By C.V. Moore
Fayette County residents head to the polls Saturday to cast their votes on the continuation of an excess levy that raises 14 percent of the school system’s general operating funds.
Forty-four of 55 counties in West Virginia have an excess schools levy in place for the current fiscal year. They raise an average of $10.2 million in taxes per year for each school system.
Fayette County’s proposed levy would generate approximately $9.3 million per year for five years. The money would be funneled toward 29 programs ranging from science and math support to busing for athletic events.
For residents who live in a home that they own, property would be taxed at 46 cents per $100 of assessed value. Owners of vacant or nonowner-occupied property in the county would pay 92 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The Register-Herald recently posed questions regarding the levy to Fayette County School Assistant Superintendent Dr. Serena Starcher. The questions were largely generated from reader feedback and correspondence.
1. How specifically will these funds help increase student achievement?
“In addition to the $2,358,000 specified for professional salary support, targeted at recruiting and retaining qualified professional personnel, the proposed excess school levy includes approximately $2.5 million specifically focused on providing resources, materials and supplies to support student learning. The $2.5 million is identified through the following line items: free textbooks, instructional support, special education support, music support, art support, family and consumer science support, industrial arts and career technical education support, business education support, physical development and health education support, science/math support, reading support, 21st century technical curriculum support, and preschool.”
2. How will the money for the “Student Safety and Security” line item be spent?
“Funding for student safety and security will be used to expand the use of a trained and authorized security presence in the district’s schools. Funds will also be used to support the increased hardening of school facilities to resist outside threats and to increase the district’s capacity to monitor facilities and restrict access.”
3. Why is the board asking for $88,000 for science and math support, and almost $200,000 for athletics?
“The current levy provides approximately $72,000 to support the admission of all students to home athletic events. This line item was included to provide all students the opportunity to attend athletic competitions and to support their peers regardless of their ability to pay for admission.
“In recent years, it was determined that all student athletes must be transported via bus to away events as opposed to car-pooling with other teammates. This requirement was instituted to ensure that, while students are under the guidance and supervision of the school system, the school system has taken steps necessary to best ensure their safety. Funding through the levy would support the district’s schools and their athletic programs as they adhere to this requirement.
“While the funding for athletics provides for student admission to athletic events and transport of athletes to events, the line item for science/math support provides resources, supplies and materials to support student learning in the classroom.”
4. What specific projects will receive funding through the “Maintenance and Capital Improvements” line item?
“Given the age of many of the district’s facilities, this line item supports the district’s efforts to continue their operation. Such work includes, but is certainly not limited to, the replacement of aging equipment such as coal-fired boilers, the replacement of failing roof systems, the replacement of insecure doors and windows and the replacement of carpet with floor tile. Funds also provide for general maintenance, upgrades and repairs.”
5. Why aren’t “Free Textbooks” part of the county’s baseline budget?
“School systems in West Virginia are required to provide free textbooks to all students. Given the existence of the excess school levy, levy funds are currently used to provide for free textbooks. Absent an excess school levy, the district would provide textbooks using Step VII funds which are received through the state’s school funding formula. At present, Step VII funds are used to provide for items such as, but not limited to, school counselors for all elementary and middle schools as well as the district’s fairs and field days (i.e., All-County Band, All-County Chorus, Math Field Day, Science Fair, Social Studies Fair, Spelling Bee). Should the excess school levy not exist, those items currently supported with Step VII funds would likely be eliminated.”
6. Why should all parents pay for “Universal Feeding,” free breakfast and lunch for all students?
“Presently, 10 schools in Fayette County meet the guidelines established for the Community Eligibility Option (CEO) program. The CEO program is a national program that permits schools to provide free meal service to all students at no charge, regardless of economic status. While this program is only available in seven states at the present time, by 2014-2015 it will be available to all states. (Should it pass, the proposed excess school levy will go into effect with the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.) While the provision of free meals to all students requires funding support, the proposed excess school levy would allow Fayette County Schools to participate in this nationally-supported program for 100 percent of its students and schools.”
7. Explain how the nearly $1 million in “21st Century Technical Curriculum Support” will be used.
“Funding for technical curriculum support is used to provide students access to modern technology to support their learning, to provide support to students who need targeted assistance with their learning and to provide support to teachers and students to ensure technical equipment functions properly.”
There were a few questions Starcher did not answer, citing a concern that the answers “would be viewed as persuasive.” She said the school system is not officially permitted to persuade citizens to vote for or against the levy.
These questions asked what measures the board would take to ensure that funding secured through the levy, if it passes, would be administered properly and why should parents whose trust of the school system is broken be willing to support this levy.