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Schools chief says Levy would manage growth

March 25, 2006|By ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

An excess levy that will be submitted for renewal to Berkeley County voters this spring is needed so the county school system can continue to respond to pressures from an ever-growing student population, the county's superintendent of schools said Friday to members of the Chamber of Commerce of Martinsburg and Berkeley County.

"The excess levy provides us the support needed to deal with the increased enrollment of new students," Superintendent Manny Arvon said in an interview following his presentation Friday morning at the Holiday Inn.

Berkeley County Schools, which has added more than 5,100 students in 15 years, is one of only seven counties statewide to see enrollment increases during that period, according to school information.

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Jefferson County added 1,540 students from 1990 to 2005, and Morgan County's enrollment increased by 433 students.

With an average annual growth rate of 4.7 percent per year, the county enrolls between 700 and 800 new students annually, Arvon said.

Student enrollment is expected to increase to more than 18,000 students by 2010, according to a school system publication.

During remarks following Arvon's presentation, school board President Dr. William F. Queen asked Chamber members to trumpet passage of an excess levy that accounts for more than $20 million, or 17 percent, of the school system's annual operating budget.

"It's absolutely critical that we get the information out to our voters," Queen said of the levy that voters will decide on in the May 9 primary.

The proposed excess levy rate for Class I properties is 22.50 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. For Class II properties, the levy rate is 45.00 cents per $100 of assessed value. Class III and Class IV property rates are proposed at 90 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Combined, the school system expects to raise $42.5 million from both its regular and excess levies next year.

Arvon said the funds from the excess levy, which has been in effect for 54 years, also provide support for regular and special education instruction, textbooks and extracurricular activities.

The levy also funds supplemental salary amounts, which add another $2,600 to $4,000 to teachers' basic salaries, Del. Walter Duke said.

"If the levy were to fail, that means the teachers would be getting a corresponding cut in pay," said Duke, R-Berkeley, who predicted the result would be a "stampede" of teachers leaving the county to seek employment in Maryland and Virginia.

"If we lose that 17 percent, we might as well pack it up and go home," Duke said.

Even as enrollment increases, Berkeley County lags well behind nearby counties in Maryland and Virginia in teacher pay.

A beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree in Berkeley County earned $28,495 in 2005-06, almost $10,000 less than a beginning teacher in Washington County, and more than $11,000 less than a teacher in Loudoun County, Va. A beginning teacher with a master's degree earned $44,550 in Loudoun County that year - almost $14,000 more than a starting teacher with a master's degree in Berkeley County.

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