometimes, but I am willing to work with others and listen to different points of view
Q – What do you feel is the most pressing issue affecting Prince George County Public Schools and how would you address it?
ELEY – I feel that there are a couple of pressing issues that are currently affecting our school system. The first issue is to upgrade our facilities and technology. The second issue is transportation in which the system is short bus drivers which in turn cuts down on the timely matter the system can get the kids to and from school in a timely manner. I believe that I can work with cooperatively with fellow School Board members, the members of the Board of Supervisors and Prince George citizens to provide the needs of our youth and community to figure out how to address the best possible measures needed to upgrade the facilities and technology. I believe we should look at the surrounding areas to see what they are offering for pay and benefit packages. This will help ensure we have incentive to help gain and retain transportation personnel for the Prince George County School System.
JADRNAK – The issues with transportation (busses) is putting a lot of stress on the schools, students, and families. The first step to student success is getting them to school so they can learn and pass the SOLs so the school division can stay accredited. We have several thousand students to transport across a large county – 265 square miles – with some long bus routes all the way east on Route 10 and southwest down to Carson. Not every family can drive their students to school – they depend on the school busses to be running and on time. Overcrowding is not good for the students or bus drivers, who have to drive safely and also maintain order on their bus.
At their September meeting, one school board member said they had been talking about fixing the transportation issues for 10 years. The board has also expressed interest in talking to outside vendors about outsourcing transportation. I know that the transportation staff works hard every day – they do not have time to step back and look at the whole system to see how it can be improved. Before moving toward outsourcing, the school division should appoint a Transportation Task Force to review the entire system and determine if it can be fixed internally. It could be like the Core Committee was for school facilities with representatives from the schools’ stakeholders and also outside experts. (In March 2017 I suggested to a school board member and a transportation department staffer that they should ask for logistics and transportation expertise at Ft. Lee. About 1/3 of the students in Prince George Schools come from Ft. Lee; maybe they can help us address the transportation problems.)
In addition, there has been some recent confusion about bus rules 23 and 24 and whether or not instruments could be transported on busses. These updated rules were posted under “News” on the school board website in early September, but these rules are not listed in the student handbook. Some students were told by bus drivers that they could not bring their instruments on the bus this year, but they were able to do so last year. If this was a policy change, it was not clearly communicated to students or parents, nor what is vetted with teachers or parents.
Q – What are your three top goals if elected?
ELEY – The first priority is to work closely with the other Board members and administration to help find the proper solution to the transportation problem in the county. The second is to make sure the facilities are safe and up to date. Lastly, to support the Prince George County School System continued role as a leader in our state and region.
JADRNAK – 1. Appoint a Transportation Task Force to review the entire system and determine if it can be fixed internally or by an outside vendor, and find some experts to assist the Task Force. (See pressing issue answer above.)
2. Work with the Board of Supervisors on implementing the Core Committee recommendations as soon as possible. Those recommendations include replacing Walton Elementary, replacing Beazley Elementary, and renovating Prince George High School. In addition, our School Board, Board of Supervisors, and their staffs need to have a good working relationship and communicate regularly to work on these recommendations and other issues.
3. There should be more TRANSPARENCY about how the school board does business and better COMMUNICATION with employees, families, and the local community (our education stakeholders). Communication is a two-way street, and the school division needs to gather input from its stakeholders as well as provide information to them. The school division should gather input before big decisions or changes are made – it can easily be done with online surveys that can be responded to on a computer or cell phone. All school board meeting documents (agendas, supporting materials) and budget documents should be electronically posted on the school division website. These are public records that should be more easily accessible by the public. The school division could also use the “OpenGov Financial Transparency Portal” that Prince George County uses on their website to show how their funds are being spent.
Q – How will you work with your fellow school board members to maintain and improve schools as funding remains relatively flat?
ELEY – I feel that I can work with the board to continue to look at every option available to see how we can improve the schools. The county has a very good bond rating which would help with the funding to improve the schools. The other option is to continue dialogue with legislature to see if there is any additional funding to help with the improvements as well.
JADRNAK – Putting together a budget that supports the needs of the students and employees is key. The school division needs to communicate those needs to Prince George County government and also to the folks in Richmond and Washington who provide funding for the schools. The MOU between the county and the schools needs to be updated to reflect current needs. When appropriate, grants should be written to support specific activities. I think the school division should form a Citizen’s Budget Advisory Committee, like in Chesterfield County (http://mychesterfieldschools.com/budget/). I believe citizen input into programmatic and funding priorities for the schools would be helpful.
Earlier this year I attended most of the school board’s budget work sessions because I wanted to learn about their budgeting process. At that time there was not much information about the budget posted on the school division website, but I was able to obtain a copy of the draft budget via a Freedom of Information Request. (By the way, the adopted 2017-2018 budget was finally posted to the school division website in mid-October).
I learned a lot from the budget work sessions; however, I have more to learn about this process which is one of the most important things the school board does. If you don’t have a line in the budget for a position or program or activity, then it won’t happen. I also spoke at a budget hearing to encourage the school board to adopt a higher rate of pay for long-term substitutes, which used to be the case here and is the case in some other school divisions.
Q – What are some examples of your commitment (personal and professional) to the community?
ELEY – Most recently at the Back to School Fair I supplied to the youth of our community essential school supplies including pencils, pens, colored pencils crayons and notebooks. For the past 20 years combined I have been actively involved with the youth in our community by serving as a volunteer coach for children ranging in age from 5-18. The programs I volunteered with include Prince George County varsity football as well as travel softball, baseball and soccer. Professionally I have been involved with the youth of Prince George for the past 20 plus years by working for the Prince George Parks and Recreation Department.
JADRNAK – My community and organization affiliations are as follows:
• Boy Scout Troop 902 (fundraising committee)
• Church of the Sacred Heart (member & Children’s Liturgy coordinator)
• Clements Junior High School PTA (officer, 2014-2015)
• FIRST Lego League (FLL) robotics team at Moore Middle School (coach)
• FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics team at PGHS (coach)
• Gifted Advisory Committee, Prince George County Public Schools (member)
• Mission Ministries – Waverly food pantry (officer)
• Moore Middle School PTO (officer, 2012-2014)
• Petersburg Battlefields Foundation (board member & officer)
• Prince George Promise (board member & officer, 2013-2015)