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School board approves 15 personnel cuts

PROMOTING LEARNING — Scott Donohew, principal of Brooke Intermediate South, updated the Brooke County Board of Education on the school’s efforts to promote learning and good behavior. -- Warren Scott

WELLSBURG — After approving the elimination of 15 professional and service positions on Monday, Brooke County school officials answered questions about the restructuring of the school district’s music program.

Board member Stacy Hooper asked Deputy Superintendent Corey Murphy how the program will change, noting there have been rumors that courses will be cut.

Murphy said the school district will offer the same music courses it does this year but staffing for them has been altered.

Murphy said while the middle and high schools will continue to have their own band directors, the two schools will share a choir director. He said working at the middle school will allow the choir director to attract future choir members for the high school nearby.

He said the county’s four elementary schools will be served by a full-time music teacher and a part-time music instructor.

Following the meeting, Murphy confirmed the four schools also will be served by one traveling art teacher, an arrangement the school district has employed for the subject and grade level in the past.

Rumors of changes to the music and art departments led many students and parents to form a picket outside the board office before its March 22 meeting. Some expressed concern staffing could become overtaxed under the new structuring, affecting the quality of the music program.

Following Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Jeffrey Crook said current and project enrollment in the school’s music courses were factors when considering the changes.

He said school board staff and principals were consulted in weighing all of the cuts and transfers recommended to the board.

Following a 30 minute executive session, the board eliminated 15 professional and service positions and transfers for a dozen others.

Teachers and other professional personnel whose positions were cut were: Olivia Becca, Shannon Cumrine, Mary Fluharty, Katherine Kafton, Ashley Kopko, Judy Loring, Brandy Moore, Ashleigh Negri, Kara Oxier, Olivia Snider, Earl Sturm, Bill West and Kurt Yano. Also cut were service personnel members Shawnda Mitchell and Christine Tate.

No music teachers were among the cuts. But the board did approve pending positions transfers for Brooke High School choir director Celesta Berga, Brooke Middle School choir director Heather VanScoy and elementary music teachers Kim Douglas and Angela Durig.

Transfers also are pending for Ashleigh Gurskey, Kelly Lumbatis, Ronald Recchio, Alyssa Roadman and Clark Besece, all professional staff; and service personnel Charlotte Bailey, Michelle Casto and Joan McKitrick.

Murphy confirmed all positions will be posted for staff bidding before being presented for the board’s approval later this year.

Crook noted retirement by other staff could positively affect those facing termination or transfers at this time.

He echoed statements by board members that taking such measures isn’t an easy task and one spurred by financial constraints.

“A day like today is always a hard day,” said board member Chris Byers, who noted it’s hardest of all for those faced with losing their jobs.

“There are a lot of good teachers on those lists,” he added.

Board member Dr. Robert Marks said because he had been active in the high school’s music program, he didn’t relish cutting its staff or eliminating any position.

But he added the board must be fiscally responsible.

Crook acknowledged the number of cuts is fewer than last year, when the board eliminated 59 staff members from its rolls.

The cuts were prompted by a $3.2 million per year shortfall from its five-year operating levy and a large drop in enrollment that resulted in the school district being placed on the state Department of Education’s financial watch list.

The district has since been removed from the list, but Crook said he and the board must continue to monitor and cut spending.

“We’re a lot better off than we were. We still have a way to go. We’re doing what we can to be as frugal as possible,” he said.

In other business:

• The board heard a school improvement council report from Scott Donohew, principal of Brooke Intermediate South, who said the school continues to employ Sean Covey’s “7 Habits of Happy Kids” to promote positive behavior among pupils while adopting a Star Wars theme to encourage a positive attitude toward the state achievement tests in May.

Donohew said pupils will be invited to cheer for faculty members competing in a “Jedi Academy” competition organized by teacher Dave Secrist, while posters at the school will read “May the scores be with you.”

Donohew also praised his staff for adapting to newer technology needed to reach pupils when the pandemic made virtual instruction mandatory.

• In related business, Crook said there had been an increase in recent weeks in students at the high school being ordered to quarantined because of potential exposure to COVID-19, but the number has dropped recently from 59 to 39.

He later added of about 920 students at the school, just two had tested positive and two others were found probable for the virus.

Crook said Head School Nurse Carol Cipoletti has headed efforts to contact students who may have been exposed.

• The board also approved the $107,348 replacement by Safe Fleet by Seon of video cameras in the district’s 44 school buses.

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

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