Preston school levy vote set for Feb. 2

KINGWOOD — The Preston County Board of Education voted 5-0 Monday to put a five-year, $4.5 million annual levy before voters on Feb. 2.
Superintendent Steve Wotring and his staff prepared the levy, starting with the levy that was narrowly defeated in May and adding and taking away things based on comments at recent public meetings.
The proposed levy includes annual expenditures of: General maintenance, $2 million; operational expenses, $700,000; safety and security, $250,000; additional classroom teachers, $650,000; technology, $200,000; curricular, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, $150,000;  instructional supplies and materials, $200,000; after school and virtual school programs, $300,000; and community facility use, $50,000.
The $4.5 million total is half what the board could request, but Wotring said he does not believe voters will pass a $9 million levy.
Board President Jack Keim took comments from the audience before the vote. Buck Jennings suggested raising the amount for teachers to $1 million annually. Board Member Bob Ridenour suggested lowering maintenance by an equal amount to allow for the teachers.
After some debate, no motion was made to make the change.
Haste was required, Wotring said, because Feb. 22 is the latest the board could put off personnel decisions for the 2019-‘20 school year. Even that requires the board to ask the State Board of Education to waive the Dec. 31 deadline set in state board policy for voting on whether to close schools.
That request will be before the state board on Dec. 13.
Under consideration for closure are Fellowsville and Rowlesburg schools. After a series of public meetings and hearings, the Preston board voted 4-1 earlier this month to request the waiver and put forth another levy.
The county clerk also  requires 90 days notice before an election, Wotring said.
It will cost the board about $43,500 to run a paper vote. That includes $175 for each of the approximately 140 poll workers. That’s $25 for them to attend training and $150 for the day’s work. Some poll workers are paid additional for picking ballots up at  the courthouse and returning them on election night.
Rents must also be paid to polling places, and some of the places normally used are closed for the winter, Wotring said, so  substitute places are being sought.
There is also the printing of the ballot and the county commission’s fee for cavassing the vote. An audience member asked if volunteers could be used at the polls. Wotring said the list of poll workers supplied by the county clerk must be asked first.
Melissa Bolyard asked if the BOE could ask poll workers to work free and the county commission to forgo the canvassing fee? Keim said they could   ask, but he believes the county’s fee is set by code.
But whether the newest proposed bond passes or fails, it does not guarantee the two schools will remain open for five years, Keim cautioned the audience at Monday’s board meeting. He pointed to declining enrollment and other factors that could be considered.
Keim said he does not share the confidence of some that voters will approve the levy., but he supports it. “We’ll go forward as hard as we can,” he said.
“We cannot do this without you,” Rhonda Sypolt said. “If we can all get onboard, county staff and board members and the communities, I believe if we can show a positive, united front, we can get this passed in this county.”

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