As the general election draws near, Pocahontas County Superintendent of Schools Terrence Beam continues to receive questions concerning the proposed school levy and how the funds will be used if the levy passes.
On October 10, Beam answered the most common questions he has received to give voters a better idea of what has been planned.
Question: Who developed the plan? Whose idea was it to do the project?
Answer: The board [of education] directed me in July to present a project to the SBA [School Building Authority] which had to be in there in about thirty days. I know they had worked with [former superintendent] Dr. Donald Bechtel on a levy of some type, but I wasn’t privy to that information.
None of the board members wanted to close Hillsboro, so that was not an option. So you go with two K-8s and a high school, then you’re going to have to close Hillsboro and they weren’t interested in doing that and so obviously we weren’t going to do three K-8s. It’s more expensive to do K-8s than K-6s.
Q: How do we know the money will be spent the way it is supposed to be spent?
A: The law states very emphatically that we have to spend it exactly the way the levy call states. The SBA is responsible for making sure that we spend it that way. They have to sign off on everything that we spend.
The bills flow through them and us both, but we can’t spend anything until they okay it.
Q: Where will the seventh and eighth graders be housed while the project is being worked on?
A: We had originally discussed the possibility, the high school principal and the middle school principals sat down and figured out a place at the high school currently to house those students.
There were a lot of concerns about that, not only from the schools but from the teachers at the high school about the crowding of putting them in that area. We didn’t want to put them in the annex, it’s just not fit for students to be in there.
So we looked at other options and we’re considering the other options at this time. We’re considering modules. Modules are expensive. If you rent modules for the middle school and Green Bank and leave them on those campuses while we’re doing that building, that is a possibility.
Another possibility at Green Bank is to change, I talked to the architects about changing the structure itself and their plans for the way they were going to design the building and add the new classrooms that we would add in a different location so we could keep the area that’s going to be demolished open during the construction and then when it’s finished and we move them, then we can demolish the area we don’t need.
That’s one idea for Green Bank and of course the modules. For Marlinton Middle School, it was considered, that we may consider moving the seventh and eighth graders, after this building is finished and move those kids up there and move them back down here so that we keep kids in this building. The town would still be making money off the water and they wouldn’t have to be placed at the high school at that point. It would just be the seventh and eighth graders.
All of those things have come with ‘that can’t work;’ ‘that’s a bad idea.’ So it’s a fluid situation. We’re going to look at every option. It could change monthly. We’re looking at every opportunity and if the levy passes, we’re going to have time, we’re going to have two, three years to determine where the best places to put those kids are.
It’s not like we have to decide today but we are going to ask for input from people. We’re going to have community meetings just like we have been having on what is the best way to situate those students.
We’re also going to create committees. There will be a committee from the Green Bank area, one from the Marlinton area that will help us make those decisions, not only for where the seventh and eighth graders are going to be housed in the interim, but also on the construction of those buildings, on how they think it might work best.
The staffs and the parents will all be invited to attend. We’re not trying to do anything that goes against what they want in their school.
Q: What is the plan if the levy fails?
A: Right now, there’s no plan because we feel like, this is just me talking, I’m not speaking for the board on this. I’m not speaking for the levy committee. I’m speaking for me. I don’t know how we try to raise money. I don’t think Pocahontas County is willing to put out the money necessary to pay for the whole project themselves, without any money from the SBA.
You’re asking them to make up, if you’re going to include the high school, you’re talking about raising $15 – $20 million, more than we’re doing now, more than the $9.9 million we’re trying to raise. I just don’t think that’s a practical thing to do.
There’s no sense in going back to the SBA with another plan because we’re still not going to have any money and this time we’re not going to be going down in a group of seven or eight counties with us. We’re going to be on our own, and we’re not going to be considered. I know we’re not.
We’re hoping against hope that we can get this one passed, and we won’t have to deal with that because I would hate to have to go back and tell the citizens that we’re going to have to ask for two or three times more money than what we’ve got. I just don’t see it.
There is no backup plan at this point.
Q: What chance do we have for the SBA to approve fixing our high school?
A: When we first started this project, we assumed that we would be able to ask the SBA for money for renovation of the high school. We found out last Monday that that is not possible because the renovation of the high school would take more than 60 percent of the cost of the new one, so they won’t renovate the old one.
They will consider giving you a new high school, which again, our money will be raised in this levy. We don’t have to go back and ask for more money. We’ll have our down payment with us.
If the levy passes, I’m going back down in December to ask for the high school and I don’t think there’s any chance that we will get that this year because we’re already getting money, but I think we have a really strong possibility of next December going back with that same project, not having to make any changes to it and just say, ‘we’re asking for construction of a new high school and here’s our money.’ It’s not going to change from November of this year to November of next year.
David Sneed is going to be here November 1 to try to answer questions about our project.
Q: Are vehicles included in the levy tax raise?
A: Yes, and that way all the citizens have some kind of a stake in this. I think that’s actually good because everybody, in the end, is helping the school system and not just homeowners. I think it’s more fair.
It’s like the food tax. Everybody has to pay the food tax.
The proposed school levy will be on the November 8 General Election ballot.