MOUNDSVILLE - Pay raises, school repairs and restoring federal cuts to local education programs are among the items Marshall County Schools Superintendent Fred Renzella said the district will fund with an additional $5.7 million it is set to receive in the next fiscal year.
The county Board of Education last week approved keeping the levy rate at 98 percent for the coming year, which will result in the additional millions for the school system. Some residents had urged the board to reduce the rate to 72 percent, which still would have provided additional funding for the schools due to a $605 million increase in county property values.
The school system's operating budget for the current year is $51 million, which includes about $16 million from county taxpayers through an excess levy. With the additional $5.7 million, the budget will near $57 million for 2013-14.
County voters in December renewed the excess levy for another five years without knowing that, due to the increased property values, the board would be able to collect the additional $5.7 million on top of the $16 million levy.
Renzella, in defending the board's position to keep the levy rate at 98 percent, said there is too much uncertainty and too much need within the district to make drastic cuts.
"People assume it sounds like a lot of money," he said of the $5.7 million. "But factor in that 85 percent (of the budget) is in salaries for people, and we are in a labor intensive field."
Renzella broke down how the additional millions will be spent, naming federal funding cuts as the number one reason for the continued 98 percent rate.
He said a 5 percent cut is expected in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 funding, used for personnel development and some programming, as well as special education cuts of up to 5 percent.
"Fortunately we were told about the federal cuts," Renzella said. "As that funding is cut, we have two options: remove the programs or backfill from our own budget. We don't typically have programs we don't need, so we're choosing to fund it ourselves."
Additionally, Renzella said the district has new expenditures on the horizon, including raises for school employees for the first time in 23 years. Those raises would be based on a person's experience in the district and their degree status, with the total estimated to be at about $1.3 million annually.
The district also has to make several upgrades to Glen Dale and Washington Lands elementary schools, which Renzella said are past the point of minor repairs.
"The roof at Glen Dale is leaking like a sieve," he said. "The students have limited use of the gym, and there is also a need for a new HVAC system and security upgrades."
The work at Glen Dale and Washington Lands will cost the district an estimated $1.5 million. The district had sought West Virginia School Building Authority funds over the past few years, but was unsuccessful.
Additionally, after securing $7 million from the SBA for the John Marshall High School renovation project, the district will contribute $6.2 million, as well as assume a $2 million low-interest loan to fund the remainder, Renzella said.
Renzella said if the board had chosen to lower the levy rate, the real savings would have come for businesses and those who own gas wells on their property, not personal property owners.
"The real savings would be to the oil, gas and coal companies who are getting extra revenue," Renzella said. "Why should these people or companies get a break?"
Additionally, Renzella said neither he nor the board has heard from a representative from any company or industry in the county who takes issue with the county's levy rate.
"They've been paying taxes under that structure for years, and they are proud to invest in their community because their employees live here, work here, build homes and send their children to school here," he said. "They understand how economics works, and they have yet to raise a word or sent a letter to complain."
Renzella said he believes the majority of the residents in the county are supportive of the way the district operates, as the excess levy passed with 60 percent of the vote.
"The people voted for the levy (rate) at 98 percent and elected the members of the board," he said. "I just don't know why the supporters don't have a voice 10 times higher than they do."
The levy rate will be set officially on April 16 by the board, pending approval from the West Virginia State Auditors Office. The board and district also are developing the 2013-14 budget, which will be presented at about that same time.