Charleston Daily Mail
School Ruling Pleases Small Counties
By BILL VIRGIN
May 14, 1982
Of The Daily Mail Staff
School Ruling Pleases Small Counties
By BILL VIRGIN
In sparsely populated Roane County, School Superintendent Charles Murray said he felt "ecstatic" over Judge Arthur Recht's decision in the school-funding case, a decision that could bring needed money to his county's system.
But Russell Slack, superintendent of schools in heavily industrialized Hancock County, saw the decision as having a potentially devastating effect on his county's educational programs.
What superintendents thought of Recht's decision depended largely on what county they supervise. Superintendents of the smaller systems were predictably pleased with Recht's ruling.
Asked about possible complaints from taxpayers over the cost of Recht's recommendations, Murray said, "I don't give a damn what the cost is." He said the decision counters influence from "all the other lobbying groups that bitch every time they have to pay another nickel . . . I think it's a great thing for the kids in the state."
Murray said some accountability should be built into whatever new school-aid formula is set up to make sure the money is spent wisely. He also said schools should concentrate the money on instruction in basic skills.
The Roane County school official, who was one of the witnesses who testified in the trial, said his system had difficulty coping with such state mandates as a 1-to-25 teacher-to-student ratio in classrooms. "This may finally cause the Legislature to stop mandating rules and not funding them," he said.
Pocahontas County Superintendent B. R. Bailey, whose county is another with a small tax base, said his system needs buildings. "If somehow in the re-evaluation we can get buildings, I would be delighted," he said.
Bailey said there is a danger that changes in the evaluation and taxation of property, a change that Recht recommended, could put a hardship on some taxpayers. But he added, "If the re-evaluation does generate money and if it is distributed equally, it's something that's long past due."
Hancock has the highest per capita income of any county in West Virginia. Noting that residents there are already upset over the level of services they get for the money they send downstate, Slack said residents would be even more upset if money is taken away from Hancock County for programs elsewhere.
"It would be a legitimate complaint," Slack says. "It would have a devastating effect on our school program.. The people of Hancock County make a big contribution financially. We just don't feel it's fair to reduce our programs . . . If they fund everyone that's below, that's one thing. But if they reduce the funding in some of the counties, that would be very adverse to us."
Second on the list of per capita income is Kanawha County. Dave Acord, associate superintendent for business, said the effect of the decision on the county will be determines largely by how it's implemented specifically.
"What will the guidelines be to implement this, and what will be the top county to be used as a model for others to come up to?" Acord asked, then added, "The taxpayers of Kanawha County have been very supportive of education. We've been one of the more fortunate counties."
In Putnam County, another high on the list for local support, officials also are concerned about what the decision will do. "Citizens in Putnam County have historically supported both school levies and bond issues," said Suzanne Scharf, public information coordinator. "We're concerned that all the counties maintain high standards and not come down to a common denominator for the sake of uniformity. We would be disappointed if Putnam County could no longer decide to improve its own schools through local support."
Scharf added that educators have known for some time that the present system wasn't equitable, but added, "We're waiting to see what takes its place."
Braxton County Superintendent Kenna R. Seal says the real source of inequity in school funding between the counties has been in excess levies, which some counties don't have. The formula for state aid doesn't take that into account, he said, so that rich counties which have those extra taxes have far more funds to work with.
"This new aid formula has broken our backs," Seal said.
One superintendent who also raised the issue of money was the head of one of the "have-not" counties. Lester Bickel of Webster County said it would be nice if equalization could be achieved. "Where are we going to get the $500 million it would take to do what we're saying needs to be done?" he asked. "I can understand that this should all be done. But in any state there are inequalities in taxation."
In spite of those questions Bickel said Webster would emerge as one of the winners from Recht's decision. "Our tax base is going to be low for a long time unless coal is developed," he said. "We're on top of a lot of coal but we're not getting taxes just because it's down there. Certainly any equalization would be helpful."