School board keeps same levy rateSpecial levy will bring in $4.5 M, up from $2.9 M in three years
The Morgan County School Board set their tax rate for the next fiscal year at a special budget workshop last Tuesday, March 27,
In the absence of board member Larry Omps, the board voted 4-0 to keep their excess levy rate at 90%.
The special levy, which voters approved in December 2003, was supposed to bring in $2.9 million for additional teacher salaries and supplies each year for five years.
Because of rising property assessments, that dollar amount has increased each year despite the school board's decision to drop its levy rates to 95%, and then to 90% of possible tax revenue.
According to current assessment data, the Morgan County school system expects to get $4.49 million from the excess levy this coming year at the 90% levy rate.
That's an additional $421,000 over last year's revenues at the same rate. At a 100% tax rate, the school could have pulled in about $5 million from the excess levy.
Superintendent David Temple and Treasurer Nancy White recommended that the school
board lay their levy rates at 90% once again
and offered up a draft budget based on that
Morgan County taxpayers also provide money for the school system through a regular levy, but the state controls that tax rate.
School officials estimate they will collect $4.13 million from the regular levy in the coming year. In total, local taxpayers will contribute $8.62 million to the county's school system.
"Our local taxes are supporting the school system almost as much as State Aid is," White told the school board members.
Most goes to salaries
Superintendent Temple said the additional tax revenue would be spent on three big items – a 1.5% pay raise for all county teachers and school personnel, a 20% increase for athletics and field trips, and $20-per-student materials allocation.
The pay raise will be on top of the 3.5% salary increase approved for teachers statewide. Average salaries in Morgan County rank it in the top 10 counties in the state.
Offering competitive pay for teachers was an issue that came up several times during the Tuesday night budget meeting. Staff salaries account for 80% of the total school budget.
Assistant Superintendent David Banks related his experience at job fairs where schools in other states were offering signing bonuses on top of salaries that are $10,000 higher than Morgan County's pay for new teachers.
White said the county experiences an average 20% teacher turnover each year. Banks said recruiting and training new teachers costs the school system a lot of time and money.
School officials anticipate that student numbers will continue to increase over the next two years, with a slight drop-off in 2009-2010.
Every school in the county has gained additional pupils in the last two years, bringing the total student body from 2,574 to 2,693 in that time.
Officials pinpoint the steadiest growth at Berkeley Springs High School, with a student body of 724 pupils. Superintendent Temple said with recent staff and building changes, the high school could handle 800 students.
Because of rising enrollment, the 2007-2008 budget includes salary for an additional three or four teachers.
(SCHOOL BOARD continues on page 5)
Now a "growth county"
Recent changes in the State Legislature have allowed Morgan County to qualify as a "growth county," giving the school system an additional $195,000 for learning facilities. Before, only Berkeley and Jefferson counties qualified for the aid.
Building improvements slated for next budget year are scheduled roof replacements, new windows at the Berkeley Springs High School Arts & Humanities building, a new ventilation system at Paw Paw High School, plus safety and security improvements throughout various schools.
The projected cost for that work is $344,307, but Morgan County has been awarded $294,210 from the State School Building Authority for the window project.
Board & public comment
Before making a motion to accept the superintendent's levy rate recommendation, board member David Ambrose said he thought the tax increase was necessary "if we're going to be able to keep employees."
Margaret Gordon said she thought a 90% rate was "reasonable" and that the steady revenue increases have basically funded the county's enrollment increases.
Board President Laura Smith expressed concerns that property assessments would continue to increase, driving up tax bills. Smith was concerned about the fate of the special levy when it comes up for renewal in late 2008.
County resident Frank Strader made the only public comment at the budget meeting. Strader said if his tax bill continues to rise, he might have to "sell out and move." Strader said he moved back to West Virginia after living in Delaware for many years.
"If I'd have known taxes were going to go up this much, I might not have come back here," he said.
"I feel comfortable that we do everything that's fiscally responsible," Smith said.
Board to act
The Morgan County School Board is expected to officially adopt their special levy tax rates at 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17.