BROOKVILLE — Brookville Area High School students are no longer allowed to participate in community events where planned prayers are included in the program.

The clarification was made Monday night at the Brookville Area School Board’s monthly work session after Brookville resident Paul Brown asked “if it is true that the school band cannot participate in anything that mentions God?”

“That is not true,” Superintendent Robin Fillman said.

Brown then asked, “Is it true, though, that the school band cannot participate in anything that has mentioning of God or prayer?”

Fillman replied, “Specific to prayer, if there is planned prayer at the event, our students cannot participate. It is due to the law of separation of church and state. That was our solicitor’s recommendation.”

She offered Brown a copy of the law. He said he would like to see it, “because President Trump said there was no such thing as a separation of church and state.”

Board member Kerith Strano Taylor said “it is well established by the Supreme Court of the United States that there is a separation of church and state. This isn’t imagined; it’s been the doctrine of the United States since its founding. A public institution that receives public funds is not allowed to force your students to participate in the respecting of any religion. Children are free to pray after school. We hold a Baccalaureate service off campus in a church, but we are prohibited from participating in programs that have planned prayer.”

Student presentation

Also visiting the meeting was Brynn Afton, who will be a senior next fall. She presented a short video showing one of the class projects involving a robot and thanked the school board for approving the AP computer programming class which was begun at the high school last year. “We made everything from a travel app to computer games,” she said. “It was such a relevant class to take, especially in our changing society. So much was done every day that we felt totally prepared for the AP test.”

Principal Brigette Matson told the board that “this class was actually possible because of our local business partners. They donated money to start this class, to buy the textbooks and robots. The program was actually free and we partnered with Carnegie Mellon to prepare the teacher, and that was also free.”

During the lengthy work session the board discussed the proposed budget for 2018-2019, the related occupational tax, safety and security and the feasibility study.

Budget

Business manager Ellen Neyman told the board that numbers are starting to come in from the state, with amounts being somewhat less than had been budgeted. She also reviewed a history of the district’s tax increases during the past few years.

Looking at the proposed budget she said, “I wish I had better news and a lot of changes that were more favorable to us. I can’t foresee any other changes at this time. I stand nothing to gain, whether we have a tax increase or we don’t have a tax increase, so I am giving you an unbiased opinion when I give my recommendation that the tax increase is necessary to balance this budget. Once you have set your tax rate, you can’t go back and change it.”

After members asking many questions about line items in the budget, president Don Gill reminded the board that it will vote on the budget next week. If it is not approved, a special meeting will be held to meet the June 30 deadline.

Occupation Tax

The board is continuing its effort to clarify the three taxing categories for the occupation tax which was put in place last year.

Neyman reminded the board that the assessment numbers are the “same as last year,” but it must be approved for the coming year.

Feasibility Study

The board continued its discussion of the feasibility study presented by HHSDR architects regarding the possible consolidation of the elementary schools.

Mentioned were several of the concerns and questions brought up at last week’s public meeting, including the total cost of the project and the need for additional parking.

“Whatever we decide, I don’t care if it’s built here or we redo all three schools, let’s do it right and not have to worry about it for 20 years,” Ortz said.

Gill said that another public meeting will be held in September. “We have to look at what it’s going to cost us and what is the benefit to us. Some of it is going to be a money benefit. Some of it is going to be an educational benefit.”

Fillman thanked the public for attending last week’s meeting. “It was good conversation with good feedback. We encourage other community members” to attend the next meeting.

Safety and Security

Gill said a public meeting will be held in July to discuss safety and security in the schools.

Referring to the security needs in the schools, he said, “We have to fund this. I don’t see any money coming from the state. We will apply for grants. We are doing great things, but so is every other school district. My concern is that we make sure our kids, when they walk in here, their parents and their grandparents feel safe.”

Fillman reported on a meeting held recently with a group of students in grades 9 to 12. She said the group discussed various safety options available, and favored the use of metal detectors in the schools. They also liked the idea of the Rawlins communication system presented to the board earlier this year, followed by the presence of a school resource officer and possibly the addition of another guidance counselor.

Board member Carol Schindler was adamant that “we have a resource officer or Brookville police or some type of security presence in the school before the start of this school year.

Board member Rick Ortz agreed, saying, “I truly believe something needs to be in place by the time school starts. If it doesn’t, then I feel that we failed our students.”

“I do believe this is something we need to put in the forefront,” Gill said. “It’s not going to be perfect, but we do need to make strides.”

No Solicitations

During the administrative reports Fillman told the board that she has received reports from local businessmen who have been solicited for donations in the name of the school board.

“From what we understand some companies are using our name and soliciting for funds from local businesses, then giving us shirts, little footballs and things. The school district is not soliciting for money, we are not contracting with them,” she said.

The school board will meet in regular session at 7 p.m. Monday in the LGI room at Hickory Grove.

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