(04/12/2005)
By Bob Weaver

Calhoun and some of the state's lowest populated counties has some good news as the dust settles following the current legislative session.

One is a cash influx of funding for 911 services from an increase in the tax on cell phones, with some indications could be over $150,000 annually.

The Calhoun Commission said Monday that the funding increase will boost the completion of the counties new 911 center, including the much needed construction of a new radio tower.

The second "good news" is a change in the school funding formula that will help rural counties with less that 1,400 students, said Calhoun Superintendent of Schools Ron Blankenship.

Blankenship and other officials from rural counties have been trying to get the legislation passed for several years.

"It finally happened during the 11th hour of the legislature," he said, indicating it will allow the Calhoun system to keep a few teachers and service personnel hired.

"Our rural counties can only cut-back so far, and then we drop below most standards or even keeping the buildings open," he said.

The legislature voted to double the cell phone tax from $1.48 to $3.00.

The bill did not favor Kanawha County with the state's busiest 911 center. It will see a drop of $4,493, or 0.36 percent.

"Kanawha County [cell phone] payers will pay for it and get nothing for it," County Commission President Kent Carper said, calling it "pure gutter politics."

The State Police will receive $700,000 to $800,000 for equipment upgrades from the fund.

It also gives $1 million annually to erect cell phone towers throughout the state, supposedly in areas that are under-served. Carper called that "corporate welfare."

The program also funds a summer school.

The new education funding measure will actually change across-the-board school funding in the state.

The bill will help counties that are experiencing increases in enrollment, distributing about $5 million to relieve the strain.

Calhoun and about seven other counties that have student population dropping below 1,400 students will get some help to maintain curriculum and services. They would share in about $600,000.

"It is not all that much," said Blankenship, "but in our county a little bit goes a long way."

Blankenship said the county has also received $60,000 to improve Calhoun Middle-High School's heating and cooling ventilation system, which has caused problems since the school was built.

The system has caused the formation of mold in parts of the school, which has been fought on a yearly basis. Similar systems in other new schools around the state have also experienced the same problem.

While the State Department of Education just announced almost $1 million going to several school systems to improve reading and math skills, Blankenship said Calhoun is already "one-up" on solving the problem.

"Our Reading First program is already in place to help our students who are having reading and math problems," he said. The three-year program, which could be extended to four, is fully funded.


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