For the past 25 years, Kanawha County residents have arbitrarily limited their school excess levy, capping what the school system could collect and spend on schools and shortchanging students by about $24 million a year in recent years.
It might not be a coincidence that, at Capitol High School, barely 30 years old, students seem to be sent home every five minutes because of mold problems. Class is disrupted by leaky roofs and broken heating and cooling systems around the county.
During this election, Kanawha County residents are asked whether they want to renew the school excess levy for another five years, this time without the cap. This option would authorize the Kanawha Board of Education to set tax rates each year to generate the maximum allowed under state law.
First, some background. All county school systems have a regular levy, or property tax. Revenue from that levy is all that counties are required by state law to raise for education. Many counties, including Kanawha, have wanted more for their students. Counties that want “excess” funding can ask voters for permission to collect an “excess levy,” up to a certain amount capped by state law.
In the early days, excess levies were intended to provide things considered extras — more art teachers or counselors than official formulas required, for example. Over time, though, schools have come to depend on excess levy funding for necessities, things that must be done to offer students a meaningful education, like pay teachers and keep a roof over their heads.
Which brings us to the question on the ballot. We urge Kanawha residents to vote for this excess levy. It is a renewal of an existing levy, so defeating it would prompt either crushing budget cuts or a costly special election, or both. It does authorize the school board to raise taxes, but for necessary improvements. Most of the new money generated would go to fixing schools that have suffered from too much deferred maintenance already.
The bulk of the revenue would continue to go to all kinds of necessities, including teachers, staff, distance learning, special education, paving, buses and equipment across 900 square miles of county.
Historically, Kanawha County has been the kind of place that doesn’t settle for the bare minimum the state requires when it comes to giving students a good school to attend. That’s the kind of place it should be. That’s why we enthusiastically support the school excess levy.