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Teacher shortage continues

Schools officials seek help from W.Va. Legislature

Schools officials seek help from W.Va. Legislature

December 31, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - When Berkeley County students return to school from holiday recess this week, dozens of classrooms will continue to be staffed with substitute teachers.

As of Thursday, there were 75 teaching vacancies, said Superintendent Manny Arvon, who said he has high hopes that state lawmakers in 2007 will help ease the Eastern Panhandle's teacher shortage, despite defeated legislative efforts in 2006.

"My focus will be on keeping more of our tax dollars here in the county (for the school system)," Arvon said.

While Arvon and school officials in neighboring Morgan and Jefferson counties are expected to renew their lobbying of state lawmakers for more local control to recruit and retain new teachers, officials in two of the three counties say new buildings to accommodate a growing student population are a priority as well.

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Jefferson County's second high school will not be open until the fall of 2008, but Board of Education President Pete Dougherty said Friday that officials must move forward with athletic event scheduling and selection of a mascot, school colors and a name. Plans to hire 40 to 50 professional staff and a "major redistricting" of the county's students between the two schools also must be done, he said.

Each high school is projected to have about 1,100 students when the redistricting is completed and the building opens for classes, Dougherty said.

"It's starting to look like a real school at this point," Dougherty said of the future campus off U.S. 340 near the Huntfield development in Charles Town, W.Va. It is scheduled to be completed in December 2007, Dougherty said.

The opening of the new school will allow officials to convert the Jefferson High School ninth-grade complex next to the existing high school to its original planned use as a middle school. Like the new high school, a name for the middle school will be selected in 2007 as well, Dougherty said.

A new high school for Berkeley County is part of the district's 10-year comprehensive plan, but Arvon said a financing plan to pay for it and several other building projects still has to be adopted.

County residents next year will be asked in a special election to tax themselves to help pay for the construction of the fourth county high school and several other building projects, Arvon said.

To win public support for the election, Arvon said he will be working to obtain a financial commitment from the state School Building Authority (SBA) to offset some of the construction costs for the high school, along with a new elementary school in Spring Mills, a middle school in southern Berkeley County and several major additions to existing facilities.

"We've had a great partnership with the SBA," Arvon said. "They recognize we help ourselves up here."

Morgan County Board of Education President Laura Smith said the district's existing facilities can withstand additional student growth, but also indicated that might not continue to be the case in the long term.

"We had more growth this year than in years past, and the school buildings can accommodate more students, but with more growth, we would have to re-evaluate our staff needs," Smith said.

Smith echoed Arvon's and Dougherty's concerns about attracting teachers, and said that fulfilling the federally mandated requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act came without adequate financial support.

"We are fortunate in Morgan County to have the support of citizens through the excess levy to help bolster some extra benefits to our staff," Smith said. "Even though we have the excess levy, it does not increase the pay enough to keep us from losing teachers to surrounding states that have higher pay."

The county's current excess levy was approved by referendum in December 2003, and will be voted on again in December 2008, Morgan County Chief Deputy Clerk Cathy Payne said.

Staff writer Trish Rudder contributed to this story.

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