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Arvon optimistic about school funding bill

March 24, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The excitement in Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon's voice traveled through the cell phone airwaves and over the mountains Wednesday.

Arvon, heading to a meeting in Romney, W.Va., was discussing a bill that passed unanimously Tuesday in the Senate that would ensure schools are promptly funded for new students sitting in classrooms.

"I am excited, optimistic and keeping my fingers crossed that the bill makes it through the House (of Delegates) and that it becomes law," Arvon said.

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Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, the primary sponsor of the bill, said it has been forwarded from the Senate to the House of Delegates. He said he doesn't believe the bill will face any problems there.

Under the bill, a projection would be made for counties such as Berkeley and Jefferson that have experienced growth. Using statistics from previous years, school officials in growth counties would estimate how many new students are likely to enroll.

This school year, 739 new students enrolled in Berkeley County schools, Arvon said.

Currently, schools are not funded for new students until a year later. For example, in December 2004 Berkeley County received a check from the state for new students who enrolled in the 2002-03 school year, Arvon said.

The bill would speed up funding allocations.

Once a projection is made, 60 percent of the funding would be sent to school officials by Sept. 1 of the school year. After an official student count is taken in October, the remainder of the funding would be sent by Dec. 31, Unger said.

"For us financially, it's wonderful," Arvon said.

The money will be used to pay for new teachers, materials, bus drivers, service personnel and other needs caused by an increase in students, he said.

Excess levy money - extra funding that is approved by voters - can now be used for other needs instead of basic ones, Arvon said.

Along with Unger, other sponsors of the bill included Walt Helmick, chairman of the Senate's finance committee, and Bob Plymale, chairman of the Senate's education committee. Unger is a member of both committees.

"I think finally the leadership looked at the numbers and simply asked, how do we do the right thing, and they wanted to do the right thing," Arvon said.

Bill Queen, president of the Berkeley County Board of Education, said the bill's passage likely was helped by a visit legislators made to the Eastern Panhandle last October.

Legislators were able to see the growth firsthand by traveling around the area and during a visit to Martinsburg South Middle School, which is across from Martinsburg High School.

Both schools, and many others, have portable classrooms outside that are needed to handle the growth.

"A lot of the education (committee) members were just overwhelmed" by the growth, Unger said, which is likely why the bill passed by a 34-0 vote.

Unger said Senate members already are including the school funding as they work on the state budget.

"This is a huge victory for the Eastern Panhandle," Arvon said.

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