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Harrison Board of Education members raise concerns about budget

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

The Harrison County Board of Education entered levy expenditures for 2000-2001 and conducted a public hearing on the budget for next fiscal year at a Monday evening meeting.

Regular and excess levy tax collections for 1999-2000 increased $320,274 from the previous year, but the increase for 2000-2001 is substantially lower, at $55,042, according to Board Treasurer Sharon Haddix.

Board members expressed concerns about tight budgets in future years, caused by a continued decline in student enrollment and enrollment based state aid, as well as decreasing levy revenues caused by a decline in the property owning population.

"Levy rates are the same as last year, but in reality tax collections are down so we won't, in reality, collect as much money," said Board President James E. Bennett.

Enrollment in county schools dropped 220 students last year to about 11,700. Enrollment stood at 12,500 as recently as the 1992-1993 school year. County schools now have 25.1 professional positions and 33.8 more service positions that are not funded through the enrollment-based state school aid formula. More than $5.7 million in levy funds will be used to pay salaries for those positions.

Board member D.D. Meighen said the board does everything it can to avoid laying off teachers.

"We've not had a reduction in force in 12 years," Meighen said. "We've had to consolidate some classrooms and transfer teachers to save their jobs, but we don't want to RIF anyone."

The current levy expires next July. In the public hearing, Bennett asked Norma Taylor, President of the Harrison County Education Association, if the public might support the next levy if the rate was increased from 90 percent to 100 percent of assessed property value.

"At 100 percent, the levy would bring in close to $1 million a year," Bennett said. "With enrollment going the way it's going, we may have to cut people, maintenance, programs and other things we've been blessed with over the years. "Can we renew the levy with an increase? I can see some austere years coming down the road."

Other than Taylor, Paul Hamrick, a county resident and member of Challenge West Virginia, a group that opposes school consolidations, was the only member of the public who attended the budget hearing. Hamrick addressed the board about his concern that maintenance and facilities projects be equitably distributed through the school system.

In other business, the board met in executive session Monday afternoon to continue the search for retiring Superintendent Robert Kittle. Meighen said the board has about 24 applicants, adding members are preparing a ratings system for the candidates.

Staff writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442.

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