In planning to ask county voters for a second excess levy, the Kanawha school board wants not only to erase a projected deficit, but also to pay for several initiatives aimed at keeping the system competitive.
"It's not only money that will be there to help take away the deficit and keep us going," said Superintendent Ron Deurring. "It will also help to move the system ahead."
On a 4-1 vote, the board decided Monday to ask voters to approve a new property tax this November.
The proposed excess levy would generate $24.4 million the first year it took effect, in fiscal year 2014-15.
The money would be benchmarked for a number of items, including:
- $3.2 million for the Kanawha County Public Library.
- Nearly $8.5 million for school technology hardware and software.
- Nearly $7 million for technical and adult education upgrades.
- A little more than $1 million for extra-curricular and athletic supplements.
- $1 million for school repairs and maintenance.
- $1 million for school WVEIS data lines, or updates to technology systems in schools.
- About $1.5 million for summer school, staff development and other efforts.
- $1 million for school instructional supplies.
The Monday decision effectively reverses the board's own decision a year ago to voluntarily limit the amount of money the school system could collect from such a tax.
In the name of tax relief for the public, the board last year voted to put before voters an excess levy renewal with a flat cap. Voters approved, and that five-year levy - renewal of a tax that has been in existence for decades - is scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2014.
At the time, board members said they were in favor of a more streamlined approach to education and were happy to save taxpayers money.
Now, school officials are defending their decision to go back to county voters with a plan that would increase the effective tax rate by 35 percentage points.
If voters approve, the board would have two excess levies in place that together amount to 100 percent of the regular school levy. That is the maximum it could legally collect.
County school officials have estimated the school system is on course to record a $2.5 million deficit next year and a nearly $3 million deficit by the 2018-19 budget year.
In recent months, board members had discussed putting another excess levy on the ballot to avoid such deficits.
However, now they're proposing a levy that would generate more than $21 million for the school system next year, or more than $18 million more than the school system needs to stay afloat.
School administrators proposed an expansion of goals, and four of the five elected board members agreed.
School officials are touting the emphasis on technology, adult education and vocational efforts as justification for the tax increase.
"The issue was that if we wanted to come out of the deficit and we wanted to move our kids in our valley forward with technology and with our adult and tech programs, we just needed to go this direction," Deurring said.
"The whole idea of technology and adults is back on the front burner again."
Board member Bill Raglin said the line items in the levy proposal speak for themselves.
"You look at the deficit and it didn't include any commitment to update our vocational facilities or update our technology," he said.
"If you look at the line items on that proposal, there's a significant increase in the expenditures for those things . . . things that haven't been updated for years."
Standing in stark opposition to the position of his fellow school board members is board president Pete Thaw, who has always been vocal in his opposition to tax increases.
He has vowed to lobby against the proposed new excess levy.
"These people want all the money they can get, and that's what they're doing," Thaw said of other board members. "They can't get 101 percent, so they're going to get 100."
He rejects the notion that Kanawha County's schools or children would suffer from funding cuts without a second excess levy.