2013-11-20 / News

Taxpayers want to know more about levy

by Kate Evans

Citizens gathered at community meetings at three outlying schools recently to tell Morgan County Schools officials what they think about a revised special levy that will be voted on in May.

The Morgan County School Board was set to decide the amount of the special levy and what items will be included in it at last night’s board meeting.

They were also going to decide whether to go ahead with a public hearing on December 19 about closing Greenwood Elementary. They have to decide by December 31 if they are going to proceed with closing the school next school year.

Some 25 people attended the November 13 community meeting at Pleasant View Elementary. Around 45 people came to the November 14 Paw Paw Schools community meeting. The November 7 Greenwood Elementary meeting had more than 35 people attending.

Common themes

Many county residents asked school officials to spell out which programs and staff would have been funded with the $5.8 million levy had it passed, and what would be cut in the reduced special levy call.

Property owners also wanted to know what their tax payment for the special levy would be at the reduced rate.

Banks said his draft of recommended cuts of the previous $5.8 million levy call is posted on the school system’s website.

Keep teachers, small schools

A Paw Paw parent said he’d rather pay a couple hundred dollars more a year in taxes to keep their teachers and their school open so their kids could get more attention in smaller classes. He said they have outstanding teachers and high test scores at their school.

He had accompanied Paw Paw High School science teacher Carol Coryea and students to a science presentation in Texas. They were the only school presenters in the country that had students with them.

Salaries and benefits shouldn’t be cut and the free school meal program should be their number one priority with the high poverty rate, the parent said. He also wanted to know if closing Paw Paw Schools or Paw Paw High School is a future possibility.

Banks said counties without special levies generally move toward consolidating schools. He said closing small schools could be considered down the road.

“If the levy fails, can Greenwood survive?” asked Jerry Chaskes, who volunteers at that school.

“It could survive, but would require a great deal of cuts,” Banks said.

Board member John Rowland said school officials are only considering closing Greenwood Elementary right now and hadn’t discussed closing other schools.

Board member Laura Smith said they would have to look at all of the smaller schools if there is no special levy money.

“That was the point of trying to run the levy again,” she said.

The school system needs at least $2 million to restore salaries and benefits to their teachers and staff, she said.

“Because of the levy loss, the budget became more transparent,” one mother in Greenwood noted.

Hard times

One resident at the Pleasant View meeting was angry that the school board was now saying they could get by with $1.5 million less than before. He wondered why they hadn’t made those cuts prior to the levy vote.

He said he knows some folks that have been laid off, can’t make their mortgage payments and are facing foreclosure.

He couldn’t believe the board raised the special levy rate right before the election and felt that keeping Greenwood Elementary open was a waste of money.

“You’ve had the levy rate at 88 to 90 percent and the taxpayers are kind of tired of it, to be blunt. Until you show that management, you’ll have some trouble getting it passed,” said Phil Harmison of the Greenwood area.

One woman said they’d fought hard over the years to keep Pleasant View Elementary open. A Pleasant View mother hated to see Greenwood Elementary closed. She felt that their school would be next. Pleasant View is like leaving your kids with a small family to care for them while you worked, she said.

The mother felt that alternative education programs were important to keep disruptive kids from taking up a teacher’s entire time and scaring other students.

One man said his daughter needed special help and that Pleasant View Principal Nicole Fox and the teachers had gone out of their way to help her. He said if those teachers left and it wasn’t a quality school, he would have to move to another county. He wanted to stay in the community.

Fox said the general population of students doesn’t learn when kids with serious behavioral problems keep disrupting classes. They want those kids to be successful and to have the support of counselors and the prevention resource officer.

Poverty

Fox said they are on the front lines of poverty every day at school, bringing children winter coats, hats and clothing they recycle. A lot of kids will have no hope of success without a high-quality education and support. Education is the key and their only way out of poverty.

She predicted that without the special levy to keep high-quality teachers and programs for kids, there would be more poverty and crime, less safe neighborhoods, decreasing home values, fewer businesses, more people leaving the county, a less educated work force and a bleak future.

“It will be like a nuclear bomb impact,” she said.

Superintendent Banks responded to questions in Greenwood about the value of programs like free breakfast and lunch for all students.

“I’m in the business of working with kids, not adults. I see hundreds of kids who walk into school who are hungry, who have clothes that are dirty, who don’t have someone to read to them and I have to make a choice – do I help that kid or do I ignore the situation that’s staring me in the face? For the last seven years, I’ve chosen to help those kids. I see those kids’ faces every day. I don’t necessarily see the adults who might not be working every day,” said Banks.

Textbooks

Textbooks have been funded through the special levy, but aren’t listed as one of the priorities for funding under the revised special levy. Schools are required to provide a classroom set of textbooks, which generally isn’t a problem at the elementary level, said Assistant Superintendent Joan Willard.

However, textbooks are much more expensive at the secondary level. Costs for high school textbooks can range from $65 to $90 a piece up to $120 to $160 each.

One man said that when they were kids they had to buy their own textbooks and study guides. Someone pointed out that textbooks cost much less back then. A woman said she can’t afford $500 for high school textbooks.

AP classes, music

Becky Pracht read a letter from her son Timothy Pracht who was Paw Paw High School Class of 2011 valedictorian. He was concerned about possible cuts to Advanced Placement classes and teacher salaries and the possible closing of Greenwood Elementary and smaller schools.

He hoped schools wouldn’t cut music classes and felt their priorities should be retaining high-quality teachers, the upkeep of schools and programs that benefit all schools.

School board member Laura Smith encouraged students to speak out about the levy and to vote in absentee or early voting if they are away at college.

Sports

A Paw Paw woman said she’d heard rumors about fees for all sports, no buses for athletics trips and that some sports could be dropped. She felt that athletics keeps kids away from sex and drugs and wondered about cuts to athletics programs.

Athletic trips are a shared responsibility between schools and the school board, Banks said. School allocations help pay for trips and schools also do fundraising for some trips. Coaches’ supplemental salaries would be kept in the levy call, said Banks.

Rowland said sports were a motivation for him to keep up his grades in high school. As a coach, he’s seen kids saved by sports that had no chance in life. It may be athletics, band or arts that keep kids interested in staying in school. Sometimes academics won’t do it.

Voter registration

One Paw Paw woman said a lot of people she’d talked to about the levy weren’t registered to vote. It was difficult for working people to get to the county courthouse to register. Margaret Gordon said that people can also register to vote by mail.

Berkeley Springs High School math teacher Pete Gordon said the important thing to remember is that if the revised special levy tax is passed in May, it will mean a decrease in what people are paying in taxes now.

He announced that a committee— the Morgan County Citizens for Successful Schools—has been formed to campaign for the levy.

Banks told families at Greenwood that school staff can campaign for or against the levy in their free time, but teachers and employees can’t take a partisan position on the special levy tax measure during work time.

Administrators can answer questions about the school tax, but cannot use school resources or avenues like student folders to spread campaign material, Banks said.

Return to top