The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 21, 2014

Better schools

The Register-Herald

— Raleigh County voters will go to the polls Feb. 8 in a special election to make a determination on both the past and the future.

One ballot item will be to continue the existing five-year school levy, which was instituted in 1941. The funds from this levy go to providing students with free textbooks, and fund athletics, band, student health services, maintenance and a host of other programs in the county’s public school system.

The rolling levy poses no new additional taxes, and has proved to be popular among voters who have supported it over the decades.

Also on the ballot is a measure for a seven-and-a-half-year, $39 million bond measure which, if passed, would allow the county access to an additional $23.5 million in revenue from the state School Building Authority and its lottery funds.

“The focus of (the bond) is on providing quality education to students,” Raleigh County Schools Superintendent Jim Brown told The Register-Herald last week. “Research shows that the school building influences student achievement.”

We have no dispute with that statement, but we also believe there are other factors important in student achievement, such as dedicated teachers and committed parents.

The county board of education implemented a study called a Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan in which architects said the school system in Raleigh County would need $157 million to bring all of its facilities up to date.

The board, Brown said, decided that to get the “most bang for the buck,” they would tackle the most pressing school needs with bond monies.

The $39 million, with the added SBA funds, will be used to build eight new classrooms and a new gymnasium, upgrade security and renovate the kitchen at Shady Spring Elementary School ($9.6 million), install air conditioning at Cranberry-Prosperity, Crescent, Mabscott and Ghent elementary schools, provide security entrance upgrades to Liberty and Independence high schools ($234,323), build a state-of-the-art elementary school to merge Lester, Crab Orchard and Sophia Soak Creek elementary schools ($24.88 million), complete a new gymnasium and locker room space, add 14 new classrooms and expand the dining area at Shady Spring High School ($9.6 million), build a gymnasium at Beckley Elementary School ($1.78 million) and build a state-of-the-art Stratton Elementary School on the existing site ($17.9 million).

Brown also told us there are direct economic benefits to the community from this construction and renovation.

He said the bond money would provide around $73 million in economic development in the county and will create jobs in construction over a projected five-year period. He added that every $1 spent locally has a ripple effect of $7 in the local economy.

“It will put people to work,” said Brown. “Construction workers will eat here, buy local supplies, hire security guards.”

According to BOE calculations, a homeowner with a house valued at $130,000 would pay an additional $118 a year if the bond passes.

It doesn’t seem like much of a burden, but we are certainly well aware that paying federal, state and local governments a dollar here and a dollar there can add up to real money for families struggling to stay afloat in these economic times.

But we also understand the critical need of education for our young residents in Raleigh County. We believe we owe them the chance to be their best.

We saw the generosity of southern West Virginians this past week in the contributions made to the United Way of Southern West Virginia.

We think the same commitment should be made to the school bond and levy.

The investment is not just in our children and grandchildren, but for our own future as well.