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Brooke board discusses gas funding

September 18, 2012
By WARREN SCOTT - Staff writer (wscott@heraldstaronline.com) , Weirton Daily Times

WELLSBURG - The Brooke County Board of Education discussed ways money from its lease of property for natural gas drilling may be used in the school district at a special meeting Monday.

The board has received $661,955 from Chesapeake Energy for leasing up to 189 acres of school property for natural gas drilling.

The lease was entered with the agreement that no wells be established on the property and the board and Chesapeake mutually agree upon any pipelines or access roads built there.

The board also will receive 18 percent of royalties for gas produced from the property.

Kathy Kidder, superintendent of schools, said she's not aware of drilling occurring under any school property at this time.

The drilling involves a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," which involves injecting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals to release the gas from the underground Marcellus shale.

No decision was made on use of the money, but the board agreed it should have a policy in place as requests already have been made.

Board President Jim Piccirillo asked Jim Hervey, the school board's treasurer, how the board may use the money.

Hervey said legally the board can't obligate the money for purposes it can't support once it's been exhausted, such as raises for staff. He said the board also is prohibited from granting one-time bonuses.

Hervey said the funds may be used for construction and other projects.

Board members discussed using it to renovate the science labs or library at Brooke High School, noting the library has the carpet that was installed when the school was built.

Kidder said the libraries at the high school and two middle schools would benefit from automated computer systems that would aid in cataloging inventory and books used in the Accelerated Reader program, which directs pupils to books at their reading level.

Dolly Kidd, the school district's reading specialist, said she would like to see the program expanded to the county's primary schools.

Piccirillo said he supports a project involving literacy and would avoid any building project involving the two middle schools, since the board has proposed building a new one near the high school.

The school is part of a 10-year plan that also calls for the consolidation of the county's primary schools into two, pending support of a proposed $42.4 million bond issue and $42.4 million from the state School Building Authority and other sources.

The board has discussed putting the bond issue on ballots in 2014.

Allocating money for sports equipment and uniforms at the middle schools, field trips taken by pupils at all of the schools and establishing an emergency fund were all suggested.

"There's a lot of things we can do with it, but I don't think we should spend it frivolously," Piccirillo said.

Board member Frank Ujcich said, "I think we should hang on to the money and decide how we're going to spend the money on things we have to pay for before we give it away and pretty soon, there's nothing left."

Piccirillo said, "I think we need to save a significant amount of the money for building projects."

School board officials confirmed the funds could be invested in federally insured bonds or interest-bearing accounts to generate additional revenue for the school district.

In other business:

Jackie Robinson, Brooke High School's athletic director, presented a proposed new salary scale for the school district's coaches and assistant coaches. Robinson said the scale was developed at the board's request in an effort to establish equality among them based on the length of each sport's season and the number of hours typically put in for practices, games and various duties.

If approved by the board, the scale also would reflect the coaches' experience and it wouldn't affect current coaches.

Piccirillo said the board has had difficulty filling coaching positions and thought a change to the salary scale would help. He said he also wanted to ensure male and female coaches received equal pay if their duties were the same.

Diane Rasz, a teacher at Wellsburg Middle School, asked if the board could assist with the cost for the school's sixth-graders to participate in a three-day trip to Gettysburg, Pa. in November.

Rasz said she and fellow teacher Robyn Heaton have been awarded a $2,000 grant from the Gettysburg Foundation to offset the costs, which she said is about $80 per student if 92 students go and $78 per student if 80 go. She said the difference is because a smaller bus would be needed for the smaller group.

Piccirillo told Rasz the board is likely to approve the trip at its next meeting but not the financial contribution she sought.

He said he and other board members have concerns about there being uniformity among trips taken by the county's schools. Because the schools' PTAs usually contribute to such trips, schools serving poorer areas often are at a disadvantage, Piccirillo said.

He also suggested the age-appropriateness and timing of trips should be considered.

For example, eighth-graders studying West Virginia history are likely to benefit more from a trip to Charleston, Piccirillo said.

Piccirillo said there have been instances of individuals attending sports events being verbally abusive and disrespectful to coaches and others though Brooke fans overall believe in good sportsmanship.

"We want it to be known we won't tolerate this type of aggressive and abusive behavior. We are prepared to prosecute and even ban individuals from events who can't respect our school community.

People want to take their families to games and enjoy a positive family experience. We won't allow a few individuals to prevent that from happening," he said.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com)

 
 

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