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Unger vows to keep up fight on growth fund

April 03, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - In the wake of a failed proposal to put aside extra money for burgeoning school districts, the bill's Senate sponsor is settling for less - for now.

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said that when 10 lawmakers meet in May or June to hammer out the "legislative intent" of next year's budget, they will likely encourage the School Building Authority to provide school construction money to growing counties.

However, the recommendation is not binding, and Unger said it's "just a Band-Aid approach."

Unger said the creation of a Schools for Growth Counties Fund - a measure that passed the Senate unanimously this year but died in the House - will be a top priority in the next legislative session.

"We hope next year this will be one of the first bills that will be worked on," said Unger, the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 619.

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The legislature last month approved the 2000-2001 state budget, but a "budget digest" outlining the legislative intent of the spending plan will be added.

Unger said his bill may be retooled to also include operating expenses.

He plans to meet again with Panhandle school officials and to hold a series of town meetings for public input before the next legislative session.

The growth fund would have been for counties where the school population has increased at least 5 percent in the previous nine years.

Those districts - the three Panhandle counties plus four others - would have qualified at the start, according to Unger, adding they all could use the money to build new schools.

The fund would start at $3 million and would grow to $5 million in its second year.

Districts could still apply for money from the existing School Building Authority fund, for which every county in the state is eligible.

Eastern Panhandle school districts are growing at a rapid pace, while most of the rest of the state is seeing declining enrollment.

Unger said he will also push for a change in the weighted scoring system for school construction projects.

Currently, growth is one of seven factors, but its weight should be increased, he said.

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