CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state School Building Authority is providing $750,000 for the addition of four classrooms at Charleston's crowded John Adams Middle School.
Board members voted Monday during a monthly meeting to approve the project and several others.
There are more than 740 students at John Adams, and the school system expects that number to increase soon. The four extra classes mean the county can ditch seven portables currently on the campus.
Only four portables are in use as classrooms right now, said Superintendent Ron Duerring. One is empty, and the other two are used for classes that can move back into the building right now, he said.
More importantly, in Duerring's opinion, this project addresses a serious safety concern.
"It takes kids out of portables and puts them in brick and mortar. For me, I think that's important to have kids inside the building, and not in portables," Duerring said Monday. "Given the recent issues out there, you could see why that would be important."
This is the second year the county submitted the request for funding through the authority's Major Improvement Program. There were concerns the project would be rejected this year as well.
Board member Tom Lange recently questioned why the Kanawha County Board of Education would recommend capping the amount of money it receives from an excess levy. An excess levy is an additional property tax that county voters can approve to provide money for local schools.
Many counties can't get voters to pass a levy, Lange said, so he doesn't think it's fair to give money to Kanawha County when it could potentially get it from its own levy. He brought up those concerns in August when the board approved an additional $1 million for the new Edgewood-area elementary school, and again Monday.
"There are a lot more pressing needs," Lange said.
He got in a heated argument with fellow board member Nicholas Preservati about funding the project. Preservati went to school in Mercer County, but he said he regularly attended class in portables. After visiting the John Adams portables, he said the conditions were unsatisfactory.
"When we were there, a snake fell out of the ceiling," Preservati said.
Preservati did agree with Lange's idea that the levy cap was a bad idea, but he said the Kanawha County project was too important to ignore. After further discussion, Lange was the only board member to vote no on all Major Improvement Program funding requests.
Mark Manchin, authority executive director, said he thought all of the projects were worthwhile. As a resident of Kanawha County, he said he also appreciates the school board not wanting to over tax its constituents.
But he thinks the board needs to consider removing its levy cap.
"Should a dramatic increase, a cracker plant or a dramatic increase in businesses come to Kanawha County, the board of education won't realize it, because the levy's been capped," Manchin said after the meeting. "So they won't have access to that, which is, to be frank with you, absurd."
In the past, Duerring has voiced concern about the lack of financial flexibility created by capping the levy. Monday he said he thought the board might revisit the cap soon, but projects submitted to the authority should be considered on their merits.
Lange made a similar argument to the one posed by Manchin. Pete Thaw, president of the Kanawha County Board of Education, fought adamantly to put the cap before Kanawha County voters during the primary election in May.
Thaw doesn't think the cracker argument holds any water.