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Snyder on target on school-funding issue

May 23, 2003

State Sen. Herb Snyder is right when he says that the Jefferson County, W.Va., Board of Education should hold a school construction bond election sooner instead of later. Recent history suggests that state School Building Authority officials want a local commitment before they provide any dollars.

Snyder said this week he'd received indications from state officials that the local system's chances of getting funds would be better if local officials quickly tied down as much local-share money as they can.

But School Board President Lori Stilley said she believes it's important that the SBA make its commitment first. Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson, said he believes there will be no problem getting SBA cash for a new high school.

No problem? The SBA recently turned down a $15 million request for cash. And a look back at what SBA has done previously suggests that it wants local commitments before it makes state grants.

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In 2000, the SBA emphasized that it couldn't make multi-year commitments and said that any state grant would have to be matched by local dollars.

Then-superintendent David Markoe told the school board the same thing that year and after a $39 million bond issue was defeated, the SBA turned down the board's request for $20 million in aid.

In rejecting that request, SBA officials emphasized that they had only $28 million for the whole state - and $180 million worth of requests.

In the past, SBA staffers have been unwilling to promise that if a bond issue passes, state money will be forthcoming. This is an appointed board, they say, and staffers can't promise in advance how members will vote.

What Snyder is saying is that SBA's members want to see a show of good faith, a pledge that Jefferson County wants a partner instead of a sugar daddy. It's time for everyone who believes that one of West Virginia's most affluent counties will get millions in state cash without providing matching money up front to stop kidding themselves.

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