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School officials in Jefferson hope funding changes are made

November 29, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County, W.Va., school officials have complained for years about the state's method of funding rapidly growing school systems in the Eastern Panhandle, and now a statewide effort to change the system is under way.

While local efforts are under way to change the system, Jefferson County Board of Education President Lori Stilley is working with the West Virginia School Board Association in an attempt to get school officials from across the state involved in the effort, said Delores Milstead, vice president of the Jefferson County Board of Education.

School officials have complained about the way West Virginia government funds schools with growing student enrollment.

For example, funding for the 2004-05 school year is based on the student enrollment of October 2003, almost 11/2 years behind the existing need, Jefferson County Schools Superintendent R. Steven Nichols said in a recent report.

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The delay means that for those 18 months, Jefferson County is educating up to 350 students without state funding, Nichols said in his annual State of the Schools Report that he released earlier this month.

Although Jefferson County voters recently approved $19 million in school construction bonds for the school system, "the operating budget is strained to its limit," Nichols said in the report.

A school impact fee system, which was recently passed by the Jefferson County Commission to help offset growing student populations, has not generated enough money to make a dent in the problem, Milstead said.

Local school officials are spreading the word about how the state school funding formula also hurts counties that are losing students, Milstead said.

Because of delays in funding, a county school system that is losing students may not immediately be able to reduce the number of teachers or bus runs to save money, Milstead said.

"Everyone's affected by it," Milstead said.

Milstead said Board of Education members hope to meet with local lawmakers soon to map out a strategy to address the funding shortfall.

All 13 schools in Jefferson County have overcrowded conditions, Nichols said in his report, released Nov. 18.

Nichols said 36 portable classrooms are being used in the county and portable restrooms are being added to two middle schools, Nichols said.

School enrollment has increased about 3 percent each year, and if that continues, the school system will need four to five portable classrooms each year, Nichols said.

"As the community continues to grow through new development, the pressures on the schools to maintain a strong instructional program with overcrowded conditions and reduced funding grow more difficult," Nichols said in his report.

Nichols also expressed concern about local teacher salaries being outpaced by ones in nearby states.

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