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Board’s Conference Trip Raises Concerns

September 26, 2012
By SHELLEY HANSON Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

CAMERON - Marshall County resident Jim Thomas wants to know why he can't get a tax break, yet Board of Education members can take a taxpayer-funded trip to South Carolina together.

During a board meeting Tuesday at Cameron Elementary School, Thomas distributed copies of a photograph of some board members - including Roger Lewicki, Lori Kestner and Tom Gilbert - standing on a golf course together in South Carolina in 2010.

"I would like to know who paid for it and what it was about. If it was taxpayers, maybe we have a little too much going out," Thomas said.

Article Photos

Photo by Shelley Hanson
Marshall County resident Jim Thomas asks Board of Education members for information Tuesday about a photo that shows them golfing in South Carolina in 2010.

Thomas said he found the photo on a Facebook page belonging to the wife of Rick Milhoan, an associate with the school district's construction management firm Project and Construction Services Inc. Milhoan also is shown in the photo.

Kestner told Thomas the trip was a national conference and the related numbers he wanted could be given to him next week.

After the meeting, Superintendent Fred Renzella - who said he did not attend this particular conference - said the event was called the Comprehensive Education Facilities Conference. He said money to pay the board members' way to the conference was taken from the district's "fund for professional development." He said he did not know offhand how much the trip cost, but he estimated the registration fee was between $500 and $700 per person.

Board members were encouraged by the state board of education and the School Building Authority to attend the conference, he said. He said the golf outing occurred during some downtime at the conference. Such conferences, he said, allow board members to learn about new construction-related materials and ideas, some of which have been implemented in county schools, such as the chilled beam climate control system at the under-construction Cameron High/Middle School.

"The same conference is going to be held this spring at The Greenbrier," Renzella said. "It's not like they go once a month. They've gone twice in the last eight or nine years."

Assistant Superintendent Wayne Simms, who was not in the golf photo but did attend the conference, said such conferences are usually offered at a discounted rate. For example, he estimated the hotel rooms would normally cost $200, but that board members and himself probably paid about $100.

When asked whether they believed Thomas was overreacting to the photo, Simms, Lewicki and Renzella all said "yes."

"Everybody is entitled to their opinion," Lewicki said. "There is nothing outside the lines. When we were done, we had time to do what we wanted to do."

Meanwhile, the board reported construction of the new Cameron High School still is expected to be completed Dec. 18.

Also, the board approved holding a special election on Dec. 15 for voters to consider approving a levy that would provide $16.4 million a year for five years for improvements at facilities, for supplies, salaries and more.

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