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Board of Education plans for special election despite no vote from Commission
June 28, 2019

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CHARLES TOWN -- The Jefferson County Commission voted last Wednesday at their weekly meeting to deny the request of the Board of Education to hold a special election in October. The four-to-one vote opposing the election came after more than a dozen members of the public voiced their concerns over the funding of the election, which, they said, could be held during the May 2020 primary election at no additional cost to taxpayers.

Mark Everhart, of Shepherdstown, asked the county's governing body to deny the request because special elections generally have lower turnout.

Ray Bruning reiterated those sentiments, sharing with commissioners that in 2015 a special election drew only 5,874 voters, while the primary election saw four times that vote.

Several other attendees called for fiscal responsibility on the part of the Board of Education.

"The government needs to be fiscally responsible," said Tom Adsit. "We can wait to the May 2020 election and save money - money that can be spent on other things like air conditioning."

"The Board of Education has taken it upon themselves to be involved in political action," said Regina Smith, referring to the Board's legal attempt to secure property belonging to Rockwool through the use of eminent domain. "Taxpayers expect their dollars to be spent on children and not on the political goals of the Board of Education members."

According to Board of Education President Kathy Skinner, the special election timing is essential for the Board of Education to have funding to begin work on various projects including two new elementary schools, a student support center and other renovation projects.

"Timing is everything. We don't choose to run a special election, but need to run a special election," Skinner said, mentioning that by holding the special election, the bond funds would be available to the Board of Education by March 1.

Commissioners were not convinced of the need to move forward, in what some deemed too quick a fashion.

"Best practices from the Secretary of State's office show that lead time for something like this is much longer," said Patsy Noland, commission president. "You're trying to do this so quickly."

Skinner said the Board of Education has hired bond counsel and have been advised that they are on target for the October date.

Following an executive session with their attorney, county commissioners asked Skinner whether the bond specifies payment of any legal fees incurred by the Board of Education and whether the individual tax b ills for county residents will rise.

Skinner said the tax rate would remain the same as the previous bond call secured when Washington High School was built, but then amended her statement, by saying there might be a "slight increase."

Skinner also told commissioners that the Board of Education could hold the election themselves, according to state law.

"You have said the school board can hold their own election. That's my preference that the school board do it," Noland said, before making the motion to deny the election request.

Board of Education members took up the issue at their Monday evening meeting, on June 24. After just over two hours of an executive session to discuss "legal matters," four members voted to go ahead with the October 26 special election date. Board member Arthena Roper had left the meeting mid-way through the executive session and was not present for the vote.

The vote was to approve the special election for the 30-year bond in the amount of just over $56 million. Of that amount, the lion's share will be designated for a new elementary school in Ranson, a new elementary school in Shepherdstown and construction of the regional student support center. No specific time frame for construction of any of these facilities could be pinpointed by the board members. ?

"Student growth will drive the construction of these," Skinner said.

The board already owns land in Shepherdstown and Ranson for the new schools. Skinner stressed that no dollars from the bond would be used for land purchase for the student center.

The process the school board must follow to hold the election themselves, rather than using the county's election staff is, as yet, unclear.

"That is yet to be determined, but it will be in compliance with West Virginia code," said Superintendent Bondy Gibson.

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