TENNERTON – When Upshur County residents head to the polls in this November’s General Election, they will be able to cast their votes regarding the proposed continuation of the excess school levy – the one that’s currently in effect – for the next five fiscal years.
Upshur County Board of Education members unanimously voted to place the excess levy on the Nov. 8, 2022, General Election ballot at its regular meeting Tuesday, July 26. The renewal would be for a period of five years, covering fiscal years 2024-2029.
The timing may seem a bit early to voters, but due to the West Virginia Legislature passing House of Delegates Bill 4353 during its 2022 Regular Session, state code now requires that proposed levies be included only on Primary or General Election Ballots. In plain terms, what that means is levies must be considered during either a May Primary Election or a November General Election and cannot be run during a special election in another month, such as January or October.
At the July 26 BOE meeting, Upshur County Schools Financial Director Jeffrey Perkins explained that House Bill 4353 was passed into law during the state Legislature’s Regular Session this spring and took effect June 10, 2022. It is now West Virginia State Code 11-8-17, Perkins said.
“The short version is, there will be no more special elections,” Perkins explained. “All [levies] will take place on Primary or General Election days.”
Perkins said they looked at the current excess school levy and the dates going forward and concluded the last day to enter the election to have it included on the Nov. 8, 2022, General Election ballot is Aug. 24, 2022. Fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30 of each year, and there will not be another Primary or General Election until May 2024. The current five-year excess levy was for the 2019-2024 fiscal years, and it expires June 30, 2024.
The Upshur County excess levy has been in effect since July 1, 1999, and must be approved by local voters every five years, according to a previous My Buckhannon story.
“We have already been working with [Upshur County Clerk Carol Smith and her office] and our legal team, and we have developed a proposed levy call,” Perkins shared. “The proposed levy call maintains the same rates as the previous two levies and the wording is almost identical. Because of the method used to determine property values, the only increase the schools will receive is $18,000 per year. That is not due to an increase in taxes but due to an increase in the value of property.”
Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus explained the proposed excess levy is being placed on the Nov. 8, 2022, General Election ballot. She said she wanted to remind folks there would be no change for county taxpayers and the continuation of the levy would not raise their taxes.
“It will be a continuation,” Stankus said. “Levies are for learning; bonds are for building. This is a continuation of a levy for learning. Upshur County has had a long history of supporting its children. In 2018, the residents of this county demonstrated their support for our children, our staff and our community by passing the levy with the highest percentage rate in the history of all school levies.”
Stankus said as a result of that passage, Upshur County Schools’ children, families, employees and the community as a whole have benefitted.
“Some of the things the levy pays for include instructional programs, supplies, textbooks, library books, alternative education programs, transitional school and technology,” she said. “When other schools were struggling with technology, we were able to order our Apple iPads for our students because we had the levy.”
Stankus said capital improvements and preventative maintenance are likewise supported by excess levy funds.
“This is a huge item under our levy and is $1 million,” Stankus said. “If we cannot maintain our school buildings, it really diminishes what we do in the classrooms. This is really, really important – taking care of our roofs and air conditioning, our floors, or windows, our painting – all of that we do every single day costs $1 million.”
Stankus also said support to pay for substitute teachers is part of excess levy funding, and that amounts to $450,000 annually.
“Extracurricular activities, extended employment agreements and things such as summer school are paid for with levy funds where we are able to offer credit recovery and driver’s education classes during summer,” Stankus added.
Another item mentioned by Stankus covered by the excess levy is free student admission.
“Students get to come to the athletic events for free,” she said. “Right now, we offer a free ticket to any senior (citizen) in our community. We have had so much positive feedback about that, and this past levy we added free admission to past military and that has been a great asset to our community.
“The levy supports the community and the learning in the schools,” Stankus said. “We are all working together.”
Another use of the excess levy fees Stankus explained was student accident insurance.
“All students enrolled in Upshur County Schools is covered by accident insurance,” she said. “No one plans to get hurt, but if students get injured during school time, they are covered by that student accident insurance the board carries.”
Next, Stankus talked about community support provided by the passage of the excess school levy.
“The levy supports the community,” she said. “Every year, we support the Upshur County Library with nearly $100,000. We help support the WVU Extension Agency – the 4-H program and the archery program. Another huge initiative is the Stockert Youth & Community Center; we support them with our dollars through the levy.”
In the upcoming proposed levy, Stankus said because of feedback from families and the community about the importance of getting outside and away from screens, they plan to add pool passes and passes for admission to the West Virginia Wildlife Center in French Creek.
“The pool passes are not just for the pool but for the Upshur County Recreational Park,” she explained. “That will get our students out during the summer. The active student is mentally and emotionally healthier than the one sitting at home on the couch behind a screen all the time.”
Stankus said Upshur County Schools does not take the monies provided by the excess levy for granted.
“We want to thank the citizens for supporting our excellent school district,” Stankus said. “We, as a board, and as an administrative team, are fortunate to serve in this community because we have community support. We are blessed with outstanding teachers, and we are all about teaching and learning. Our staff and our teachers truly care about students, and they work hard. Together, we have and will continue to accomplish great things for our students. Our school system is being recognized across the state and even nationally for our work. I want to say to the board and to the community, thank you for your support for the levy.”
BOE Vice President Jan Craig asked if it was correct that the proposed excess levy would not go into effect until 2024 and Perkins said yes.
“That would be at the end of the current levy,” Perkins explained. “Elections are every four years and levies are every five years so we will be on the cycle where it appears we will be a year ahead.”
BOE President Dr. Tammy Samples asked if excess levy funds in Upshur County make up 10 percent of the budget, and Stankus said it accounts for about $3.5 million dollars of the annual budget.
Following the discussion, BOE member Patrick Long made a motion to include the proposed excess school levy question on the General Election ballot. The motion received a second from BOE member Roy Wager, and board members voted unanimously to approve placing the proposed excess levy on the Nov. 8, 2022, General Election ballot.