2018-01-17 / Front Page

School board proposes $4.15 million special levy at same rates, with library support added back

by Kate Evans

The Morgan County School Board will consider a proposed four-year special levy order at their January 23 meeting that would bring in $4.147 million annually and keep the same tax rates that voters approved in the May, 2014 special levy election. The special levy election would be held during the May 8 primary election.

School Superintendent Erich May said the board will take public comment on the special levy at their January 23 school board meeting, which will be held at Warm Springs Middle School at 6:30 p.m. The school board will discuss the special levy order then and May will ask them to approve it that evening.

Community members can also comment on the special levy order online and in writing before the meeting.

Levy specifics

If approved by voters, the special levy will provide approximately $4,147,298 annually over four years, with an estimated $1,904,860 for employee salaries and benefits; $1,147,438 for critical education programs support; $535,000 for facilities maintenance, security and capital improvements; $125,000 for technology hardware, software, infrastructure, repair and training; $400,000 for instructional materials, programs and textbooks; and $35,000 for the combined support of the Morgan County Public Library and the Paw Paw Public Library.

Tax rates

The proposed rate of special levy taxation per $100 of assessed value of each class of property is 32.16 cents for Class 2 and 64.32 cents for Class 3 and Class 4 properties, the same special levy tax rates as approved by voters in May, 2014. The proposed levy rates would apply for the fiscal years beginning July 1, 2019 through July 1, 2022.

Several increases

The estimated amounts the levy will raise annually increased $80,233 from the 2014 special levy because property values have increased.

The 2018 special levy allots $35,000 more in funding for facilities, $10,000 more for critical education program support and $223 more for salary supplements and benefits, along with the $35,000 combined library funding.

Library funding

The funding for the libraries was added back into the special levy on a state recommendation that each county Board of Education contribute to their public libraries, said May.

The West Virginia Department of Education’s recommended Morgan County School Board’s 2017-2018 matching contribution to the Morgan County Public Library was $22,856. Their recommended match for Paw Paw Public Library was $10,400.

School Treasurer Ann Bell said that West Virginia Code also recommends that county school boards support public libraries.

The Morgan County Public Library and the Paw Paw Public Library have not received any special levy funding since they were removed from the May, 2014 special levy. Both libraries have struggled since to meet their required local matches for state grants, which have caused reduced library hours, fewer days open and staff salary cuts.

School board vice-president Aaron Close said he was glad to see the libraries added back into the special levy. He wasn’t in favor of adding any other community organizations back to the levy.

Board member John Rowland said he sees many kids and families at the public libraries after school. It’s the only way that some students have access to computers and can do research on the Internet, he noted.

Board president David Ambrose said that many think everyone has broadband internet access and computers at home, but it’s not the case in a county with our poverty rate.

Research, meetings

Superintendent May said that they researched at least 30 other West Virginia counties special levy orders and felt the Morgan County 2014 special levy election order was a good place to start.

May met with various stakeholders including school staff, elected officials, business leaders, taxpayers, parents and grandparents as they prepared the special levy. He said he was asked to maintain and continue funding at the same level as the previous levy.

May said he’s recommending the same level of funding despite a slight enrollment increase of 28 students. That’s possible by the considerable belt-tightening schools have done over the last few years with reduced spending, personnel cuts and eliminating central office staff.

Continuing salary supplements and benefits is critical for hiring and retaining highly-qualified, certified personnel, May noted. Providing high-quality education for county children is also crucial to bringing businesses and economic development to Morgan County, he added.

Four-year levy

School officials wanted a four-year special levy instead of a five-year levy as in the past so there wouldn’t be the expense of hiring poll workers and running a special election, May said. He felt a May special levy election was best so personnel would know funding for their positions was in place before summer.

County voters approved a reduced Morgan County Schools special levy during the May 13, 2014 primary election after the previous special levy failed in a May, 2013 special election. Morgan County Schools have had a special levy since 1958.

The special levy order is available for viewing and public comment on the Morgan County Schools website. Paper copies will also be available at the school board office and will be posted at the Morgan County Public Library and the Paw Paw Public Library.

Written public comments can be dropped off at the school board office to executive secretary Betsy Buser or mailed to the Morgan County Board of Education, 247 Harrison Avenue, Berkeley Springs, WV 25411.

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