By LACIE PIERSON
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Senate on Wednesday will vote on a bill that will place a greater burden on taxpayers to support their local public school systems and a burden on their local boards of education to choose between maximizing funds for their school districts or lowering local property tax rates.
Senate Bill 609 is titled as “creating additional flexibility for school systems in the use of school aid funds,” and while it does give county boards of education some wiggle room in setting their property tax rates, it does so while decreasing the state’s share of funding local school districts via the school aid funding formula.
As it stands, SB 609 will automatically increase the property tax rate to a maximum amount in each of West Virginia’s 55 counties.
Currently, the rates are set at 19.4 cents per $100 on Class I properties, 38.8 cents on Class II properties and 77.6 cents on Class III and IV properties.
The bill, in offering some flexibility to county boards of education, would allow the boards to vote to lower the rate back to the current rates, but they could not increase it.
Amy Willard, director of the Office of School Finance for the West Virginia Department of Education, provided estimates as to how much money those tax rates would cost on Class I properties, assuming homes were assessed for 60 percent of their value.
Homeowners of a house that was assessed for $75,000 would see an increase of $31.95 in their property taxes, and homeowners whose property was assessed for $100,000 would pay an additional $42.60, Willard said.
For a home assessed at $150,000, Willard said those homeowners could expect to pay an additional $63.90 in property taxes, and a home assessed for $200,000 would cost its owners $85.20 more than it did last year.
County board of education members would have to determine whether they keep the new higher rates to supplement cuts in state funding or lower the rates to alleviate the burden to taxpayers.
The board members will have to make the decision after they see how much funding they’ll receive from the state in a newly devised school aid funding formula that has been calibrated to calculate a lower total cost to educate students in each county.
The new formula is expected to save the state a little more than $79.2 million, money that won’t go to county school districts under the new formula, according to the fiscal note for the bill.
Currently, the school aid funding formula calculates how much it costs a county school district to educate its students in a given school year. The formula factors in enrollment, maintenance factors and how many teachers in a county are paid for with state dollars.
Once the total cost of educating students in a district is calculated using the formula, it’s a matter of simpler arithmetic to determine how much of the total cost will be covered by the state and how much will be covered by the county school districts.
State education officials take 90 percent of a county’s property tax revenue and subtract it from the total cost of educating students in that county.
Whatever the difference is between those two numbers, the state pays to the county school district. The rest of the cost is left to the county school districts with their property tax revenues.
If SB 609 is signed into law, the initial formula to calculate total cost of educating all students would be changed in a way that shows less expense to educate students in the Mountain State.
Under the new formula, Cabell County Schools is estimated to lose $3.4 million in state funding and Wayne County Schools would lose $1.1 million, Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said. If the boards of education vote to keep the existing, lower property tax rate, they’ll have to find other ways to make up for those funding losses, Plymale said.
Plymale, who serves on the Senate Education and Finance committees, voted against the bill each time it was approved in those respective committees.
The bill does allow some additional flexibility for county school districts to spend funds allocated for bus purchases on facility and equipment repairs, maintenance or improvement or replacement, Plymale said, which is a good thing in his eyes.
However, Plymale said the rest of the bill was a backdoor way of cutting funding to the state’s public schools and putting the cost on the backs of county boards of education and taxpayers.
“It’s a creative way for them to take money away from the counties and making the counties accept a tax increase from Charleston,” Plymale said. “It allows the state to capture that money by not having to spend $79 million on schools. That helps them balance the budget on the backs of the counties.”
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