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Education officials like funding chances

Members of the state Board of Education toured Jefferson County schools and said the county has a good chance of getting money f

Members of the state Board of Education toured Jefferson County schools and said the county has a good chance of getting money f

October 09, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

After touring a handful of Jefferson County schools Wednesday morning and observing classes being held in converted break rooms and storage areas, West Virginia Board of Education members said they believe the local school system will be looked on favorably for more construction funding.

State Superintendent of Schools David Stewart, after walking through hallways crowded with students and looking in on cafeterias and classrooms full of pupils, said the schools are "definitely overcrowded."

"I think they will get funded. They have as good of a chance as anyone else," said Stewart, who is also chairman of the state School Building Authority.

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Concerned about how it is going to house new students that continually are trickling into the system, the Jefferson County Board of Education recently submitted a request to the School Building Authority for $19 million to help build a second high school in the county, which will cost an estimated $35 million. To help fund the rest of the project, which includes renovating Jefferson High School, the Board of Education has received a $6 million state economic development grant and plans to ask voters to approve a $19 million bond issue next May.

The state Board of Education periodically travels to see other school districts in the state and on Wednesday, the board came to Jefferson County to start two days of meetings.

The Jefferson County Board of Education used the state board's visit as an opportunity to show them the overcrowded conditions in local schools.

Local school officials took state Board of Education members on a bus tour of Jefferson High School, a ninth-grade complex next door, Shepherdstown (W.Va.) Elementary School, Page Jackson Elementary School and Charles Town Middle School.

State Board of Education members were able to see overcrowded conditions right off the bat with the first stop at Jefferson High School.

The high school, which is more than 30 years old, was designed for about 1,200 students but currently has about 1,600, school officials said.

State Board of Education members were led down hallways of the school and shown a former teacher cafeteria that was converted into a theater classroom and a storage room that was converted into an English classroom.

"We're masters at this," Principal Susan Wall told board members.

Tour members, which included state officials, teachers and members of the media, later went out a back entrance of the building.

"Welcome to Portland," Wall said, referring to the five portable classrooms that have been moved onto the property over the years to provide more space for students.

"I was going to ask you where they were because I knew they were here somewhere," said state Board of Education member Ronald B. Spencer.

Two portable classrooms initially were brought to the school about eight years ago, Wall said. A third portable classroom was added last year and two more were put in this year, Wall said.

Like Stewart, other state Board of Education members said they believe Jefferson County has a good chance of getting the state funding it needs to build a second high school to relieve overcrowding at Jefferson.

Although Spencer stressed that he is not on the School Building Authority, he said he believes the state is going to make an effort to get growing school districts the money they need.

"If guidelines are followed, I don't see any reason they shouldn't get funded," said state Board of Education member Sheila Hamilton, who lives in Shepherdstown. Hamilton also is a new member of the School Building Authority.

The School Building Authority, which will have about $200 million to distribute statewide this year for school construction projects, often finds it difficult to meet all of the state's school building needs, Hamilton said.

"The tough part is you only have so much money," Hamilton said.

Jefferson County Schools officials are expected to present their funding request to the authority on Nov. 18 or 19.

The School Building Authority is expected to announce in December which school construction projects will receive money.

The School Building Authority request, the $19 million bond issue and the $6 million state grant are part of a comprehensive attempt to get enough money for new schools. Included in the effort is an attempt by the Jefferson County Commission to pass school impact fees, which are fees on new homes collected from housing developers to help pay for new schools.

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