Paula Wheeler sworn in

Paula Wheeler, standing at right, was sworn in Tuesday night by Winter Huff as the newest member of the Somerset Independent Board of Education.

A new board member, a reorganization of leadership and a clean audit report all set a productive tone for the first board of education meeting for Somerset Independent Schools of the new year.

New member Paula Wheeler was sworn in by the board’s attorney, Winter Huff, before acting chairman Scott Gulock was approved as the chairman for 2021. Board member Jacob Grabeel was appointed vice-chair, taking over the position from Lenora DeBoard, who did not run for a seat on the board in the last election.

The board then heard from Somerset Mayor Alan Keck who was there to honor the board members as part of School Board Recognition Month.

Before reading a city proclamation, Keck first turned his attention to the board’s superintendent, Kyle Lively.

“I think your leadership has been evident in this community,” Keck told Lively. “You’ve been faced over this last year with some really, really tough challenges.”

Keck then told the board members he felt they led with both compassion and courage. “I think we’re seeing that as our kids are back in school as we speak,” he said.

He added that he hoped parent never again take the school board nor the teachers for granted after what the community has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown.

Lively said he wanted to echo Keck’s word, saying that the board has always been courageous in its leadership and has kept it’s decision-making focused on the benefit of the district and its goals.

Gulock honored former board chairman Dr. Michael Hail, saying, “A lot of this success happened with Dr. Hail, who is no longer with us.”

Hail passed away last August.

The board also heard from Wallace Smallwood of Cloyd & Associates, the accounting firm tasked with the district’s annual audit.

Not only did Smallwood say the district had a clean audit, he had glowing words for the district when looking over its balance sheets.

“Somerset always kind of amazes me,” Smallwood said. “You really do well – really strong financial position that seems to just keep going up. And you’ve got the things you need to provide for your kids. You’ve got a good cash balance.”

Smallwood noted that, like most schools across the commonwealth, the district’s pension liability and Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability continues to go up.

“Nobody knows if they’ll ever be paid. Nobody knows what will happen right now. But in general they’re going up,” Smallwood said.

He noted that the district’s proprietary funds are down around $141,000. “That’s entirely because of the liability related to OPEB and pension,” he said.

Chairman Gulock praised Finance Director Tracy McCrystal and the other financial staff for the glowing report.

I’m just proud of this school district,” he added. “It’s always nice to know the financial health of the district is doing well.”

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