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Senate approves tax increase, state ed cuts


The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Senate on Wednesday evening narrowly approved a bill that will cut state support to county school districts and increase property taxes to make up the difference.

After about an hour of debate, Senate Bill 609 was approved Wednesday evening by a margin of 17-16, with one senator not present to vote.

Of senators who represent Cabell and Wayne counties, Sens. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, and Ron Stollings, D-Boone, all voted against the measure. Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, wasn’t present for the vote.

Senate Bill 609 decreases the state’s share of funding local school districts via changes to the school aid funding formula, and it makes up the difference through automatic increases in the property tax rate to a maximum amount in each of West Virginia’s 55 counties.

County boards of education don’t have means to resist the increase, but the bill allows the boards to decide whether to keep the increase to supplement the state cuts or to return property tax rates to their current, lower rates and find other ways to absorb the cuts in state funding.

If the bill is signed into law, the property tax rate will be increased to 22.95 cents per $100 of the appraised value for Class I property, 45.9 cents per $100 for Class II property and 91.8 cents per $100 of Class III and IV properties.

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.

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. The new formula increases the county boards’ share of operating their school districts.

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