Letter raises eyebrows at board meeting

December 17, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Worried that Jefferson County students are being used as "pack horses" to carry political letters home, a board of education member and a county resident raised concerns Tuesday night about a letter that Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols sent home with students last week that dealt with funding issues for the school system.

Nichols said one of the reasons he wrote the letter was because of concerns he has over an attempt by a Jefferson County businessman to put a newly passed Jefferson County school impact fee system up for a countywide vote.

At the regular Jefferson County Board of Education meeting at Wright Denny Intermediate School, Nichols said a lot of misinformation is circulating about funding for the school system and he wrote the letter to get the facts out.


Jefferson County resident Leigh Koonce questioned whether Nichols should be taking such a stance on political issues and asked school board members if they reviewed the letter before it was sent out to students. Koonce said he was concerned about students being used as "pack horses" to deliver political letters.

School board President Lori Stilley supported the letter and said Nichols is required to keep parents up to date on school issues.

Nichols said he has sent similar letters home to parents regarding issues such as weighted grades.

Nichols and school board members said the letter explains how money from sources like the West Virginia Economic Development Grant Committee and the state School Building Authority fit together to meet the classroom space needs for the county.

The letter encourages people to get out and vote on May 11, which is when a proposed $19 million school bond issue will appear on the ballot.

Nichols also said in his letter that impact fees will be paid by developers.

Paul Ashbaugh, who is circulating a petition to have the impact fee system put to a countywide vote, says one of the reasons he is pursuing his campaign is because he believes it is unfair for people to pay a $7,122 impact fee for a new mobile home.

Although Stilley and Nichols stress home builders, not home buyers, will pay the impact fee, others argue the fee will be passed onto home buyers in the form of higher house prices.

School board member Paul Manzuk said Tuesday night he does not know of any developers in other areas that have impact fees who have not passed the fees on to the buyers.

Manzuk said the argument that developers will pay the fees amounted to "playing with words."

Nichols said information in his letter is "all true and it's all defensible. I'm sorry if there are some elements of the community that feel it is one-sided."

Nichols said he sent the letter home with students last week and referred to it as a "backpack note."

Ashbaugh said he wants impact fees to be put to a referendum because he is concerned about how the fees will affect home builders and people's ability to purchase homes.

Ashbaugh has drafted a proposed petition asking that the impact fee system be put before county voters. Ashbaugh has said he has been circulating the petition at convenience stores and the Wal-Mart on U.S. 340 east of Charles Town.

The Jefferson County Commission, which passed the impact fee system, said 15 percent of the county's registered voters can petition the commissioners to put the issue up for a referendum.

Fifteen percent of the county's voters equals about 3,667 people, the commissioners have said.

Although Ashbaugh could not be reached for comment Tuesday to determine if he has obtained more signatures, he said earlier that he had collected about 400 signatures.

County residents have 45 days to compile any petitions, which would make the cut off date Jan. 9.

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