CATAWISSA RR - Southern Columbia Area School Board members debated use of local newspapers and criticized one of them during Monday night's meeting.

In his report to the board, high school Principal Jim Becker expressed his dissatisfaction on the coverage from The Press Enterprise in Bloomsburg, most recently over a front page story detailing Kyle Geo Zigarski, 18, a senior being charged with drug offenses and disorderly conduct for allegedly having marijuana and paraphernalia in his backpack Dec. 7. (See accompanying story.)

Becker said the headline and article unfairly draws attention to Zigarski's involvement in football and baseball during his four years at Southern, and claimed the Bloomsburg newspaper continuously accuses the district of putting "athletics over education."

Several directors called for cancelling the subscription and pulling advertisements for public meetings, property sales and professional services.

In 2010, the board approved the state Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE)'s waiver, which allows the district the option of posting advertisements and public notices on the district website instead of in local newspapers. So far, the board still advertises in print media and has used the waiver in limited situations.

If the district is looking to cut costs, Director Rich Steele said, cutting the subscription and advertisement of one newspaper would be a good place to start.

Business Director Mike Sokoloski said the district spends between $500 and $1,000 on costs associated with newspapers a month depending on what is happening, and will provide the board at the next meeting with the costs associated with each individual newspaper.

Keeping 'different views'

However, Director Charlene Cove - who acknowledged she wasn't pleased either - said she didn't want to censor one view, especially from a newspaper that covers a large portion of the district.

President Mike Yeager agreed, saying, "We need to offer lots of different views."

Director Timothy Vought then suggested cutting back on the number of newspapers being sent to the school, or exclusively using The News-Item or The (Sunbury) Daily Item.

Vice President Charlie Porter disagreed about pulling advertisements.

"The reason we put them in is for legal requirements or so we might get a quality product for the lowest price," he said.

Editor replies

Asked for comment, Press Enterprise Editor Jim Sachetti provided a prepared statement: "Is Southern a school district that cares more about athletics than academics? During last week's cold spell, we were getting calls in our newsroom from parents who told us their children were shivering in classrooms at Southern's elementary school because a part needed for the heating plant hadn't been ordered," and yet the district had just built a "Taj Mahal gym," he said.

Sachetti cited a story his newspaper did that detailed how risers students stand on for choral programs are "in dangerous disrepair," but that Southern's leaders "somehow found more than $5,000 to buy 60 padded and decorated folding chairs to be placed court-side in the new gym."

"Southern Columbia is a great area, but the school district has been mismanaged for years," Sachetti said. "We always - always - give Southern's administrators a chance to tell their side of a story. But because so much of what they've done is indefensible, they choose, instead, to hide from issues, then complain later that they've been treated unfairly."

He added, "Bottom line: If the 'athletics' shoe fits, Southern's so-called leaders have to wear it."

Water system

The board approved the purchase of a Grundfos Hydro pump system with a controller and expansion tank Monday night from Ram Industrial Services at a cost of $25,356 to address water pressure issues.

Director Eric Stahley, who was the only member of the board to vote against it, said the board received another quote from a different company that was $6,000 less, and said the board should consider making that purchase instead.

Tim George, supervisor of buildings and grounds, said he recommended the Grundfos system because it was a better control system for the water and pipes.

Furthermore, if the board didn't approve the system Monday night, it would not arrive by the end of March do the work when there is no school in session.

"Then we're waiting for summer. Cross your fingers and hope the system holds up," he said.

Additionally, the board approved a calender change so none of the make-up days would have to be made up on March 27 and 28 for this reason and to install an air conditioning unit on the elementary school.

March 8 becomes a make up day instead, and the Act 80 day will be moved to June 10. April 1, if needed, will be another make-up day.

In other business, the board appointed Deborah A. Long as acting tax collector for Roaring Creek Township.