Editorials, Opinion

Say “yes” to supporting our schools

On Saturday, there is a special election to decide to renew the Monongalia County Schools excess levy for another five years. Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m., and we encourage Mon County residents to take a few minutes of their day and go vote “yes” on the levy.

Nancy Walker, from the Mon County Board of Education, and Superintendent Eddie Campbell sat down with The Dominion Post’s Editorial Board to discuss some of the finer details of the levy.

Walker isn’t fond of the word “excess,” but it’s the term the state uses, so it’s the term the county uses. The funds raised by levy are an essential part of Mon County Schools’ budget, making up about 22%.

As much as people hate to see money come out of their paychecks, every penny spent improving our education system is well worth it. Mon County has some of, if not the, best schools in the state. And the financial support from the community plays a huge role in that.

So what are we buying for our schools with our levy-funded dollars? The short answer: Everything the state doesn’t pay for, and the state doesn’t pay for a lot.

Campbell and Walker spent some time walking us through the antiquated school-funding formula that leaves most schools in West Virginia underfunded. The formula says the state will pay for a certain bare minimum, and everything beyond that must be paid for by the county. For example, the state only requires — and therefore only pays for — one nurse per 1,500 students K-7. Mon County Schools employs one nurse per 750 students for all grade levels.

Levy funds get Mon County students access to: arts programs taught by specialized instructors, before- and after-school programs for elementary students, technology like the Chromebooks that made online school possible last year, a variety of foreign language courses, as well as advanced placement and honors classes and, of course, extracurricular activities (like football).

The Editorial Board asked about one line item in particular that carried a hefty price tag and has been the source of community consternation for some time: “Supplement professional and service personnel salaries and benefits” — sometimes denoted only as “administrative” — to the tune of $20.4 million.

Walker and Campbell explained that all the personnel not mandated by the state — like all the nurses, counselors, psychologists, librarians, tech specialists, etc. — have to be paid by the county. And when you look at all those “excess” positions on the spreadsheet, they tend to fall under the label, “administrative.” This makes the school system’s budget look top-heavy, but in reality, it’s competitive pay for people who make our children’s lives and educational experience better.

The excess levy rate will remain at 73%, totaling $32 million annually, and the levy will apply from 2022 to 2027. Please show up to the polls Saturday — or tomorrow through Wednesday for early voting — to support the levy and all the things that make Mon County’s schools a beacon of excellence.

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