CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Voters in Jefferson County approved the renewal of the Jefferson County Board of Education Excess Levy in a one-sided special election held Saturday, on a vote of 4,551 to 1,278.
“The results came in and they were similar in every precinct:There was overwhelming support,” Board of education president Scott Sudduth said in a telephone interview after unofficial results became available. “This was an enormous win for the students and citizens of Jefferson County, and it says so much about the county and its view of education.”
The Jefferson County Board of Education Excess Levy is based on a tax formula, 45.9 cents on every $100 of assessed property value, that has existed in the county since 1946. The levy is up for renewal by vote every five years.
Currently, the Jefferson County Board of Education is operating on the 2010 Excess Levy, which provided $20,095,312 in total revenue to the school system. Under the 2010 Excess Levy, $30,000 was allocated to WVU Extension Services, $60,000 to local public libraries, $850,000 to instructional, media and technology materials for students, $850,000 to schools for materials and supplies, $1,250,000 for professional development, national certification and other teacher/service personnel benefits and $17,055,312 for salary assistance for teachers and service personnel, including librarians, music and art teachers, counselors and nurses.
The 2015 Excess Levy voted on by the public Saturday was reduced from the 2010 Excess Levy amount to a total of $19,146,219.
The funding for instructional, media and technology materials for students has been reduced by $30,000 to $820,000, and funding for the school allocations for materials and supplies category has been reduced to $425,000. The proposed funding allocation for salary assistance for teachers and service personnel has been reduced by $524,093 to $16,531,219.
In recent months, several bodies in Jefferson County, including the Jefferson County Commission, the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and citizen groups like the League of Women Voters, held forums and discussions to educate the public on what the levy is and isn’t.
At a November League of Women Voters forum on the Excess Levy, Sudduth said he dislikes the name, since it may lead the public to falsely believe that voting for renewal of the levy would result in an increase in taxes.
“If we could change the name from ‘excess levy’ to something else, we would, but that name is set by state code,” Sudduth said. “(The excess levy) is not an increase in taxes or a new property tax. The way I see it, it’s a continuation of a commitment to education made five years ago, and, as we rightfully should, we ask you, the voters, if you want to continue it.”
According to Dr. Bondy Shay Gibson, superintendent of Jefferson County Schools, $346,000 in expenditures at the school system’s central office have been made due to a one-percent cut to funding at the state-level in October.
If the levy had not been approved, a budget cut of approximately $19 million would have had to be made, she said.
“This is not a levy focused on things, buildings or materials. Ninety-one percent of this levy supports people, positions and salaries,” Gibson said. “We’ve cut $346,000 in positions from the central office, and we’re trying to keep any more cuts away from the students and classrooms.”
Polling places in each of Jefferson County’s 32 precincts were open from 6:30 a.m. -7:30 p.m.
According to deputy county clerk Cherokee Grim, 22 absentee ballots had been requested prior to Saturday’s election and a total of 1,525 people voted early. Votes were counted by hand.
The election results are unofficial at this point, until canvassing takes place.
“Tonight’s vote is a testament to the outstanding service and professional staff in Jefferson County,” Gibson said after the election results were tallied. “We will continue to earn their trust every day in serving their children.”
-Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-725-6581 or www.twitter.com/mstortstromJN.