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Berkeley schools delaying bond call

January 26, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The need for additional classroom space has not declined with Berkeley County's economy, but the Board of Education has decided to delay a bond call to ask taxpayers to help pay for a fourth high school and other needed building projects.

"Right now is not the right time," board president William F. "Bill" Queen said after Monday's regular meeting. "To ask them for money right now would not be the right thing to do."

Given the economic troubles, Queen said he could not say when the school board would possibly revisit the pressing need for renovations and additional instructional space.

"We don't want to run a bond that will fail," Queen said.

Though enrollment growth slowed last fall over previous years, school administrators still needed 117 modular home-like buildings or "instructional cottages" to accommodate all of the 17,230 students that were enrolled last fall.

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That doesn't include the hundreds of classroom seats needed for prekindergarten programs that the school district is under a state mandate to provide by 2012, according to Superintendent Manny P. Arvon.

With the addition of pre-K classrooms at three "partner" child-care centers and at Hedgesville (W.Va.) Elementary School for the 2009-10 school year, the district will be able to accommodate 838 students at 19 locations in the county, officials said Monday evening.

The school district's pre-K program is supposed to be able accommodate 80 percent of the county's 4-year-old children by 2012, but Arvon said it only has about 32 percent of what is needed.

And they still had children on waiting lists for this year, said Kim Hough, who presented the pre-K plans to the board Monday.

"While I'm a supporter of early childhood education, it's hard when we're trying to find space for our 5- and 6-year-olds," Arvon said. "We're in trouble with the implementation part."

Arvon said Berkeley County wasn't able to implement full-day kindergarten until 2000, 12 years after the state adopted the change.

While construction of a new high school in Spring Mills and a substantial renovation at North Middle School will have to wait, Queen noted that the district will be able to move forward with a major addition at Eagle School Intermediate and the construction of a new primary school at Spring Mills.

The West Virginia School Building Authority (SBA) is largely underwriting the cost of both projects.

Arvon said the SBA is contributing $11.4 million to the primary school and the county school district is providing $1.3 million. The $1.3 million addition at Eagle School is expected to include $300,000 in local funds.

While hopeful the school district would be a beneficiary in the proposed $825 billion federal economic stimulus package, Queen said he was not banking on it, either.

"We've been working on this since 2007, and the timing still isn't right," Queen said.

The last bond call was in 2001, Queen said.

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