Gilmer school levy hangs by thread
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Ron Blankenship described his outlook for Tuesday in one word: "apprehension."
It's the day he'll discover whether the seven-vote margin providing the money to pay many school system bills holds up.
"We thought it would be close, but we didn't think it would be this close," Blankenship said Thursday in a phone interview.
Right now it appears Gilmer County voters approved a renewal of the excess levy in Tuesday's election. But the tenuous margin of victory hangs on the outcome of the county clerk's official canvass of votes.
The canvass is Tuesday, said Deputy Clerk Debbie Allen. With fewer than 50 provisional ballots remaining, Allen said the count could definitely affect the levy.
It needs only a simple majority to pass. It received 1,157 votes in favor and 1,150 against.
Blankenship will be at the county office for the canvass.
"It would be devastating if it were to fail," he said.
Right now the excess levy — an additional property tax many county school systems ask their voters to enact — provides the county a little less than $1 million, Blankenship said.
The money pays for textbooks and other instructional supplies, maintenance, utilities and all extracurricular activities, he said.
He didn't want to speculate on specific changes that would take place should the levy go down. But if it comes to paying the light bill or other costs, Blankenship said major cuts could be in order.
"We're going to have to cut $1 million out of our budget," he said. "That's something that just can't happen. That's not possible."
During the five weeks leading to the election, Blankenship and other school officials hosted community meetings to discuss the levy and answer questions. They weren't very well attended, he said.
He's not sure why the levy vote was so close. Some voters might have thought the proposed levy was an increase on the current rate. It is not.
Gilmer County is also an intervention county — the state Department of Education voted in 2011 to take control of operations. It wasn't a popular move locally, and Blankenship thought some of that displeasure might have played a role in the close levy vote.
County board members must decide what to do if the outcome changes with the provisional ballots. The new, five-year levy would not take effect until July 2013; Blankenship said he couldn't speculate what the decision might be but a special election is a possibility.
School systems generally try to align levy votes with general or primary elections to avoid the cost of a separate election.
Blankenship hopes discussion on those tough decisions will prove to be moot Tuesday.
"I'm just thankful now that we're up by seven votes," he said.