Panhandle schools' growth continues

October 26, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The number of students attending Berkeley County's public schools has unofficially eclipsed 16,000, thanks to what Superintendent Manny P. Arvon said Wednesday might be the largest one-year enrollment increase of 724 pupils.

"Since the year 2000, I think we have increased over 3,200 students," said Arvon, who doesn't expect the enrollment trend to end any time soon after hearing the latest economic forecast this week by West Virginia University researchers.

"I think the folks moving here are bringing their children," he said.

Officials in Jefferson and Morgan counties also reported increases in their student enrollment numbers over last year.

For the 2006-07 academic year, the latest enrollment tally - 16,347 - was submitted Friday to the West Virginia Department of Education for review and official approval. Before this year, the second highest jump in enrollment, at least since 2001, was a 706-student increase between the 2003-04 and 2004-05 academic years, records show. Last year, the number of students increased by 640.


Arvon described the numbers as "amazing," and noted school officials' constant struggles to provide enough classroom space in response to the growth and enough qualified instructors.

The 15th school building project since 2002 is expected to be completed in August and the school district now has 90 trailers or "instructional cottages" on campuses around the county to provide classroom space, Arvon said.

Finding enough qualified instructors willing to accept less pay than neighboring school systems in Virginia and Maryland has been a problem even more complicated by the state's School Aid Formula, which does not factor in the need for cost-of-living allowances or what is known as locality pay, Arvon said.

"Our No. 1 challenge is providing classroom teachers," Arvon said.

All of the school buildings constructed over the last several years "don't mean much" without qualified teachers, Arvon said.

According to the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research forecast released Tuesday by the university, the outlook for the Eastern Panhandle includes "continued strong economic growth with job and population gains well in excess of state and national rates."

Population gains are expected to remain strong compared to the state and the nation with the region forecast to add 3,000 to 4,000 residents per year, according to the forecast.

Jefferson County

In Jefferson County, 171 more students have shown up this year looking for an education, putting the county's enrollment at 8,045 pupils, Jefferson County Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols said.

Nichols said student population in the county has been growing about 2 percent a year, keeping educators scrambling to provide space for the students.

In recent years, Jefferson County Schools officials have been concerned about the large population growth being felt in neighboring Loudoun County, Va., coming this way and bringing more students.

Morgan County

The official enrollment count for Morgan County Schools is 2,694 students, an increase of 78 students over last year, said David Temple, superintendent for the county school system.

Temple said the county will receive about $3,000 for each of the 78 students from the state by the end of December to support the growth.

"Berkeley Springs High School had the most growth and added about 80 kids in the last two years, and it will continue to grow for the next few years," he said.

"We project 50 (new) students in the next three years" at Berkeley Springs High School, Temple said.

"This year we did have space to accommodate all our students," Temple said.

Additional teaching and support staff positions will be needed to accommodate the growth, he said.

Staff writers Dave McMillion and Trish Rudder contributed to this story.

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