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BOE seeks approval of levy and bond on November ballot

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | Oct 23, 2020

Ranson Elementary School is slated to be replaced with a new school. Funding is sought from county voters through a bond on the Nov. 3 General Election ballot. Toni Milbourne

CHARLES TOWN — As early voting began this week in Jefferson County, voters saw two items on the ballot — a levy and a bond — for consideration from the Jefferson County Board of Education.

The levy is one that has been in place since the 1940s, and must be renewed by vote every five years. This year the amount of the levy, as stated on the ballot, is $22,412,937. Of those funds, the Board of Education is authorized to spend 80 percent for personnel and 20 percent at their discretion.

Part of the discretionary funding includes allocations that have been made in the past to public libraries, the West Virginia Extension Office for 4-H funding and the Jefferson County Health Department. Added for the first time this year is a planned allocation to Jefferson County Parks and Recreation. In addition, the discretionary funds may be used to support instruction and technology.

Funds used for personnel, according to the sample ballot, may cover costs of those positions not covered under the state formula, including nurses, librarians, art teachers, counselors and custodians. The funds can also be used for stipends.

The Board of Education has taken a hit from some community members over their recent passage of stipend approvals for employees at the central office. More than $275,000 was allocated to raises to those individuals, with some receiving as much as 52 percent of their base salary in stipend pay.

According to Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson, the central office staff had not received raises for several years and increasing their salaries was necessary to retain good employees.

According to documents received through a Freedom of Information Act request, the chief financial officer for the schools received an increase of over $20,000 in one year, while the director of safety and security received just over $16,000 per year. Others receiving an increase of over $10,000 per year included two senior accountants, the director of technology, coordinator certification, director of social and emotional support, coordinator of food services, director of pupil services, coordinator/elementary, specialist care development, coordinator/vocational/community ed and the deputy superintendent of operations. Several additional staffers received lesser increases. 

The bond call on the levy is placed for capital project. Filling a full page on the ballot, the details explain that the request for taxpayers to approve a bond for $43,735,000 will cover the construction of two new elementary schools — one in Ranson and one in Shepherdstown. Other funds will be used to improve athletic facilities, playgrounds and provide funds for repairs at all schools in the system, to repair and replace bleachers at two middle schools and to purchase exercise equipment for Jefferson County middle schools in the form of stationary bikes with built-in e-readers.

Social media posts have county residents asking for an accounting of how funds have been allocated in the past. Another Freedom of Information Act request asked for documentation outlining how more than $29 million the school system received from the West Virginia Lottery Commission was spent. The list details repairs and construction costs per year, many down to a few thousand dollars spent on something described as “bus garage,” etc. Each year also begins with an allocation to a line item designated only as “Department Capital Improvements.” These lines include amounts of nearly $2 million per year through fiscal year 2015. The spending was more detailed from FY17 to the present, with specific vendors listed.

Funds allocated to current construction projects will include just under $1.5 million toward the track and field projects at the two county high schools. An additional $1.18 million is on the bond, which will include this project, along with some additional athletic facility improvements.

Voters have through the General Election on Nov. 3 to determine how they plan to vote on the two issues.