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Phares: Passing levy a community investment

October 21, 2010

(Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles about the proposed levy for Randolph County Schools. Additional stories will include community support for the levy call and opposing views.)

As voters head to the polls in 12 days, one of the key issues locally is the excess levy call for Randolph County Schools. The school system has spent the last 18 months crafting a proposal Superintendent Dr. James Phares believes will improve the education of all students.

The $14 million levy call will generate $2.8 million a year over a five-year period. The money will be divided into four categories, $3 million for school resource allocations, $2 million for partnership programs, $4 million for technology allocations and $5 million for maintenance.

"The basic primary need of the school levy is to build capacity to keep all 15 shools open," Phares said. "The series of six summer forums in the summer of 2009, the phone survey in December and the 15 school community forums we did this summer allowed us to provide a target on two things: What the needs were at the school level and, second, what the community would support in a levy call."

The superintendent believes the levy addresses the needs found in each school. The county office has spent a lot of time on the levy call, he said, and everyone who has reviewed it understands how the monies will be used.

According to Phares, the levy address three key areas: instruction, technology and maintenance.

"I think we are at a critical crossroads in Randolph County. This board, superintendent, central office staff, faculty and principals, more so than any other time, have gone out to the public and said, 'What do you value in your schools? What is it you want to change?' and 'What will you do to see that change come about?' Internally as an organization, all these groups have bonded together to meet those citizens' demands," Phares said. "The levy is the final step in the communities' investment in the school system."

If the levy is approved by voters, Phares said, the additional funds will help free up other money in the county's budget.

According to Phares, many of the items in the levy are already funded at lower levels, and items never before funded may now be financed.

"Right now we devote all of our Step 7 money to salaries. It can be used for textbooks, instructional materials and faculty senate subsidies. We use approximately 90 percent of it for salaries," Phares said. "We use some Step 7 money for ArtsBank, but not at the level of the levy."

According to the levy call, $400,000 will be spent per year, or $2 million over the life of the levy, in support of partnerships and school programs. The public libraries in the county will receive $10,000 per year per library. The levy also extends the school system's partnership with the ArtsBank program. The 11 elementary schools will receive $6,000 per site to expand art coverage and $14,000 will be spent in support of secondary programs.

"Many of the programs that are listed in the partnership programs come out of the local school share, which is around $475,000," Phares said. "We use that now for field trips, music program support and extracurricular program support."

The levy also gives $80,000 per year in support of music programs in the schools. The money will be allocated based on the size of the program and used for assistant band directors, equipment purchases and repairs.

"We are going to broaden and expand our arts and band programs," Phares said. "That has always been important in Randolph County and this will ensure it will be in place for the next five years."

Another $55,000 per year will be used to support elementary school field trips while secondary schools will receive $135,000 per year for extracurricular support. The secondary school extracurricular money will be divided by schools as follows: Elkins High School, $35,000; Elkins Middle School, $25,000; Harman School, $5,000; Tygarts Valley High/Middle School, $45,000; and $22,500 for general expenses.

Phares said the schools are given "a little" money for extracurricular activities, but it is mainly subsidized through fundraising efforts. There will still be some fundraising such as the annual Elkins Band Corn Roast, fruit sale and school carnivals, he said.

"We are going to get out of the business of putting students on the streets selling doughnuts and cookie dough," Phares said. "We are going to greatly limit and reduce the number of fundraising efforts that go beyond the school."

About $3 million over the life of the levy, or $600,000 per year, will be used for school allocations. These funds will be spent at each school's discretion. Expenditures greater than $5,000, however, will need to receive approval from the Board of Education.

Under the support for schools, funds from the levy can include student supplies, instructional materials and equipment, furnishings and professional development. If the levy passes, the funding for each school per year from the $600,000 will be: Beverly Elementary School, $33,142.36; Coalton Elementary School, $28,559.10; Elkins High School, $71,630.70; Elkins Middle School, $55,837.78; George Ward Elementary School, $35,351.16; Harman School, $31,154.44; Homestead Elementary School, $27,620.36; Jennings Randolph Elementary School, $35,412.42; Midland Elementary School, $36,345.12; North Elementary School, $35,406.38; Pickens School, $22,595.34; Randolph Technical Center, $37,394.30; Third Ward Elementary School, $37,449.52; Tygarts Valley Middle/High School, $48,990.50; and Valley Head Elementary School, $21,153.58. About $41,956.94 will be used for matching grants.

About $4 million over the life of the levy will be spent on technology, which includes computers, software, technology supplies, system upgrades, technician support and instructional specialist support.

"Students are going to have access to technology that they have not had before. Instruction will change because of the access to the instructional material," Phares said.

According to the levy call, $5 million will be spent over the life of the levy on maintenance. The school system will spend $1 million per year, with $375,000 to be used for a preventative maintenance contract for heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems and $625,000 per year for ongoing summer repair projects, grounds projects, school painting, exterior and roofing repair and equipment replacement.

If the levy passes, "I think folks are going to begin to see a drastic change in the environment that kids are going to school in," Phares noted.

The superintendent said the board has followed what the public wanted from the data collected during school forums and a phone survey.

"They listened to the folks who wanted them to take their input and draft a levy call in November that made sense to everybody," Phares said. "They have followed the instructions of the folks who gave us input to a 'T'."

If the levy does not pass, Phares said the school system is prepared: The first thing the board will have to do is take a look at the leadership in the county.

"I think the very first key critical issue that this board will have to answer is: 'Has the super done what they charged me to do?'" Phares said. "That was, to involve the community and get all the right items in the levy and restore trust in the school system. This is part of the evaluation."

Phares is hoping voters will take a look at the proposed call, go to the Randolph County Assessor's office or use calculators provided online to see how much the levy will cost them.

"Then I hope they make an informed decision of yes or no," Phares said.



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