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Natural gas drilling may benefit Charleroi schools

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Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 12:51 a.m.
 

The Charleroi Area school board is setting the stage for potential natural gas drilling on district property as an alternative source of revenue.

The board Tuesday authorized solicitor Mike Lucas to file an affidavit with Washington County that essentially voids a six-year old lease with now-bankrupt KIS Oil & Gas.

The board then voted to permit Texas-based company Geokinetics to perform seismic testing on district property, pending approval by the Charleroi Area School Authority.

Superintendent Dr. Brad Ferko confirmed the district has been approached by Marcellus shale drilling companies, as have most property owners in Fallowfield Township and the surrounding area.

“Companies have shown legitimate interest … we had to clear some legal hurdles so we're able to move,” Ferko said after the meeting. “The board is looking for as many viable sources of revenue, and that's being fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of the district. And the board is not going to just jump in; they're going to give everything a methodical look.”

Ferko said Lucas will soon be in touch with various representatives of the gas drilling industry, but could not provide either a timeline or location for the seismic testing.

The district owns two separate parcels of land on its Fallowfield campus, one 55 acres and one 26 acres.

Both Ferko and board member Adelle Hopkins, who chairs the board's finance committee, vowed any drilling would be far enough away from the school.

“We would never do anything that's not safe for the children or interferes with their educational setting,” Hopkins said. “But if we can get any revenue from gas drilling when others are getting it too, then we're all about it.”

According to Lucas, the district initially signed a lease with KIS Oil & Gas in 2007 for shallow drilling. As approved Tuesday by the board, Lucas will file an affidavit of non-production with the county's Recorder of Deeds office.

“That lets anybody who searches the title know that the lease is no longer effective,” Lucas said.

Ferko said while state education funding has been cut and district taxes were not raised, Charleroi Area needs to explore other revenue sources to keep its curriculum competitive with bigger and wealthier districts.

He cited another board action Tuesday that approved offers an honors Algebra II class for eighth graders that will count toward high school credits. Those eighth graders will have the option of taking a college-accredited calculus during course their senior years, he said.

“That's what responsible boards do — take the burden off the taxpayer and still produce an educational program to compete with the likes of Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair,” he said. “The state is not going to come through with big money, and so much has been cut that you have explore other avenues in order to be competitive.

“I think this is a great move to see what kind of revenues it could generate.”

Ferko, football coach Ed Jenkins and the board also honored eight football players for volunteering to relocate 10 disabled residents to a Donora-based Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services facility June 28.

The players are Brayden Shepherd, Chase McKevitt, Chad Wagoner, Brennen Matthews, Kevin McClellen, Ryan Permual, Mason Thomas and Jake Lemon.

The players packed, loaded, moved and unpacked furniture and belongings for the residents.

“We originally planned a new program for these individuals to start in October and we literally found out we had to move them within two days,” SPHS Care Center executive director Kellie McKevitt said. “We had a lot of adults helping that Thursday and it was a complete failure. … Those boys were there 8 in the morning the next day and were done by 10:30 a.m.”

In other action, the board:

• Set salary rates for armed security officers as follows: $16 per hour for guards with Act 120 police clearances, $14 per hour for constables, and $12 per hour for guards with Act 235 clearances (required for security officers in Pennsylvania to carry a firearm).

• Amended a motion to purchase two ovens and a moveable gas connector for approximately $14,000.

• Approved a stipend of $1,500 for the district's two deans of students, Eric Farner and Brittany Wagner, for time worked.

• Formally hired the football team's strength and condition coach Greg Levander as an assistant varsity coach at a salary of $2,000.

• Approved the resignation of elementary music teacher Liz Davis.

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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