From Staff Reports
BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — The Morgan County Board of Education will learn through a special election on Saturday whether it will continue to receive excess or special levy funding to help supplement the county schools.
The special levy began 55 years ago and has been approved by voters continually since 1958.
The levy funds are used for instructional materials; textbooks; curricular and extra-curricular activities, programs and field trips; to provide technology hardware and software; for maintenance of facilities; for facility security and improvements; as a supplement for employee salaries and benefits; and to help financially support community organizations and agencies such as the Morgan County Public Library.
The Board of Education recently voted to increase the special levy rate from 93.8 percent to 96 percent for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
To fund the $5.8 million special levy, Morgan County property owners will pay an additional $12 for a home appraised at $200,000, $9 for a $150,000 home and $6 more in property tax for a $100,000 home, said Morgan County Schools Treasurer Nancy White.
Some local residents have spoken out against the levy, placing opinions in the local newspaper and running advertisements telling people to vote against it.
To answer questions, the Morgan County school board hosted a town hall meeting May 1 in the Berkeley Springs High School cafeteria. More than 200 people attended.
The Citizens Advisory Committee panel included Schools Superintendent David Banks; White; board of education President David Ambrose; Berkeley Springs High School math teacher Pete Gordon; former West Virginia School Board Authority member Connie Perry; West Virginia Delegate Daryl Cowles, who represents parts of both Morgan and Hampshire counties in the 58th District; and former state Delegate Charles Trump.
“This is not political,” said Jeannie Ford, treasurer of a group called Citizens Against Excess Levies.
She said she wanted a copy of the Morgan County Schools budget and wanted to know who audited it.
“Any election is political to a degree,” Trump answered.
He told Ford that Teed and Associates conducted the audit and found no deficiencies or questioned costs. Trump gave Ford his copy, noting the annual audits are on the websites for Morgan County Schools and the state auditor’s office.
Ambrose said the school board meetings, where the budget is discussed before it is approved, are open to the public.
Resident Eric Pritchard said he does not want the special levy to pass.
“The proficiency test (WESTEST) does not warrant a special levy tax,” he said.
Pritchard said Pendleton and Tucker counties do not have an excess levy and have “way better” WESTEST scores.
Gordon said the WESTEST scores were never intended to judge students.
“We use character, dreams, motivations. The tests are valid for data, and we use them for teaching,” Gordon said.
He said the high school programs are so good that “other counties are coming to ask us how we do it.”
Morgan County ACT (college readiness) scores “meet or exceed the national average,” Banks said. “No schools in Morgan County are not meeting the criteria. This is not what the anti-levy people are saying.”