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Wise lobbies for funds for new Jefferson County high school

May 23, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A state official predicted that Gov. Bob Wise's decision to lobby a state agency for funding for a second high school in Jefferson County will have little impact on the decision process.

Clacy Williams, executive director of the state School Building Authority, said he believes the need for a new high school in the county presents a strong enough argument that the project should be funded.

"The project, I think, can stand on its own merit," said Williams, adding he believes Wise's effect of lobbying for the money will be "nil."

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Williams said the proposed new high school was "strongly ranked" when the School Building Authority considered school projects for funding last year and it remains a "very strong" project this year, although all projects submitted for funding this year will have to be ranked again.

Williams said the only way Wise's efforts will have an effect on the funding decision is if the Jefferson County project is bumped down in its ranking.

Last week, Wise sent a letter to Williams, saying he was concerned the state may have broken its promise to help Jefferson County's education system meet the demands of the county's growth.

The School Building Authority recently turned down a request from the Jefferson County Board of Education for $15 million to help build a second high school, expected to cost at least $30 million.

Next year, Jefferson High School's student population is expected to be about 1,700, which would make it about 400 students over capacity not counting space in portable classrooms, school officials said.

It was decided the School Building Authority should be set up to fund school construction projects across the state rather than leaving it up to state lawmakers, who can feel compelled to support the needs of their constituents, Williams said.

The School Building Authority decided not to award the $15 million to Jefferson County this year, in part because $6 million for the project was tied up through another funding source, Williams said.

The state Economic Development Grant Committee decided to give the school system $6 million, but the money was thrown in limbo when the state Supreme Court said the committee was unconstitutionally appointed.

The high court pointed a new way for a revamped committee to issue the money and state lawmakers are expected to work on the new process this summer.

During the primary election next May, the school board plans to ask county voters for approval of a bond to help pay for a new high school, which would be built on 57 acres at the Huntfield development.

Earlier this week, Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said he thought the school board should hold the levy vote sooner to show the School Building Authority there is local support for the project.

Williams said Thursday it doesn't matter when the school board holds the vote - before or after the School Building Authority makes its funding decisions.

"We're very grateful for the governor's help. We need all the help we can get at this point," School Board President Lori Stilley said.

Stilley said she was not sure what caused Wise to throw his support behind the project, but said she is sure Wise has gotten pleas from residents and local lawmakers to do whatever he can to help win funding for a second high school.

Stilley said she spoke to Wise about the need for the money when the governor came to a W.Va. 9 groundbreaking in Bardane.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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