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Suit filed against Morgan County school board

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By Tricia Lynn Strader, journal-news.net
The Journal (Martinsburg) 

BERKELEY SPRINGS - Three members of Morgan County Citizens Against the Levy group recently filed suit in Circuit Court of Morgan County against the Morgan County Board of Education.

Dorothea Jeannie Ford, Frieda Ickes and Kent "Brooks" McCumbee opposed the continuation of a special or excess levy in 2013, which was defeated May 11. The Morgan County Board of Education will present a new special levy election during the May primary.

The trio is represented by attorney Michael L. Scales, of Martinsburg.

The modified levy call would generate slightly more than $4 million extra revenue per year for five years. Another, "regular" school levy generates about $4.8 million annually.

The current levy expires July 1.

Ford said the lawsuit cites 16 points related to West Virginia Code 18-9-1, which Ford says deems a school board can only present a defeated levy again for a vote at a general election, not a primary. According to the lawsuit, the code stipulates that in order to have a special election prior to the next general election, the Board of Education needs to have 40 percent of valid registered voters on a petition first.

The board has not collected any petitions, but conducted a public survey.

School officials were notified of the suit on Jan. 8, and given 20 days to respond.

"I can't comment much because of the lawsuit, only to say our attorney said we are on firm legal ground to go ahead," said David Ambrose, school board president.

Morgan County Schools is the largest employer in the county. School officials say the excess levy helps pay salaries and benefits for 12 teachers and eight service personnel over the state's allotment of personnel as being adequate. School board members say the state requirements on the number of teachers and service personnel are inadequate.

When determining modified levy priorities and a final tax rate, board members rated teacher salary and benefits No. 1, which the current excess expiring levy provided at $3.12 million. That number has since been reduced.

Other priorities were alternative education funding and remedial positions, safety and adequate maintenance, keeping allotment for field trips and athletics, non-required classes like art and music, and weightlifting. Officials also say they would like to add another prevention resource officer.

A pro-levy group is working to get the levy's approval.