Dr. Debra Harrison, interim superintendent of Upshur County Schools, speaks at the Oct. 4, 2022, meeting of the Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur. / Photo by Monica Zalaznik

Interim superintendent emphasizes proposed levy renewal will not pay for constructing any new school buildings

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County School’s excess levy renewal will be on the ballot in the Nov. 8, 2022, General Election.

Dr. Debra Harrison, Upshur County Schools Interim Superintendent, attended the Oct. 4 Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur meeting to talk about the levy and the various programs it funds. Harrison said they did not anticipate putting the levy on the Nov. 8 ballot, but a new legislative mandate required the renewal to occur during a regular election – meaning a May Primary Election or November General Election – rather than a special election.

(You can read more about the legislative mandate in this previous story.)

“We are running our levy on Nov. 8. and it’s not going to increase [residents’ taxes], it will basically be status quo, but the levy provides 9 percent of our budget,” Harrison explained. “Nine percent doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but it’s basically about $3 million. We have about $450,000 go for textbooks, supplies and materials; our students don’t have to provide anything, they just need to come to school because all their supplies are provided to them.”

The levy also helps with covering the salaries of the Prevention Resource Officers throughout Upshur County.

“I know many of you know the situation throughout the country with the safety and security of our students, part of our PRO officers’ salaries are paid in the levy,” Harrison said. “The admission to extracurricular activities, we allow senior citizens and veterans to get in free and our employees can attend all of our events at no cost to them and previously they had had to pay as well.”

Harrison also wanted to make it clear that this levy is not connected to building any school facilities.

“I hope people understand this levy and the funds that come from the levy are funds that are dedicated; it has nothing to do with building [any new school facilities],” Harrison said. “Recently, we tried to pass a bond, which we were going to look at building a new high school and use the current high school as a renovated middle school. Of course, that failed, but this is not about building, it’s about doing the things we need to do to help the students in our school system learn and become productive citizens of this community and beyond, if need be.”

The current five-year excess levy was for the 2019-2024 fiscal years, and it expires June 30, 2024. The new levy would thus begin July 1, 2024.

“These funds are critical to the operation of the Upshur County school system, and we have $3.2 million that we’re going to have to recoup from our general budget if the levy fails, which means things that we’ve become accustomed to and things that we’ve been able to provide to our community and our students may become unavailable,” Harrison said.

Currently, extracurricular trips and sporting events are paid for through the levy, and that means students and parents may have to fundraise to afford these activities in the future.

“It’s just my husband and me, but when I go to the grocery store, I spend $100, $150 for nothing, so what are our families that have three, four and five children doing?” Harrison said. “It’s important at this point in time to look at this levy even more closely than we have in the past because we, as a school system, and we, as a community, need to do anything to help our students, our families and also our faculty members.”

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