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What kind of Kanawha shall it be?

Education funding in West Virginia is a complex formula, but it is a simple concept. Every child in the state is offered the means to a thorough and efficient education.

So every year, the state totals how much it costs to educate one student. Multiply that by the number of students in a county, and that is the cost of education in that county.

We pay for this by taxing ourselves. Each county is required to come up with a certain amount through its regular school levy. The amount is based on a county's property values. What the county doesn't generate, the state provides.

But school funding doesn't stop there because many people want more for their students than just the bare minimum required by the state school aid formula. They want new technology and teachers who know how to use it. They want more building maintenance or new air conditioning. They want coaches and drama teachers and the ability to send kids to competitions and activities in the evenings and on weekends. So many counties pass excess levies, an additional tax, to fund priorities set by the county.

Kanawha has always been one of those, a county that wants more for students. Kanawha has had an excess levy for decades. Until recently, Kanawha County residents chose to tax themselves for the support of their schools at or near the maximum rate allowed by state law.

But in recent years, the Kanawha County Board of Education misled by board member Pete Thaw, has lowered its excess levy rate to just 65 percent of what state law allows. And last year, when renewing the school's excess levy, the school board foolishly asked voters to set that 65 percent limit in law. Voters did.

Not surprisingly, the school board has since discovered that this rate won't generate enough revenue when it takes effect next year.

Who could have predicted that it costs money to maintain, equip and staff a school system that serves people from toddler to adult of all abilities and conditions over 900 square miles of hilly county?

So the school board is back, asking voters on Nov. 9 to restore its authority to set the excess levy rate to its maximum if necessary.

Specifically, the five-year levy would generate an additional $24 million the first year, on top of the $44 million voters approved last year. Of that, about $3 million would be divided among the Kanawha County Public Library, the South Charleston Public Library and the Nitro Public Library to repair the damage the school board caused to library funding in other actions.

While libraries are a legitimate and worthy education expense -- that serve all people, in school and out -- the greater share of the excess levy proceeds would go to classrooms.

Needs of schools for every age all over the county are listed on the ballot, things such as repairs and maintenance, technology, extra-curricular activities and staff and instructional supplies.

The current Kanawha County Board of Education has been remarkably foolish and careless with the school system. I cannot think of a body less deserving of public support.

But school board members will not suffer if this levy is not passed. School board members will still collect their various government checks and benefit from all the public funded amenities they now enjoy.

But kids in school today, those entering in the next five years, adults trying to retrain and those trying to catch up to an education that eluded them when they were younger, would suffer. And their window of opportunity will not remain open forever. They will grow up or grow older. And what will they grow into?

The question of education funding comes down to what sort of place Kanawha County wants to be. Is Kanawha County a place that does the bare minimum for students required by state law, miserly pinching every penny and shutting down opportunities?

Or is Kanawha County a place that wants to buy as much education and opportunity for young people as it possibly can?

I know the kind of place where I'd rather live.Miller, the Gazette's editorial page editor, can be reached at dawn@wvgazette.com.


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