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Kanawha voters overwhelmingly say no to levy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Without an excess levy that would have brought in more than $24 million for schools next year, "everything will be on the table," Kanawha County Schools superintendent Ron Duerring said Saturday.

"We will take a look at a lot of things" Duerring said. "...[We'll] systematically start doing some of those [cuts] this year so we can slow it down and then even more for next year."

Kanawha County voters said a clear "no" to the levy, with 76 percent -- or 17,590 -- voting against it and only 24 percent -- or 5,501 -- supporting it. Only 17 percent of voters voted.

Kanawha County Commission president Kent Carper called it "the largest, overwhelming defeat of a levy in this county's history."

"Unless there's some way around what's happened, the people made the choice but I think the library system in this county will not look anything like it has in the past based upon this decision," Carper said. "That's not disappointment on my part, that's just an observation."

The levy would not have affected the county commission, he added.

School board member Jim Crawford said now that the voters have spoken, the board will go back to the drawing board to decide how to proceed.

"With a projected $4.5 million deficit for 2014-15, we'll have to make some deep cuts," Crawford said.

That will likely mean students will have to pay to participate in extracurricular activities, he said. But having students pay to play will only make up about $1.3 million of that deficit, he said.

"There will be some other cuts," he said.

The excess levy would have brought in $24.4 million for schools in 2014 and about $3 million for the county's libraries. Altogether, adding up to $131 million for Kanawha County Schools over the next five years.

Kanawha County Libraries representatives left the county courthouse before election results were in. Carper said they were "absolutely demoralized" because of the levy's failure.

The purpose of the election was essentially to uncap the current school excess levy and allow for the collection of 100 percent of the amount allowed under state law, which 21 other counties currently collect for educational purposes.

For a Kanawha County resident with a home appraised at $100,000 and vehicles appraised at $15,000, the passage of the levy would have amounted to an increase of about $125 in taxes per year.

Kanawha County School officials have warned that the failure of the levy would lead to cutbacks and could force students to pay to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.

The funding would have been earmarked for new facilities, technology upgrades, special student programs and more.

The consequences for Kanawha County Public Libraries could be much worse, with officials warning of potential branch closures. 

The state Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the school board no longer has to financially support the library system, meaning a loss of 40 percent of the library's total operating budget.

The passage of the levy would have brought the library back to the steady funding stream it had prior to the court decision.

Kanawha County Board of Education President Pete Thaw had campaigned against the levy, while the rest of the school board members, and the county's principals, voiced their support.

Thaw said Saturday the people of Kanawha County should be congratulated.

"They have voted [down] a very large and very dangerous, explosive grenade tonight," Thaw said. "God bless them. They were able to look through all the smoke and the mirrors and saw the truth. [They] identified the man behind the screen like the Wizard of Oz. They've identified him now.

"This was a wise, wise decision by the people of Kanawha County, and God bless them."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at 304-348-481 4 or Mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com.


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