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Two Spotsylvania School Board members say chairman mishandled funding requests

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Financial records show that Spotsylvania School Board Chair Kirk Twigg approved the use of school division funds to pay for two board members to attend a conference sponsored by an organization with ties to a conservative political action committee.

Twigg denied the requests of two other board members to attend professional learning conferences this year sponsored by the Virginia School Board Association, emails show.

An April 27 purchase order obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that Twigg approved spending $700 for Vice Chair April Gillespie and board member Lisa Phelps to attend the Virginia Education Summit, a conference held earlier this month and sponsored by the Middle Resolution Policy Network.

The Middle Resolution Policy Network was established last year by the Middle Resolution Political Action Committee. The PAC was formed in 2008 with a mission to “identify and elect qualified candidates, collaborate on free market policies and hold leaders accountable,” according to its website.

Members of the PAC’s executive staff have been involved in drafting legislation allowing school choice vouchers and in Richmond’s Tea Party movement, according to their biographies.

The PAC donated $189,994 to Republican candidates in Virginia last year, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, including $28,278 to Del. Tara Durant, R–Stafford, and $17,788 to Tim Anderson, R–Virginia Beach, who has been encouraging parents to challenge school library collections through official reviews and lawsuits.

The May 6–7 Virginia Education Summit conference, which was sponsored by the Middle Resolution Policy Network, included a session on School Board candidate training and presentations on “independent school options for families” and “grassroots organization and engagement to effect change in Virginia’s schools,” among others.

The purpose of the conference was to “meet parents, activists and legislators from across Virginia who are engaged in restoring and reforming our education system and ensuring that there is true education choice in Virginia,” according to the website.

Featured speakers included Ian Prior, a former senior official in the Department of Justice under Donald Trump and current executive director of Fight for Schools, a political action committee formed to recall six Loudoun County School Board members that it alleges are working to implement critical race theory in schools; Beth Ann Rosica, executive director of Back to School PA, a political action committee created in 2021 to “[hold] those accountable for closing our schools”; and U.S. Rep. Bob Good, a Republican recently rated the fifth least bipartisan member of Congress by Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.

The Spotsylvania School Board’s approved code of ethics states, “I will refrain from using the board position for personal or partisan gain and avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of impropriety.”

It also states, “I will be informed about current educational issues through individual study and participation in appropriate programs, such as those sponsored by my state and national school boards association.”

In March, Twigg denied a request by School Board member Dawn Shelley to attend the Virginia School Board Association’s Hot Topic conference on cybersecurity.

Registration and lodging for the conference would have cost $313, according to the VSBA website.

“No,” Twigg wrote on March 1 in response to Shelley’s request to attend. “If you have school board time available that day, please review policy or figure out ways to contribute efficiencies in our meeting process.”

Shelley again requested to attend the conference, citing the School Board’s policy BHB, which states, “The School Board places a high priority on the importance of a planned and continuing program of professional learning for its members.”

Twigg responded, telling Shelley to “Go on your dime if you wish.”

In April, Shelley asked for approval from Twigg to attend the VSBA’s Law Conference in June and its Conference on Education in July, but did not receive a response, according to an email she sent to Twigg on Monday morning.

Twigg also refused School Board member Nicole Cole’s request to attend the law conference, according to emails and text messages Cole sent to the Free Lance–Star.

Registration for that conference, which will be held in Richmond, is $260.

“The likely cost ... would be in total (registration and travel) well under $300,” Cole told Twigg in an email last week.

“I then asked you to provide a viable reason, justification for denying my registration. You then started rambling about me having to give a justification. I asked you again to state a valid reason. You refused and hung up,” Cole wrote.

Twigg did not respond Monday to questions from The Free Lance–Star about his reasons for not approving Shelley and Cole’s requests.

This story has been updated to clarify the difference between the Middle Resolution Policy Network and the Middle Resolution PAC. 

Adele Uphaus–Conner:

540/735-1973

auphaus@freelancestar.com

@flsadele

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