Voters to decide school excess levy renewal

By Beth Sergent -

MASON COUNTY — In addition to voting in three members of the Mason County Board of Education, voters will be deciding the fate of the renewal excess levy for Mason County Schools on Tuesday, May 8.

For the past few months, board of education members and Superintendent Jack Cullen have been hosting school board meetings at alternate locations out in the county, taking the levy fact sheet on the road and to the people to address questions.

One of the points often stressed at these meetings is, if passed, the renewal excess levy will not raise taxes. The levy rate being requested is the same as in the previous levy cycle and is a renewal for the current levy which passed Nov. 6, 2012. In fact, the excess levy has continuously been on the ballot in Mason County since May 24, 1950.

Levy facts provided by Mason County Schools include the following:

Levy dollars fund $2.1 million of professional and service salary supplements. This includes county supplemental salaries and benefits above state basic formula for professional and service employees – translated, this means, the levy helps provide more staff for the students above what the state funds during a time when more and more students are requiring more individualized attention and care. This helps fund employee dental and vision insurance as well. This also provides salaries and benefits for athletic coaches, academic coaches, after school bus/activities and it provides additional school nurses/health services and counseling services, above what the state funds. For example, the state formula provides for around two school nurses while the excess levy helps bring that total to five school nurses, three LPN’s and also employs additional teaching aides for students with special needs.

$1.4 million funds textbooks, supplies and equipment, this includes textbooks and related materials, instructional supplies, accident insurance for all students during school and school-related activities, and funds school library and media operating expenses.

$230,00 funds extra curricular and co-curricular activities, this includes field trip costs and school bus transportation costs; school athletic competitions and school bus transportation costs; school academic competitions and school bus transportation; arts related activities; student drug testing.

$2.7 million is used for maintaining and operating school facilities, this includes safety and security systems, maintenance and repair of buildings and grounds; equipment maintenance; utilities (internet, electric, telephone, gas, water, sewer); lease payments for major capital building improvements.

$150,000 funds various technology, this includes technology purchases, repairs, upgrades, software, as well as salary and benefits for computer technicians.

$590,000 funds school/student transportation, this includes fuel costs and bus and vehicle maintenance replacement, the latter of which is only partially covered by state funds, in terms of the needs of Mason County Schools.

County agencies funded from levy dollars are: $125,000 for the PRO Resource Officers from the Mason County Sheriff’s Department, providing extra security and other services at local schools; $37,500 goes to the Mason County Library for services which include summer feeding and reading programs, etc.; $25,000 to the WVU Extension Services which benefits students through 4H programs; $12,500 goes to the Mason County Fair which assists many local students who participate in various fair activities.

The levy makes up about 18 percent of the county’s total operating budget. Breaking down those numbers, 36.7 percent of the levy funds will go toward maintaining and operating school facilities; 29.1 goes towards funding professional services; 18.7 goes towards textbooks, supplies and equipment; 7.9 percent goes to school transportation; 3.1 percent goes to extra curricular and co-curricular activities; 2.7 percent goes to county agencies; 2 percent goes technology.

This is a total projected amount of $7.5 million which the renewal excess levy is estimated to bring in, if passed. If the levy fails, Cullen said this would likely mean a reduction in staff, a possible decrease in some athletic programs and possible fees to participate in those sports, decrease in extra curricular activities, decrease in extra curricular field trips, instructional materials would be limited to what is funded by the state, a reduction in available technology and a review of all the school facilities, and their “upkeep” to see which ones would remain operational based on what Mason County Schools could afford.

“It would limit what we could do,” Cullen said if the levy fails, saying levy money helps “give students the extra things they need to be successful. A vote for the levy is a vote for our students.”

Cullen added the levy helps maintain the educational facilities as well as an educated workforce, which are economic development tools when it comes to new businesses which look at both education and infrastructure offerings when locating to an area.

The current levy doesn’t expire until June 30, 2019, but by including the renewal vote on the primary ballot, it will save the school system approximately $50,000, which is the cost of a special Saturday election, Cullen said. The renewal excess levy will be for a period of five years.

By Beth Sergent

Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.

Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.