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More money due Panhandle school districts

March 20, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The $10 billion budget approved Sunday by the West Virginia Legislature earmarked little new money for the Eastern Panhandle, according to local lawmakers surveyed Monday.

No money was allocated to help Blue Ridge Community and Technical College expand its Martinsburg campus. And Morgan County commissioners received no funding to help build a new courthouse.

In fact, certain regular budget line items - including the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and the George Tyler Moore Center for the study of the Civil War at Shepherd University - saw their funding slightly reduced.

Longtime House Finance Committee member Del. John Doyle said he attempted to head off the respective cuts of $15,000 and $5,000 without success.

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"I was trying to get more," said Doyle, D-Jefferson.

Even with those losses, Doyle and other area lawmakers are upbeat about the passage of legislation that they say finally recognizes the need to pay Berkeley and Jefferson county public school teachers more money than those in other counties where the cost of living arguably is less.

"We finally cracked the nut on the principle," said Doyle, describing the extraordinary student enrollment growth provision adopted in Senate Bill 541 as "major progress."

The growth "trigger" included in legislation means the Berkeley County Board of Education will receive $618,035 in additional money in the state's next budget, which begins July 1, state Sen. John Unger said Monday.

Jefferson County's board will receive $153,591 for qualifying for the same trigger, which is pulled when a county experiences at least 2 percent growth in net student enrollment in three out of five years on a rolling basis, Unger said.

The money can be used to recruit teachers and other school personnel, possibly in the form of recruiting bonuses, housing allowances or additional pay.

"It's almost a stealth locality pay (provision) but I'm afraid to use that term," said Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, who helped resolve differences in the Senate and House versions of the legislation in the waning hours of the session as part of a joint conference committee.

The money will come in addition to 4 percent more in "local share" funding, which will be distributed to all 55 counties, also as part of Senate Bill 541.

The additional share for Berkeley County amounts to $1,037,181, and $729,323 will be allocated for Jefferson County, Unger said. The bulk of $10.7 million set aside for increased enrollment also will go to the two counties in the coming year and another $1.8 million was approved to supplement the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, Unger said.

Unger said Hedgesville High School is expected to be one of three schools in the state to take part in a pilot project relating to the 21st Century Tools for 21st Century Schools Technology Initiative.

Lawmakers in both parties said funding for Blue Ridge Community and Technical College could be revived in a special session expected to be called in late spring or early summer, and funding for Morgan County's new courthouse is a possibility as well.




School-aid payoff



West Virginia's school-aid formula factors a county's public school student population and amount of money generated from local levies.

Senate Bill 541 reduced the amount of the local share that is subtracted from the state funding formula by 4 percent in the next fiscal year and another 4 percent the following year to 90 percent.

· Berkeley County is expected to received $618,035 in additional money.

· Jefferson County will receive an additional $153,591.

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