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Board Approves Drug Free Club

By Staff | Apr 20, 2011

In the photo, Wetzel County Board of Education Member Willy Baker reviews some highlights of the proposed 2011-12 school year budget with newly-designated county superintendent Diane Watt at the board’s regular meeting April 18. Watt, presently serving as Superintendent of Taylor County Schools will take over July 1 from Wetzel County Superintendent Bill Jones, who will retire at the end of the current school year. The Wetzel County Board of Education approved Watt’s employment on April 4 under a two-year contract beginning July 1. Watt has been in the role of Superintendent in Taylor County for three years and has 30 years’ experience in public education as an elementary and secondary teacher and school administrator. She was the second of three candidates to be interviewed by the board last month. (Photo by Bill Abraham)

Staff Writer

New Martinsville Police Sgt. Steve Kastigar and Wetzel County School Nurse Donna Sands got the go-ahead April 18 from the board of education to set up a Drug Free Clubs of America pilot project at Magnolia High School for next school year at a present zero cost to the taxpayer.

Sands explained that the purpose of the program, founded nationally by three Cincinnati-area firefighters, is to prevent drug usage in the schools before it starts. Kastigar explained that students would take a voluntary urine test to become a member and may be randomly tested later throughout the program. Though tempted by peers, club members would have an excuse to turn down drugs, “I can’t. I might get tested.”

Good behavior would be rewarded in a variety of ways, such as discounts from local businesses, free items, special event days and general recognition for remaining drug-free. The club is operational in Ohio County Schools in cooperation with Wheeling Hospital.

Kastigar said the cost per student is about $65 per year, with funding coming from families, who would have a stake in the program’s success, church and community groups and private contributions.

Noting that times have changed, Kastigar noted that marijuana is no longer the drug of choice among youth. “Heroin is very prevalent in this area,” he warned.

Board members were enthusiastic about the pilot program and Member Amy Dieffenbauch, along with County Superintendent Bill Jones, indicated that the board would consider contributing some funding to the program if it became county-wide. Board member Bob Patterson requested the club make a six-month follow-up report that evaluates its success.

Kastigar, Police Resource Officer assigned to MHS, estimated that as high as 25 percent of the student body could be expected to participate in the program.

The board voted preliminary approval of a $29 million budget for the 2011-12 school year, $456,492 higher than the current year’s budget, with almost four percent of the revenue coming from carry over funds from this year — $786,536.29, less OPEB liability.

Liability for OPEB — the cost of certain public employee benefits — is an unresolved and potentially devastating issue for all 55 county school systems. All but a handful of counties have joined in a law suit aimed at putting OPEB liability in the legislature’s lap, where those benefits originated.

But OPEB liability was just one of several warning School System Treasurer Jeff Lancaster issued in reviewing the budget with the board. Lancaster noted that some of next year’s funding will come from federal and state monies that, apparently, are non-renewable, such as ARRA funds for this school year.

Lancaster noted that while Reduction-in-Force orders saved the school system a little more than $255,000 this year, it was lower than previously and “was the most difficult” in the 10 years on the job. Even with the RIFs, Lancaster said, the county still exceeded the levels allowed by the legislative funding formula by 26 professional and 26 service employees, whose jobs — at $1.1 million — had to be funded through local tax support and/or deeper cutbacks in the system.

The treasurer also noted that the carryover balance for this year may be higher than next year’s and that, at some point, the school system will have to start issuing realtime payouts for OPEB liability. That liability, now estimated at $2.9 million, is projected to grow by next year to $5.7 million.

On top of all that, Lancaster reported that a revised legislative school-aid funding formula that began phasing in last year, will cost Wetzel and eight other counties a loss in revenue in the 2011-12 school year.

Consistent with previous years, 56.13 percent of the county’s revenue will come from the state legislature, with about 32 percent from local taxation and the rest from special project accounts and carryover. Also consistent with previous years, almost 83 percent of the revenue will be to fund salaries and costs.

Lancaster said the average estimated cost of paying salary and benefits to a professional worker is about $60,000 a year and the same cost for a service employee is $37,000 annually.

In what may have been the brightest budgetary issue raised at the meeting, Lancaster said that educational jobs funding from the federal government was raised about $10,000 to $582,957 for next year.

However, the meeting also was brightened by the first unofficial visit by newly-designated county superintendent of schools J. Diane Watt, who was present throughout the meeting as an observer. Watt, now Taylor County Superintendent of Schools, was named April 4 to succeed Jones, who will retire at the end of the current school year.

Watt was approved for a two-year contract beginning July 1 at a first-year salary of $95,500, plus benefits. Under the contract, her earnings will increase in the second year to $97,889.

She has been on the job in Taylor County three years and has 30 years’ experience in public education as an elementary and secondary teacher and school administrator. She was the second of three candidates to be interviewed by the board last month. Watt and her husband, Bill, plan to relocate to Wetzel County before the beginning of the 2011-12 school year.

“I am thrilled to join the Wetzel County School System,” Watt said. “This district has so many bright spots, a good academic record, supportive families and community, as well as a committed staff and stellar students.”

The board approved a calendar for next school year that begins for students on Monday, Aug. 22 and has semester exams scheduled before the Christmas break. It also okayed a $2,901 expenditure for membership dues to the West Virginia School Building Authority for next year.

Jones reported that a HVAC problem at PCES may have been caused by natural gas escaping, after the meter, into the ground. He said the $30,000 repair project should be completed by next week.

Turning to personnel matters, the board approved the retirement of Theresa L. Patterson as custodian at PCES at the end of the day July 31. She has been with the school system for 31 years.

Resignations were accepted from Justin W. Balwancz as head boys’ basketball coach at Hundred High School and from Richard F. Bertozzi as head girls’ basketball coach at Paden City High School. At Short Line School, Cynthia J. Brown resigned as 7/8 grade cheerleader coach and Abram Shane Highley will resign as the school’s athletic director at the end of the school year.

The assignment of Laura A. Barcus was changed for next school year, from fourth grade teacher at Long Drain School to the second grade and Glenna J. Bennett’s assignment was changed from sixth grade teacher at PCES to the same grade at New Martinsville School.

The board approved requests from Tammy and Ryan Chambers and from Michelle Morris for their children to continue attending Wetzel County Schools next year. Meanwhile, Cathy Boggs’ request was granted to release her children from Wetzel County Schools to attend classes in Tyler County next year.

The board has scheduled a vote on the final adoption of its 2011-12 budget for 7 p.m., Monday, May 2. At 6:30 p.m. the same day, the board will host a reception of new 25-Year Club members.