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Boy Scout officials express desire to recruit at United

| Friday, Oct. 17, 2008

ARMAGH--Officials with local Boy Scout groups Monday questioned why their representatives are no longer permitted to recruit members during school functions at the United School District.

Superintendent Dr. Kathy Myers Wunder, who noted she was a Girl Scout in her youth, said at Monday's school board meeting the district hopes to find a way to include the Scout groups in its educational programs. But she said the district can no longer permit past recruiting practices due to court rulings in recent years regarding "a concept in the law for a limited open forum."

"I'd love to support the Scouts," she said, but told the group's representatives, "When we open the door to you, we have to open it to just about everybody."

Board President Rob Dill noted that conceivably could include such groups as the Ku Klux Klan. He expressed concern that opening access to one group and not another would expose the district to a potential legal suit.

Michael Jordan, who leads Cub Scout Pack 9 in Brush Valley, maintained that United is the only school district in Indiana County that does not permit recruiting by Scout groups.

Thomas Heming, Scoutmaster for Troop 191 in Robinson, said Scout representatives used to be able to provide an informational speech to boys in United grades 1-6 before recess and also conducted a sign-up night at the school.

Kurt Roberts, district executive for the Chestnut Ridge District of the Penn Woods Boy Scout Council, noted membership numbers have fallen recently for three Cub Scout packs and three Boy Scout troops that are active within the United district.

"I'd like to see if there's a way we could work together to bridge that," he told school officials.

"Let's put our heads together and see what we can do under the letter of the law," Dill told the Scouting officials.

Jordan said there currently are just two Boy Scouts and 12 Cub Scouts in Brush Valley's Scouting organizations. Among Robinson's Scouting groups, Heming said there are eight Boy Scouts and 12 Cub Scouts who attend United schools.

Wunder noted such low numbers may be a symptom of the region's declining population, which also is affecting district enrollment.

She pointed out the district cannot designate the Scout groups as board-recognized organizations due to the concept of separation of church and state. She noted the Scouting creed makes references to religion.

Wunder said the district could have Scouting fliers available to be picked up in school offices but could not actively distribute them to students.

She also suggested Scout representatives might work with students on planned development of an environmental trail on district grounds in the spring. "We could partner with you for curriculum," she suggested.

Jordan suggested that, if more United students were involved in Scouting, it would have a positive influence on school discipline. "It teaches kids right from wrong," he said of the Scouting program.

A United graduate, Jordan said the support he received at school was instrumental in helping him to achieve the status of an Eagle Scout.

Following the meeting, Jordan indicated he planned to also address his concerns about Scouting access with education officials on the state level.

He invited local parents who are interested in Scouting to contact him at 724-479-3687. Roberts said information also is available online at

The school board Monday established a special transportation study focus group that has been charged to present to the board recommendations for district transportation savings, in light of increasing energy costs. Officials noted the district's contract with its transportation provider expired on June 30.

The focus group, which will meet at 6 p.m. Nov. 17 in the high school library, includes a parent representative from both the elementary and secondary school level in each of the district's five municipalities.

Named to the panel were: Melanie and Nick Brilhart and Deana McLaughlin, of Armagh; Jennifer McCully and Kristi Kintz, of Brush Valley Township; Chad Walsh and Christine Beiter, of Buffington Township; Keri Montanti and James Cawley, of East Wheatfield Township; and Aimee Sutton and Vicki Spaid, of West Wheatfield Township.

"Transportation costs are what are really skyrocketing," Dill said. "We're trying to curb our future expenses. We're putting all the options on the table."

"We have to have community support," he said, noting options for savings that have been discussed include possibly merging activity bus runs and a controversial suggestion of combining secondary and elementary bus routes.

School board member Norma Carpenter questioned why three buses are needed to transport the United marching band to away football games.

While there are 31 instrumentalists in the band, Wunder pointed out there are 20 more students in auxiliary units such as the color guard. She noted the member's instruments and equipment also take up extra space on buses.

The school board adopted a revised policy regarding its members' ability to take part in meetings via electronic communications.

Wunder noted wording in the revamped policy now provides for use of audio Internet connections as well as a traditional phone line.

In order for a board member to participate electronically, a majority of members must be physically present at a meeting. Each school director may exercise the option no more than twice a year.

The board member must request electronic participation at least three days in advance of the meeting and will be assigned a verification code that will be used to confirm his or her identity during the meeting.

The member participating remotely must take part in the entire meeting and will be considered present "only if the member can hear everything said at the meeting and all those attending the meeting can hear everything said by that member."

The board decided to make due with its current truck assigned to winter plowing rather than spending $26,221 to purchase a new F-350 pickup truck and snow plow through the Westmoreland County Council of Governments.

Other options that were discussed, if the current truck breaks down, were renting a truck from the 12th Congressional District Regional Equipment Center in Blairsville or contracting with a local driver that offers a snow plowing service.

District officials noted, however, that the Congressional District center has only a limited number of such trucks available, while small local operators are unlikely to have the a certification of insurance the school district would require.

Next month's regular school board meeting has been rescheduled from Nov. 11 to Nov. 10.

United also approved awarding one credit to students who complete a Supervised Agriculture Experience program as part of the district's vo-age courses. The district agreed to make use of a free 10-week program "Too Good for Drugs" that is offered by Indiana's Open Door agency.

Greensburg-based Pressly Ridge will provide special education services to the district for a rate of $18,000 per semester per student. The agreement will continue through Jan. 26.

The board accepted donations of a Hammond organ from Mr. and Mrs. Robert Jones and a trombone from Rose Williams.

In personnel matters, the board approved Robin Kuzmyak's transfer from her current position, secretary for the director of education, to her previous post of guidance secretary. Donna Marino, currently elementary building secretary, will transfer into the post vacated by Kuzmyak, while the district will seek someone to fill the new vacancy in the elementary office.

The board approved transfer of Pamela Small to the duties of personal care aide for an elementary student. The board also approved an unpaid family medical leave of up to 12 weeks for Leonard Barbus but denied his request to extend the leave for an additional 12 weeks.

Tim Ault was hired as assistant junior high girls' basketball coach. He replaces Kelli Yewcic, who resigned.

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