2013-05-15 / Front Page

Voters reject levy, ending 55-year run

by Kate Shunney

Periods of heavy rain across the area on Saturday, May 11 didn’t dampen voters’ interest in the hotly-debated election on the renewal of the school special levy.

Voters defeated the levy 1,672 to 1,323, a margin of 55.8% to 44.2%. It was the first time since 1958 the school levy was not renewed.

Between early voting at the courthouse and Saturday’s poll voting, just over 25% of the county’s 11,955 registered voters cast a ballot on the school tax. More than a third of the 3,008 votes cast were early votes.

Vote totals from the county’s 13 voter precincts began arriving at the courthouse just half an hour after the polls closed, and all votes had been tabulated by 9 p.m.

Supporters of the levy and those who mounted a campaign against continuation of the tax gathered together in the County Commission meeting room awaiting election results.

A few heated exchanges between individuals on both sides of the issue punctuated an otherwise somber atmosphere as the vote totals were delivered.

The County Clerk’s staff, which administers elections, will do a final canvass of the vote on Friday, May 17.

The levy

The special school levy is paid by property owners in Morgan County in addition to the regular school tax. A homeowner with a $150,000 house pays roughly $400 in special levy tax now.

The special levy has brought in local tax money for a variety of teaching tools, extra school staff, supplements for teacher and staff pay and benefits, extracurricular travel and programs, school building improvements and a number of other system-wide initiatives not paid for by state school aid.

Voters opted not to approve the tax for another five years, as they must do for it to continue. As proposed, the tax would have brought in roughly $5.8 million in local tax dollars each year for the next five years.

The current special levy will expire on July 1, 2014 unless the tax is put before voters again and approved.

School reaction

School Superintendent David Banks said Tuesday the school system was “very saddened” by the defeat of the levy.

“But we’re going to continue to offer the best kinds of opportunities for our students, no matter the obstacles,” he said.

“We’re giving the WESTEST this week, of all weeks, so our teachers are very focussed on that. Once that testing is over, we’ll have discussions about what’s next,” said Banks.

The levy call itself – the listing of items normally paid for by special levy tax funds – will be the center of discussions from here, said Banks.

Technology purchases will have to be frozen, even to replace devices that aren’t working.

Other categories of items, like sports and field trips, will either have to be paid for by parents or fundraisers.

The one area of most concern for Banks is teaching. The loss of teacher salaries and benefits are already making staff question staying in Morgan County.

“From a morale standpoint, that concerns me the most. I’m hoping teachers will stay in the system. Many are very dedicated to what they do here,” he said.

“We will be relentless is trying to keep improving the way we have, and continue offering the programs we have despite this setback,” Banks said.

School board vice president Aaron Close said Monday that he was surprised at the high election turnout, but is glad that so many people are interested in the schools.

From here, the board will need to make some big decisions.

“We’ll need to get together with the board and talk about staff benefits and programs we feel we absolutely need. We need to do some prioritizing,” said Close.

He said the message from voters was “loud and clear.”

“We need to get together with people who opposed the levy and see if we can find some common ground,” said Close. “It’s our duty to get the full support of the community.”

Some of the discussions will be about running another special election and asking voters to take another look at the tax, possibly at a lower rate, he said.

“I still believe there’s support out there for the levy,” Close said.

Another try?

According to the State Auditor’s office, which oversees procedures for levy elections, West Virginia law is “silent” on the timing of another levy election, should school officials choose to put the tax question before voters again.

In other words, there is no set waiting period between elections for a special levy.

“There’s nothing in the code that says when it can run again. That’s totally up to the Board of Education,” said Deputy State Auditor Ora Ash.

School levy election
Precinct voters Ballots cast FOR AGAINST
1 — Warm Springs Middle School 1245 391 180 208
2 —Warm Springs Middle School 1373 322 134 185
4 — Widmyer Elementary 524 151 76 75
5 — Community Services building 504 135 72 63
6 — Berkeley Springs High School 684 184 89 93
7 — Morgan County Courthouse 534 118 73 44
8 — Board of Education Complex 884 272 140 131
13 — Great Cacapon Elementary 1055 278 105 172
18 — Paw Paw Elementary 700 99 43 55
21 — Love Assembly of God 985 324 139 185
23 —Pleasant View Elementary 1329 153 76 77
24 — Greenwood Elementary 1282 378 130 247
25 — Cacapon State Park 856 203 66 137
COUNTY TOTALS 11955 3008 1323 1672

Preliminary election results from Morgan County Clerk’s office

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