Wager: Levy would help community

BUCKHANNON – Passing the levy would benefit not only students serviced by the Upshur County school system, but also the entire community, Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Roy Wager said this week.

In a sit-down interview ahead of Saturday’s special election on the levy renewal proposal, Wager stressed the ways in which the community as a whole will continue to profit from the excess levy, should it pass.

The levy renewal proposal, if passed, would raise just over $3.3 million, or $3,346,000, annually beginning July 1, 2014, and ending June 30, 2019. The current five-year levy expires on June 30, 2014.

Wager said renewing the levy is a must if county residents want to maintain a good quality of life and see Upshur County experience continued economic growth.

“If we want to attract industry and physicians to come in that we desperately need, we need to make sure that we have the best that we can possibly have for our students,” Wager said, “and that means the best of technology, the best of curriculum, the best of facilities.”

While the technology available to students is “not always perfect,” Wager said, the school system needs levy funds – which make up 9 percent of its annual budget – to “keep up with the technology” instead of “falling farther behind.”

Programs supported by levy funds have helped to decrease Upshur County’s dropout rate and improve its graduation rate, the superintendent said, both of which are key factors in attracting business owners and doctors to the area. One such program is Destination Graduation, which has been implemented at Buckhannon-Upshur High School and Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.

“The younger you get kids to realize the importance of graduation, the more likely they’re going to stay in school,” Wager said.

“Thanks to initiatives like Destination Graduation, Upshur County’s dropout rate has decreased from 4 percent to 1 percent within the last four to five years, and graduation rate has gone up every year during that time frame, he said.

Should the levy fail, there won’t be an immediate effect because the school system has been “very fiscally conservative” in its expenditure of funds, Wager said.

“That’s the thing that people don’t see is that it doesn’t really hit you in the first year,” Wager said, “but it’s after that when you start feeling the pain.”

If the levy fails, extra-duty contracts – such as those for aides in special education classrooms – would likely be cut as would programs such as summer school.

“I think the thing that worries me most is just the general maintenance of our buildings and upgrading our technology because that costs a lot of money, and because of the levy, we’ve been very fortunate to keep our buildings in pretty good shape,” Wager said.

Wager said a vote for the levy is an investment in the future of Upshur County.

“To me, it’s that (the levy) is vital to the future of our county and that it is for the students of Upshur County, whether you have children still in school or not,” he said.

“I don’t have kids in the system anymore, but I want our kids to have the best of what’s available because they deserve the best, because they’re our future.

“We want them to stay in the county,” he added. “This is our future.”

Wager said he wants to set the record straight on one issue – passing the levy would not raise people’s taxes unless they’ve acquired additional property.

“There are still people out there saying it’s going to raise their taxes, and that’s just not true,” he said. “Since it’s a continuation (of the current levy) nothing changes, but the problem is, once you vote a levy down, it’s even harder to get it back.”

Regardless of how they plan to vote, Wager is encouraging Upshur County residents to vote in the special election Saturday. Polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.

For more information about voting, contact the Upshur County Clerk’s office at 304-472-1068. To learn more about how levy funds will be spent, visit www.upshurcountyschools.com.

Contact Katie Kuba by email at kkuba@theintermountain.com. Follow her on Twitter at IMT-Kuba.