WELLSBURG - Brooke County school officials on Monday voiced concerns about a road used by many students traveling to and from Brooke High School and the departure of a Brooke County sheriff's deputy who has served as prevention resource officer at the high school.
Jim Piccirillo, the board's president, said there were rumors of a student being involved in an auto accident on Rockdale Road, which further fueled concerns about a slip along the windy, steep road.
Brooke County commissioners recently were asked about repairs to the slip and said the West Virginia Division of Highways, which maintains the road, plans to secure it with pilings.
Piccirillo said school buses aren't using the road but he and others are concerned about the many students who use it as a shortcut between the high school and the Hooverson Heights area.
He said the board plans to write the state Division of Highways to request flashing yellow lights or other measures to alert drivers of the road's condition.
School board officials also heard of the departure of Brooke County Sheriff's Deputy Larry Palmer, the prevention resource officer at the high school, and expressed concern about whether that position will be maintained by the sheriff's department.
"We were one of the first counties to have a prevention resource officer and not to have one would be disturbing," said Piccirillo.
Recently the school board agreed, at the request of Brooke County Sheriff Chuck Jackson, to allocate $20,000 for an officer at the high school, supplementing a $20,000 grant awarded to the sheriff's department by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Asked to comment, Palmer confirmed he will be retiring from the sheriff's department in September after 23 years in law enforcement, to accept a position elsewhere. He said as a father of two, he is leaving for a position with a higher salary and better benefits.
Palmer said members of the sheriff's department haven't received a raise in 10 years and noted the county commission has changed employees' contributions for their insurance, citing declining revenue.
Called for comment, Jackson said, "We will replace the prevention resource officer at Brooke High School without question. To what extent will depend on manpower."
Asked how many hours the officer will serve at the school, he said the grant requires 35 hours a week, but he may call upon the deputy to respond to various incidents if they arise.
Prevention resource officers, who also may be city police, are trained to serve as liaisons between schools and law enforcement, speak to students about related issues and respond to outside threats to their schools.
Until last year there were prevention resource officers at the middle schools also. But they were cut this year because grants weren't awarded for them. In recent years Brooke County has seen a reduction in state funding for its PROs, with other communities competing for the grants also.
Jackson said he has approached the Follansbee and Wellsburg police chiefs about coordinating a police presence at the middle schools, though it may not be full-time.
Because $50,000 was allocated for the officers in the school operating levy approved by voters, the school board has agreed to set aside the remaining $30,000 for other officers when the sheriff's department is able to provide them.
Palmer said he enjoyed working as a prevention resource officer for about 10 years, during which he was based at the high school and both of the county's middle schools.
"I loved working in the schools," he said, adding he appreciated the support of the schools' administrators, staff and parents.
Palmer was twice named Prevention Resource Officer of the Year by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services and was among PROs who received the Distinguished Officer award from the division earlier this year.
Regarding Rockdale Road, Jackson said he wasn't aware of an accident there involving a student.
But he said he agrees the road is dangerous and discourages all drivers from using it until it can be repaired "unless the 5 or 10 minutes they spend taking another route means that much to them."
On Monday the school board also observed a moment of silence for Joyce Springborn, who died Aug. 16 at the age of 70.
Her 35-year career with Brooke County Schools included teaching at Bethany Primary School and serving as principal at Colliers Primary School, Wellsburg Middle School and Follansbee Middle School.
A former Marine, she also was a member of the Brooke County American Red Cross board, Wellsburg park board and Community of Christ Church, where she has taught Sunday school to children and adults.