SCHOOL BOARD PLACES LEVY ON FALL BALLOT - Would Raise $411,000 Annually For Shortfalls

By Bob Weaver

The Calhoun Board of Education has decided to put an excess education levy on the November ballot to supplement budget shortfalls, mostly caused by a decline in student enrollment.

The board voted unanimously Monday to place the levy before county taxpayers.

It would raise about $411,000 annually to operate the system.

The levy would be for five years starting in school year 2005-06.

Board members said the problem has been building for several years and crunch time has arrived.

Keeping Calhoun Schools operating at the current level is now a major priority.

If the levy is approved, the money would be directed toward funding teachers and service personnel, although some of the money would be used toward keeping programs and extracurricular activities alive.

The loss of student enrollment and its direct link to funding is creating what some are calling an administrative nightmare.

The state has declined to alter the funding formula for small rural counties, a measure long promoted by school superintendent Ron Blankenship.

County school enrollment has dropped 342 pupils since the new $16 million Calhoun-Middle High School opened in 1998-1999. Enrollment has dropped 555 students since school year 1984-85.

Average grade size in K-4 is about 70 students total (both Arnoldsburg and Pleasant Hill), a red flag for decreasing numbers coming to CMHS.

Superintendent Blankenship said the system could lose 75 students during school year 2004-05, down to 1,140. With state aid set at $4,392 per pupil, that adds up to a projected loss of $329,000.

That would mean at least five professionals and three more service personnel would lose their jobs during the school year.

"It is getting more difficult every year to decide who and what to cut," said Blankenship.

He said at some point in time, it could become difficult to keep the system running with the current money flow, besides meeting the criteria of No Child Left Behind.

School officials said there is no doubt about future cuts in teachers, service personnel and programs.

"Since 1999 we have cut 14 service personnel, including para-professionals, bus drivers and custodians and 19 teachers and professionals," he said.

Cutting jobs is not the only problem.

At risk is being able to fund academic programs at the required level and support extra-curricular activities like music, art and sports.

Blankenship said $61,000 is needed for supplements to support such activities.

At last week's public meeting, teacher Jo Mollendick said "I think the school system is in a real crisis."

Regarding the closing of Arnoldsburg and Pleasant Hill elementary schools because of declining enrollment, Blankenship said "I wouldn't venture a guess...It may not happen for years."

With declining enrollment, keeping all the facilities open could become a big problem.

Blankenship told board members earlier this month he did not want to threaten parents and taxpayers over what could happen if an operating levy did not pass, but the situation is serious.

The annual amount outlined in the levy for each purpose:

- Provide funds for the employment of teachers and service personnel positions not funded by the State School Aid Formula, the sum of approximately $194,000.

- Provide funds for curricular and extra curricular activities to include, transportation costs and supplements for athletic coaches, academic sponsors, band and choir directors, the sum of approximately $75,000.

- Provide funds to all schools for instructional materials, supplies, and equipment, including copiers, the sum of approximately $43,000.

- Provide support for the WVU Extension Service, the sum of approximately $5,000.

- Provide funds to maintain all school facilities and to defray utility costs, the sum of approximately $94,609. The total amount of the levy, after making reasonable allowance for uncollected taxes is $411,609 annually.

The total amount during the five year term of the levy is $2,058,045.

The proposed additional rate of levy in cents on each class of property per $100 valuation within the Calhoun County School District is:

Class I 9.18 cents
Class II 18.36 cents
Class III 36.72 cents
Class IV 36.72 cents

See the OFFICIAL LEVY legal publication.