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Superintendent of Upshur County Schools Christy Miller

Upshur County Commission reviews $3.8 Million school levy proposal for May ballot

BUCKHANNON – The superintendent of Upshur County Schools presented the proposed excess levy to the Upshur County Commission last week so it may appear on the May 14 ballot.

Superintendent Christy Miller attended the Jan. 18 Upshur County Commission meeting to outline what the levy pays for throughout the school system.

“The overall annual excess levy that we are asking for voters to pass is an annual cost of $3.8 million,” Miller said. “That is a slight increase from what was asked for in the last election from the voters; however, when we went back to do a real deep dive into invoices and things that we’ve received over the past few years, we found there were additional expenses due to price increases that naturally occur over the years.”

Miller said that if approved by voters, the five-year levy would go into effect July 1, following the expiration of the last levy.

“This levy is based solely on the needs of our students,” Miller said. “There are some needs in there for extracurricular contracts for coaches and those who help support our students in other ways than what we do in the classroom on a daily basis. We are going to continue to look at capital improvements and preventative maintenance because that’s something that we have to do. Looking at the age of the buildings that are here in Upshur County, there are certain things that must happen annually, including HVAC, roofing, windows, doors, and other security measures that we have to continue to keep apprised of, so we’re looking in the annual amount of a $1 million for that.”

A total of $650,000 will be placed towards providing instructional programs, supplies, materials and equipment.

“We don’t want to put that a burden back onto our families, so we’re going to continue to be able to provide the materials our students need on a daily basis to be successful,” Miller said. “Also included in that is an alternative education program, because as we continue to get back to somewhat normal after COVID, we have noticed an increase in behavioral issues even with our younger students. So we’ve been working very closely with Community Care and we have what we feel is a very good system of support in place at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School.”

A total of $450,000 will be allocated to substitute employees.

“We can’t function without substitutes — we have to make sure we have adequate coverage financially for the substitutes that choose to come in,” Miller said. “We are also asking for an annual amount of $400,000 for technology access and improvements.”

A total of $360,000 has been assigned to extracurricular activities and extended employment agreements.

“Our contracted services, which includes the prevention resource officers, is one of the areas we had to look to see if we were funding at a level where we felt we could continue, so we did increase that a little bit,” Miller said. “That also includes athletic trainers — it’s important to make sure our athletes are kept in good condition to go out and compete for us — as well as bus expenses related to transporting our athletes and also all our students for the field trips they take as an additional piece to our curriculum that we offer.”

A total of $200,000 is budgeted to cover the costs of student and community-related services.

“Some people look at this part about letting folks into our activities for free as not really necessary, but we have seen an increase in participation not only from our students but from our community in supporting our student-athletes as they compete, whether that’s in the gym playing basketball, wrestling, out on the football field, soccer, lacrosse — we are seeing an increase in participation from our community, but also from our student body,” Miller said. “We also want to offer that to current military folks who are serving to continue to protect us, as well as those who have since left the military, so that’s an additional piece that we want to add.”

Miller said they also want to help support the Upshur County Public Library, 4-H, the extension office, and Stockert Youth and Community Center.

“The important question I know everyone wants to ask is, “Will out taxes increase? Will we use the current levy rates that are in place?” Miller said. “This is not a 100 percent levy — it’s about 40 to 43 percent, which is where we have been traditionally here in Upshur County. I do not see the need for us to go to 100 percent. What we have here and how we’ve broken it down will sufficiently support those extra costs that we incur within the school system.”

Due to the state takeover of the Upshur County School system, Miller said the current state superintendent, Michele Blatt, is the person who approved the order to place the levy on the ballot.

“The one unique piece about the excess levy this year is that the local board of education, because of the situation that we’re currently in, does not have the authority to approve the order,” Miller said. “What I’m leaving today is actually a signed order by [Blatt] and by me, with our seal, so you will have an official copy of this order. I would ask that it be placed into consideration for inclusion on the May primary ballot.”

Upshur County Commissioner Doug Bush said he and the rest of the commission would always aid in any effort to support education.

“I don’t think you have to try to get this commission to support the education or children,” Bush said. “I think we’ve all volunteered and been there, so we know the importance of a levy and supporting what we do with our schools.”

Upshur County Commissioner Sam Nolte said he thinks it will be a battle getting the levy passed, but if it fails, that will be another blow to the Upshur County education system.

“I agree with Commissioner Bush wholeheartedly that education is probably the number one thing we need to focus on to retain people in Upshur County and attract people to Upshur County,” Nolte said. “When we have tried to do recruitment, the number one question is schools, our education system, so I think that focusing on not just having the schools but providing a quality education that prepares students for the next steps in life is one of the most important things we can focus on right now.”

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