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Additional $1 million for Edgewood elementary approved

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Although some members of the state School Building Authority chastised Kanawha officials for capping the county's excess levy, the board voted to award an additional $1 million for the construction of the over-budget Edgewood elementary school.

Some members of the authority's board felt Kanawha County had hindered itself and other counties by capping the levy.

"What they did is not going to affect Kanawha County kids, but every kid in the state," board member Tom Lange said.  

After receiving bids Thursday for construction of the building, Kanawha officials realized they needed an additional $2.8 million to complete the $21 million project. Mark Manchin, head of the authority, asked the board Monday to provide an additional $1 million. Kanawha County pledged to come up with the other $1.8 million.

Only Lange and board member Wade Linger - who is also president of the state Board of Education - voted no on the funding.

Lange said if Kanawha County can provide more of its own money for building projects, that ultimately frees up state funds for smaller, less affluent counties.

"It's not about taking care of mine; it's about taking care of everybody," he said.

Kanawha County school board members voted in January to cap the amount the school system could receive from the excess levy - a property tax that helps pay for school construction, among other things.

When voters approved the levy rate in May, Kanawha became the only county in the state to cap its levy, said Joe Panetta, assistant state superintendent.

Forty-four counties have excess levies, Panetta said.

By capping the levy amount at about $44 million, the school system will miss out on $28 million annually in potential revenue through the property tax, Panetta said.

"I think it's a major mistake that they capped that levy," board member Victor Gabriel said, adding that some counties don't have the "luxury" of a levy.

"I think this School Building Authority needs to send a message to that board of education to let them know we disagree with what they did," he said.

Kanawha County school board President Pete Thaw was not at the meeting but said the message was received loud and clear.

"If they're going to penalize us for being fiscally responsible, that's unbelievable to me," Thaw said Monday in a phone interview. "That's all we're doing, is being fiscally responsible."

He said the authority is funded entirely by taxpayer money allocated by the state. He asked the authority to consider how much of its funding comes from Kanawha County taxes and called the county the state's "mother cow" when it comes to revenue.

Mark Muchow, Department of Revenue deputy secretary, said Kanawha County probably generates more personal income and sales tax than any other county. He said those two taxes make up about two thirds of the state's general revenue budget.

Thaw also questioned Panetta's claim that Kanawha's cap will result in $28 million less annually.

Currently, the Kanawha County excess levy is set at 65 percent of the amount the school system could tax the county. It's unclear whether the figure presented by Panetta represents taxing at 100 percent, something Thaw said he has fought endlessly during his 14 years on the school board.

"You think the taxpayers of Kanawha County could afford another $28 million a year? I don't," Thaw said.

He likened the concept to the authority asking the county to max out its credit cards, deplete its savings and then come to the authority as a last resort. That's not what voters elected him to do, he said.

The authority has provided Kanawha with about $74 million since its creation, according to data provided by director of finance Garry Stewart. Manchin said he respects the Kanawha County board and understands they are elected officials representing the will of their constituents. However, he speculated the county might face issues in the future with seeking funding from the authority.

"The authority will not look favorably on a project with a small amount of money from Kanawha County," Manchin said.

Kanawha County Superintendent Ron Duerring said he thought Lange made valid points. Both he and county Treasurer Harry Reustle said during the budgeting process this year there would not be a great deal of financial wiggle room for the school system.

However, he's excited about being able to keep moving on the Edgewood project and didn't think there would be any problem finding an additional $1.8 million.

Between $500,000 and $750,000 of contingency money is included in the project budget, said Adam Krason, an architect helping with the project. None of that money has been spent yet and could go toward the additional total cost.

Of the money coming from the authority, $578,000 is coming from funds not allocated during the most recent fiscal year. The remainder will come from the money the authority will officially allocate in April, Manchin said.

The school was designed specifically around a project-based curriculum. Students will have more control over their education through group projects and presentations, Duerring said. The building is designed with larger rooms for older students that would accommodate the group work and smaller rooms available for presentations.

Manchin said site preparation is about 70 percent complete. Officials are hoping to start on construction of the building in November, with students moving in by fall of 2014.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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