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Kanawha high school principals endorse excess levy

Kanawha County's high school principals are standing firmly behind the school system's call for voters to approve an excess levy to benefit Kanawha County Schools.

The principals -- of the county's eight high schools and two technical schools -- jointly endorsed the levy Wednesday. Election Day is Saturday.

"We are on the front lines," South Charleston Principal Mike Arbogast said. "We see the benefits of the programs ... we have to make that investment into our future, into Kanawha County and into our local schools."

The new tax, an additional excess levy to the school system's regular levy and already-approved excess levy, would generate $24.4 million the first year it took effect, in 2014, and more over its five-year life.

The school board voted to pursue it to ward off a projected $2.5 million deficit in 2014. If passed, it would more than make up for that budget gap -- the money is benchmarked for a slew of items, like technology, extracurricular supplements and hardware and software improvements. 

"We want to be on the cutting edge, and we want to be able to be a continuously improving state, and we're not going to be able to do that unless we have the passage of the levy," said Dianne Smith, principal at Nitro High. "Technology is going to be at a standstill, all the resources we could be expecting to come in would just dry up, and I think we'll just be in a real state of crisis."

A large portion of the money -- more than $7 million -- is tagged for upgrades to technical and adult education. It would let the county's technical schools add space and increase the size of programs -- putting Kanawha County in step with a national trend toward career and vocational education to train students for the modern workforce.

 "We save a lot of our kids through career and technical centers, they in turn go out into the workforce which is ultimately going to help our taxpayers as they become active working citizens," said Phillip Calvert, principal at Carver Career Center.

About $3.2 million would go toward the county's libraries.

The tax represents a potential funding solution for the county library system, which has been scrambling to come up with that $3 million - about 40 percent of its operating budget -- since the state Supreme Court ruled in February that a decades-old law forcing the school system to fund the libraries is unconstitutional.

The proposed tax is a joint effort between the two public entities, and is the result of months of debate and compromise as they have struggled to redefine their fiscal relationship in the wake of that court decision.

"We can't forget the affect on the libraries," said George Washington High principal George Aulenbacher. "This levy, if passed, is going to be able to sustain those libraries ... That's a big part of it. It's not just going to affect Kanawha County Schools, it's going to affect the libraries."

In supporting the levy, the principals joined four of the five members of the Kanawha County school board - though notably not board president Pete Thaw, who is actively campaigning against the levy in the name of tax relief for the public.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and, as it is a free country, to express that opinion. However it would be my hope, my wish, that we were all of like mind on the need to proceed with the levy for the good of the students," said Ron Reedy, Sissonville High principal.

Education officials, other than Thaw, and all the high school principals, say that the benefits to students outweigh the burden on the taxpayers.

"We hear a lot of talk about what we need to do to protect the taxpayers. I think it's more important to support the kids," said Clinton Giles, principal at Capital High. "I believe we as a group, collectively, support the kids. Not to the neglect of the taxpayers, the taxpayers are important, but the kids are more important than a few extra dollars."

For a person with a $100,000 home and $15,000 in vehicles, the new excess levy would cost about $125 annually. That's a 50 percent increase over the county's current excess levy, and a 25 percent increase over what residents pay to the school system in total each year.

Opponents of the levy argue that if the tax fails, cuts could be made to trim costs in a way that wouldn't be detrimental to schools or students.  Those lobbying for its passage say those cuts would be devastating.

 "The most needy children are going to be disproportionately impacted. They are the kids who need the extracurricular things as a part, as a supplement or an integral part of their education to keep them interested, to keep them in school.

Potential cuts include extracurricular activities and special programs that the principals said Wednesday are an integral part of the work they do in the county's schools.

"Those of us who work in this business, who are intimately tied to it ... we understand how important this sort of support is," Giles said.

"People on the outside who may not have had access to information may not see it the way we do. It's unfortunate that there are such loud voices speaking but not on behalf of the kids."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.


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