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Board Joins Retiree Lawsuit

By Staff | Jul 15, 2009

The Wetzel County Board of Education July 13 approved unanimously a motion to join in litigation seeking to relieve county school boards of having to contribute to the unfunded debt of retiree benefits. “The state legislature created this debt, not the counties,” said Wetzel County Superintendent of Schools Bill Jones.

Legislation signed into law by Gov. Joe Manchin in 2007 shifted responsibility for that debt onto county boards of education. The boards of Cabell, Wood, and Kanawha counties-all with revenue exceeding $100 million-filed the action. They were required to show that debt service on their fiscal 2008 budgets.

Wetzel County and almost every other county in the state is required to show that liability in budgets ending June 30, 2009. Those school systems have revenues of between $10 million-$100 million.

Treasurer Jeff Lancaster estimated that it would add some $500,000 of annual liability to the county’s budget, approved at $28.5 million for the 2009-10 school year.

The law suit, filed in Wood County Circuit Court, seeks to set aside the provision of Chapter V Article 16D of the West Virginia Code that makes funding post employment benefits a county school board responsibility. The suit also asks the court to declare funding that debt a state, not county, responsibility.

Meanwhile, Jones reported that the State School Building Authority has approved the board’s $2.29 million request for 10 percent matching funds to install a new heating and air conditioning system at New Martinsville School. The county school system will contribute about $223,000 toward that project, expected to be completed by in the fall of 2010.

Local Moose Lodge Administrator Rich Erlewine appeared before the board to explain the benefits of Mooseheart Child City and School Inc., located near Chicago.

The site, funded entirely by Moose lodge members from around the U.S., is a home for children and teens whose families, for whatever reasons, are unable to care for them.

“The core of Mooseheart,” said Erlewine, “is a family of teachers who provide consistent, methodical education and training in the development of social skills essential for success in later life.” He also noted that affiliation with the Moose organization is no longer a qualification for admission.

Erlewine emphasized that support of Mooseheart students does not end with high school graduation. The lodge offers qualified students two and four-year scholarships to continue their education at the collegiate level.

At present, 350 children reside at Mooseheart.

Jones said he would notify county school principals and guidance counselors of Mooseheart benefits and coordinate efforts to engage local students with those services.

The board reauthorized its tradition of meeting with Local School Improvement Councils in the 2009-10 school year and approved the following schedule: Long Drain School, third Monday in September; Paden City Elementary School, first Monday in October; Short Line School, third Monday in October; and NMS, first Monday in November.

The board also reauthorized use of retired teachers beyond 140 days per year.

The following faculty were approved as Student Action team Coordinators for the 2009-10 school year: MHS, Nettie Jo Herrick; Paden City High School, Rebecca L. Meckley; Valley High School, Joan E. Kerns; LDS, Dawn L. West; NMS (K-3), John H. Holliday; NMS (4-8): Sonya D. Holliday; and the Wetzel County Center for Children and Families, Kimberly A. Sobataka.

In addition, the board approved the following Technology Coordinators at county schools. MHS, Mary L. Calvert; PCHS, Richard F. Bertozzi; VHS, Benjamin R. McPherson; NMS: Patricia D. Bland and Carolyn S. Zeppuhar; PCES, John H. Ice Jr.; SLS, James C. Archer and Emily S. Robinson. Robinson’s position will be paid by SLS funds.

The board also voted to renew several lease agreements during the next school year. The board will lease the football field for Hundred High School from the Town of Hundred at a cost of $8,300. That lease runs from July 30, 2009, through June 15, 2010.

The board also will pay Huskie Lumber Co. $2,400 for school bus parking land on state Route 7 beginning Oct. 16, 2009, through Oct. 15, 2010.

In addition, the board will lease-perhaps for the last time-facilities at the former Paden City Elementary School on state Route 2. During the term Aug. 31, 2009, through Aug. 31, 2010, the school system will pay the Paden City Development Authority $15 per hour for use of the property.

A new building for that purpose, including a basketball/volleyball court, is nearing completion on property north of the high school.

The board also voted to continue to lease property to the Short Line EMS unit for $1 per year, beginning July 1, 2009, and ending June 30, 2010.

Before it adjourned, the board approved a number of personnel and staffing changes for the coming school year and set the following dates for its next regular meetings: Aug. 3 and 17. Both meetings begin at 7 p.m. at the county office building, 333 Foundry St., New Martinsville.