Fort Frye goes high-tech with curriculum

BEVERLY – The Fort Frye Local Board of Education voted Tuesday night to spend nearly $100,000 on a new high-tech social studies curriculum and accompanying equipment, while also approving a mineral rights leasing agreement expected to bring in more than $100,000.

The vote was unanimous to approve the $97,674.19 purchase of the social studies texts from McGraw-Hill, the Networks1 program to access them electronically, 30 standard textbooks and 90 iPads, enough for three high school social studies classrooms. Students will be able to read the texts online via the iPads as well as their own computers and devices. Tests and quizzes can be taken electronically, and supplemental material like videos are also available.

“This is just the start to where we want to head,” said Noreen Mullens, district curriculum director and special education coordinator, noting the science department is on deck for new textbooks next year.

She added that the electronic format is “a great tool for special education and differentiated instruction.”

While the iPads would be linked to the classrooms rather than individual students, Superintendent Tom Gibbs said after the February meeting that the long-term goal would be to eventually provide one such device to every student. Board Vice President Charlie Schilling indicated his support of that direction Tuesday.

“I think within a couple of years we should talk about an initiative of it being one to one,” he said.

Schilling said the electronic format may also draw students from other districts to Fort Frye via open enrollment.

The vote on the oil and natural gas lease with Reed Energy LLC was taken earlier in the meeting, after some discussion. It passed 4-1, with board member David White opposed.

White expressed concerns about some of the terms in the lease, as well as the upfront bonus payment offered to the district – $2,600 when some other property owners have been getting more than $4,000. He also questioned the provision that gave the company rights to minerals in layers of ground below the Marcellus and Utica shale, where most of the recent activity has been centered thanks to advances in horizontal drilling technology.

“If it was my personal property, I wouldn’t sign a lease like this,” he said.

But other board members said they didn’t think the district would be able to get a better deal.

“I think we’re very fortunate that we have anyone to go with at all,” board member Kevin Worthington said.

The fact that Fort Frye didn’t sign on earlier with a landowners’ group and the relatively small size of its property didn’t leave the district with much leverage, Gibbs said.

The superintendent said he’d been working for several months on the matter and of the landowner groups and companies he’d contacted, only Reed offered the district a lease for its approximately 40 acres of property at and around the high school and Beverly-Center Elementary. Their initial offer was $1,900 per acre in part because the district wanted a “no-surface-disruption” clause to prevent drilling and other activity on its property. Eventually, they agreed to give the district the $2,600 rate agreed to with an area landowners’ group.

A local attorney reviewed the lease for the district and made several suggestions of changes, to which the company agreed, Gibbs said.

White said he wished there had been more communication on the issue prior to Tuesday’s meeting. Gibbs said it had been discussed regularly at meetings of the buildings and grounds committee, of which White is not a member, over the last few months.

In other business, the board unanimously approved a resolution opposing portions of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s new school funding proposal that would expand public money available for vouchers for students to attend private schools.

Gibbs told the board he had been to Columbus three times recently to testify about the governor’s funding proposal, which would keep state assistance to Fort Frye and 60 percent of the districts in Ohio flat over the next two years. It maintains those levels for Fort Frye and many other districts with guarantee funds to make up the difference between what they have been receiving and what the new formula allocates.

“By the second year of the budget cycle, Fort Frye would be on a guarantee to the tune of $300,000 a year,” he said.

Members of the governor’s administration have indicated they would like to eventually do away with guarantee funds, Gibbs said.

He and other officials with the Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools are advocated increasing the base per-student funding amount from $5,000 to help deal with the issue.