Bus money needed

Berkeley County Schools seeks state help

Berkeley County Schools seeks state help

February 15, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Even if Berkeley County Schools superintendent Manny Arvon had enough highly qualified teachers in the growing school district's classrooms, he still would be faced with the challenge of financing the cost of transporting students to them.

Arvon said Wednesday that the state's reimbursement formula for transportation fails to factor in Berkeley County's enrollment growth and has forced the school board recently to find money on its own to pay for additional buses and maintenance. The alternative sources primarily are the county's excess levy, the "local (2 percent) share" of county property taxes and any money left over from the school district's budget from the previous year.

"Again, one size absolutely does not fit all," Arvon said.

Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, said Wednesday that he and other members of a House Education subcommittee are expected to "report out" proposed legislation to the full committee for introduction in the House of Delegates this week that would tweak the school aid formula and help address the transportation shortfall.


"They're waiting for (financial) numbers to plug in from (Executive Director of School Finance) Joe Panetta and the Department of Education," Duke said.

Fellow subcommittee member Locke Wysong, D-Jefferson, said the formula changes in what was a 60-page proposal Wednesday are meant to make the formula more efficient.

"We're trying to make sure that we make changes to this formula that actually make sense," Wysong said. "We know it's not a cure-all, but a step in the right direction."

In addition to the school bus funding concern, Arvon said hiring enough bus drivers also was a challenge.

"Even today, we cannot guarantee athletic trips in the springtime," Arvon said.

Transportation for special needs and preschool students is provided through a contract between the county school board and Regional Education Service Agency VIII (RESA VIII).

"We absolutely did not have the drivers to provide that service," Arvon said.

Through the contract, the school district can avoid being forced to find full-time drivers or pay health benefits, but still must reimburse RESA, a state-created entity, for hourly wages and bus maintenance.

Arvon added that the district's retired drivers are able to "double dip" and collect retirement and drive for RESA as a result of the contractual relationship, now in its third year.

Though factored into the state's school aid formula, Duke said Wednesday that his sponsored proposal - House Bill 2706 - to increase a county school district's share of local property taxes by 28 percent wasn't "moving" in the House, despite having the backing of House Majority Leader Joe DeLong when introduced Jan. 30. Duke's bill was referred to the House Education Committee.

Wysong said he still expects a local share bill, like House Bill 2706, to be voted on this session, but possibly a version that comes from the Senate and does not provide for as large of a local share percentage.

"I don't know what the percentage will be," Wysong said.

Though closely monitoring the various local share proposals, Arvon said he wasn't "overly optimistic" about them passing.

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