BUCKHANNON – For the first time in more than 22 years, Upshur County Schools’ proposed excess levy has failed.
For most residents of Upshur County, the fate of the excess school levy was the most important matter on Tuesday’s General Election Ballot and a little more than 45 percent of Upshur County residents came out and exercised their right to vote.
And by a slim margin of 166 votes – 3,164 to 2,998 — the continuation of the Upshur County Schools’ Excess Levy failed. The numbers will be official after the canvassing of the election is completed at 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 14.
My Buckhannon’s full, unofficial election results from Nov. 8’s General Election may be viewed here.
Upshur County Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Debra Harrison prepared a written statement that said that although the Upshur County Schools Excess Levy failed, she wanted to assure everyone that Upshur County Schools would continue to educate students by focusing on effective teaching and learning.
“Our goal, moving forward, will be to most carefully prioritize spending, focusing on those processes which most positively impact the achievement of our students,” her statement said.
Harrison, who was at the Upshur County Courthouse Tuesday evening awaiting the results, said Upshur County Schools has students to educate, and the focus would continue on providing quality education for its students.
“The failure of the levy to pass is disappointing,” Harrison told My Buckhannon. “It means we will have $3.2 million dollars less to do the things we need to do for the students of Upshur County, but you know what? We have students to educate, and we take that job very, very seriously. We will make adjustments where we need to make them, and we will continue to educate our children.”
Harrison said there are no backup funds to dip into to make up the difference but that the county plans to run the levy again in the May 2024 Primary Election. The five-year current levy is still in effect through June 30, 2024.
“We will be preparing parallel budgets, and we will be looking at an opportunity to ask for passage of the Upshur County Schools Excess Levy again, but if it does not pass, we will have parallel budgets and we will make adjustments and do the most important thing – educate our children,” she said.
Harrison said some of the items Upshur County Schools uses levy funds to pay for – such as providing textbooks and school supplies that students need – will go away should the levy fail to pass again in May 2024.
“A lot of the field trips will go away because we have been able to pay for transportation for field trips and provide students a lot of opportunities by using levy funds,” Harrison said. “Some of those things will go away, but again, we will look at the dollars we have, and they will be allocated in a way that will ensure we give the students a good education.”
Harrison said she wanted to remind Upshur County residents that an excess levy is only about teaching and learning.
“It is not about building new buildings or creating new schools,” Harrison said. “It is simply to enhance what we are able to do and ensure they have a great education.”
Upshur County Schools Finance Director Jeffrey Perkins said he was also disappointed with the results of the levy in the election.
“We will continue to provide the best education we can to the students of Upshur County,” Perkins said. “We look forward to opportunities in the future and hopefully, we will have a more positive outcome.”
Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner was also at the Upshur County Courthouse Tuesday evening as the voting results rolled in. When the final counts were shared, Skinner said the results were disappointing.
“Our community is only as strong as the education system it has,” Skinner said. “When we go to attract new corporations and new families to the community, the most important aspect they look at is the quality and the strength of the education system. A big part of that is adequate funding.”
Skinner said the failure of the levy is a setback.
“We are now at a disadvantage when attracting new families and new corporations to the community,” Skinner said. “But all is not lost; we have an opportunity to reconsider this levy in 2024. We hope, at that time, the community responds differently. The current levy we have is continuous until June 30, 2024, so the next election will be in May 2024.”
Don Nestor, a founding member of the Foundation for Better Schools in Upshur County, was also at the Upshur County Courthouse Tuesday evening. He said he was disappointed that voters chose not to support the excess levy.
“The things the levy would pay for, a lot of people cannot afford to pay for them, and now they are going to have to,” Nestor said. “Kids are going to do without – whether that is supplies or materials. This is going to be a struggle if we do not get the levy passed. Education is so important. When I was in school, people dug in and said they were not going to give up on education and we wanted to get our education and go to school or whatever it was – and even more so now, you have to have an education.”
Nestor said even though the levy was defeated, folks cannot give up.
“Our job today is the same as it was yesterday,” Nestor said. “We just have to keep hammering away and hopefully, more people will buy into it. I think we have a lot of good people in the county who work hard every day. We have good parents, and we just have to work together.”
The Upshur County Schools Excess Levy would provide approximately $3.2 million per year and is used for supplies such as textbooks, instructional programs, technology, preventative maintenance, contracted services, community support for 4-H, community support for the Stockert Youth and Community Center, community support for the libraries, annual passes for the Upshur County Recreational Park and the WV Wildlife Center, student accident insurance, substitute employees, student-related community services and extracurricular activities and extended employee agreements.
The $3.2 million per year from the Upshur County Schools Excess Levy represents approximately 9 to 10 percent of the yearly budget for the Upshur County School System.
Upshur County Clerk Carol Smith said she felt the election went very smoothly.
“Everything was good with just minor issues, which is typical,” Smith said. “We had a 45 percent voter turnout, which is pretty good for a midterm election. We were surprised. We also had more than 2,300 residents who participated in early voting.”