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W.Va. gives $4.9 million to fund Martinsburg school

December 13, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County will get almost $5 million for a new intermediate school in Martinsburg while Jefferson County will get no state funding from the School Building Authority of West Virginia, officials said Monday.

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"We're just very happy. This will ensure that we'll be able to institute the full-day kindergarten," said Frank Aliveto, Berkeley County's deputy assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

The $4.9 million the Berkeley County Board of Education will receive on July 1, 2000, coupled with $3.4 million the School Building Authority awarded the county last year, moves the county closer to having two new intermediate schools in Martinsburg, Aliveto said.

The county needs $1.4 million more to fund the second school, Aliveto said. School board officials plan to ask West Virginia lawmakers this school year for that money as well as pursuing other avenues of funding, he said.

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Clacy Williams, the School Building Authority's executive director, said authority members recognized the growth-related needs in Berkeley County.

"They've got a lot of overcrowded situations in elementary schools," Williams said in a telephone interview from his Charleston, W.Va., office.

Berkeley County was one of 13 counties to get part of the $43 million available, Williams said.

Jefferson County, the second fastest growing county in the state behind Berkeley County, got no funds.

The authority already has approximately $10.5 million invested to build or renovate schools in Jefferson County. At the time that money was awarded, county education officials said they would pursue a bond issue to build a new high school and a career technical school, Williams said.

"Our position is we need to know what Jefferson County is going to do on that bond issue" before awarding the county more money, Williams said.

Jefferson County Schools Superintendent David Markoe and Board of Education President Larry Togans said they were "disappointed" with the authority's decision.

"That's going to hurt us really badly," Markoe said.

They also said they were disappointed the authority did not notify them of the decision on Monday.

They had asked the authority for $6 million, with $5 million to go to finish renovating Jefferson High School and $1 million to buy a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system for Page Jackson Elementary near Charles Town, W.Va.

Page Jackson is in "dire need" because the backup system the school now uses is antiquated, Togans said.

The school got an experimental solar-panel system 17 years ago, but it never worked properly, forcing reliance on the backup system, Markoe said.

Jefferson County School Board members are expected to discuss the funding situation at their Dec. 21 meeting and review how large of a bond issue they should ask voters to support.

Board members had been debating the amount of the future bond issue, ranging from $30 million to $35 million, before Monday's news that they would get no new funding, Markoe said.

The board could ask residents to vote on the bond issue as early as spring.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said there may be another way to help Jefferson County.

"I'm very pleased we got the money for Berkeley County, but I'm concerned we didn't get it for Jefferson County," Unger said in a telephone interview from Charleston.

Unger is drafting a bill he will introduce in January to create a second pot of school construction money targeting growth counties.

He said State Sen. Oshel B. Craigo, D-Putnam, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is supportive of the idea.

Unger said a successful Jefferson County bond vote would make the building authority more inclined to give the county money.

Berkeley County School Board officials still need to finalize the location for the two new intermediate schools, which each will require at least 15 acres, Aliveto said.

One will serve students from Martinsburg's northern primary schools, Tuscarora and Opequon. The other will serve students from Rosemont, Winchester, Burke Street and Berkeley Heights on the city's southern side.

Aliveto said construction of at least one of the schools could begin in six months, and it could be ready for the 2001-2002 school year. Which school will be built first depends on the speed in obtaining land and permits.

"Certainly if we could get them both going at the same time, we would," Aliveto said.

Each school will accommodate 650 students and have 30 classrooms, a cafeteria, a media center and a multipurpose room that can be used as a gymnasium while housing musical programs.

The intermediate schools will be for grades four and five, leaving the primary schools to offer full-day kindergarten through third grade.

With assurances of funding for a new intermediate school, plans will be made to start full-day kindergarten in Martinsburg schools next school year, Aliveto said. The School Board needs to buy about eight portable classrooms to accommodate those classes until the new schools are complete, he said.

Full-day kindergarten has been implemented in the north and south sides of the county, thanks to the new Potomac and Millcreek intermediate schools, Aliveto said.

Morgan County did not request funding this year from the School Building Authority, Williams said.

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