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Leechburg Area School District contracts with Pittsburgh firm for online database

| Thursday, July 24, 2014, 7:56 a.m.

Leechburg Area School District will begin paying for an online database to better analyze student performance and craft curricula.

The school board on Tuesday agreed to pay the Pittsburgh-based OnHand Schools about $14,000 annually through the 2016-17 school year for the service. Although the contract was cut from a preliminary 2014-15 budget, Superintendent Ian Magness said the district has enough money within its curriculum budget to support the payments without adding to deficits.

The service is necessary, he said, not because the district's data analysis tools are obsolete, but because there are none.

“This is going to make the district more efficient and more effective than ever before,” Magness said. “You can have all the data in the world, and it wouldn't matter if you don't have the tools necessary to make sense of it all. This service will be the jumping off point on which our culture of education will be based.”

OnHand's service, among other things, will compile complete student profiles that highlight their strengths and weaknesses based on test and assignment performances.

It will allow teachers to upload lesson plans electronically that can be shared across the district, and will facilitate communication across disciplines on student tendencies and improvement.

Nicole Fello, a West Leechburg resident who teaches eighth-grade algebra in Freeport Area School District, lauded the program as an effective teaching tool.

“It's worth the money,” she said. “It does student assessment for you, and you can use that information to do your lesson plans and design your curriculum right on the database.”

Magness said the online database was utilized at each of the school districts for which he's worked as an administrator and is employed by most Armstrong-Indiana Intermediate Unit (ARIN) member districts.

IT deal approved

Leechburg Area will turn to ARIN in the coming school year to provide its technology service and support.

The board voted 5-0 on Tuesday to contract with the intermediate unit for technology consulting, management and integration for $73,000 during the 2014-15 year.

Business Manager Mark Lukacs said the district's technology assistant, Ken Jarrett, is retiring at the end of August after 10 years with the district.

“We could choose to replace him or contract the services out. We're actually saving money by bringing in ARIN, so it's a win-win situation.”

Leechburg's technology director, Mark George, will continue to manage the department and will direct the work of OnHand and the intermediate unit.

Fears over drilling

A West Leechburg property owner voiced his concerns with the board on Tuesday about its agreement with a consulting firm to market the mineral and natural gas rights under district property at Main and Giron streets.

Ron Slabe, who owns property on Summit Street, implored the district to exercise “due diligence” in deciding whether drilling should be allowed on the property.

Among Slabe's chief concerns was the potential impact that local drilling could have on the environment and borough property values.

“How much do you think (the district's) going to collect on royalties if the drill is driving down all of the property values?” he said. “Then, people are going to start asking for reassessments, and that's not even mentioning the potential health risks.”

Slabe also expressed concern about where the pad for the sub-surface drilling might be, noting the typical distance to be within 1 mile.

The board sought to allay Slabe's fears by assuring him there were no imminent plans to drill on the property.

“All we've done so far,” board member Megan Hamm said, “is allow a consulting firm to seek bids on our behalf. We are still in the information-gathering process, and we reserve the right to reject any offers.

“No decision has been made to drill and no decision to allow drilling will be taken lightly or without all the facts.”

Leechburg Area's agreement with Western Pennsylvania Gas Leasing Consultants LLC runs through December.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or

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