UL projects, finances under discussion

BELMONT – The Union Local School Board met Thursday to review plans for a recreational facility at the middle school.

Middle School Principal Rick Barnhouse reported on conversations with an architect about the project. He said the cost of the preliminary steps is about $7,250.

“It’s the cost to get it started, with the drawings, the architectural work, the planning of it and everything we need to send it out to bid,” he said, adding that many in the school see potential in the proposed addition. “After talking to many of the staff members, talking to the students, they would love to see some multi-purpose sports facilities … and just regular playground equipment that would be age-appropriate for the kids. That’s what we’re shooting for. We have three plots we could work with, and we can even expand the shelter that’s outside for more student space.”

He said while the facility could be completed by the end of the year, it may also be necessary to finish it in phases, depending on the plans.

Curriculum Director Jayme Yonak also pointed out state reading tests for elementary pupils begin next week.

“We’re going to be giving our third-grade state reading test next Tuesday and Wednesday to the third-grade students,” she said. “This test is a requirement for the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. They will be measuring the students to see what level they are performing on, if they’re meeting the third-grade standards.”

Yonak added the district had adopted Reading Wonders, a new language arts curriculum.

“They have a new curriculum they’ve been using that’s been aligned to the Common Core standards, that has the rigor that the state is expecting from the third-grade students at that level,” she said. “They’ll take it now, and then they’ll take the test in the fall, and they have to get a certain score in order to be promoted to fourth grade.”

She referred to the test as a useful road map.

“The test is a good indicator for us to know if the initiatives that we’ve put into place up to this point are working,” she said, adding that these initiatives include a new phonics program for kindergarteners through second-graders, and the group of third-graders taking the test have gone through that program.

“When we get the results back, we’ll be able to use those results to find out where our strengths are, where our weaknesses are, and that’ll help drive our instruction for the remainder part of the year until the kids take the test in spring.”

Further state testing for all grades will be done in April.

The board also accepted the financial forecast for 2018 through 2022. Treasurer Janet Hissrich said the forecast for the next two years looks positive due to increased ad valorem production taxes from the oil and gas industry of close to $900,000 this past February. However, state funding is reduced, in part due to the increase from the other sources, by $200,000.

Hissrich added that the ad valorem funding is not continuous.

“That’s one-time money — non-recurring money. So we can’t count on that to pay our recurring costs,” she said, adding the district has used the funding for projects such as paving around the district campus and other capital improvement work. “It’s allowed us to do several things, but we can’t count on that money every year. It’s allowed us to do several things, but it’s all based on production and production can go down. We have no control over that. … The forecast could change tomorrow. What we know at this point in time is we’re good for the next couple years, and we all know the years three through five is merely a guessing game.”

In other matters, the board approved purchase orders of $4,725 for Belmont County Student Services prevention services for the JetAdventure program, $7,312.64 for Chromebooks as part of the JetStart Program and $2,279 for Belmont County Student Services prevention services for JetStart. The board also approved purchase services agreements with JetStart, JetAdventure, and Parent Program for the elementary after-school programs totaling $7,004.

Prevention services include drug prevention programs.

All payments are from grant funding.

Also, the board approved 28 mentors for the Project More mentoring program for the elementary school.

The board approved the creation of a second Drama Club advisor position with a salary of about $700-$800 per year.

The price of adult lunches will increase from $3 to $3.45 starting Oct. 23.

After an executive session, the board denied a grievance filed by the Ohio Association of Public School Employees regarding the volunteers of the Project More mentoring of fourth- and fifth-grade pupils. Superintendent Ben Porter declined to comment on the situation.