Ohio County school board questions lowering levies

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By Joselyn King, Staff Writer 
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Ohio County Board of Education President James Jorden says he opposes raising levy rates for the school district, but he also wants more information before deciding whether existing rates should be lowered.

Jorden responded during Thursday's board meeting to comments made this week by Ohio County Assessor Kathie Hoffman, who said the tax values on 5,800 properties in the county will increase 10 percent this year. To offset the increase in property value assessment, Hoffman is encouraging levying bodies to decrease their levy rates, or at least "keep them stable," Jorden told the board.

The Ohio County Board of Education has maintained its operating levying rate at 94.5 percent since 1995, he said.

Jorden recommended Superintendent Dianna Vargo, Assistant Superintendent Bernie Dolan and business manager Steven Bieniek meet with Hoffman to review the school district's numbers and "discuss options." He asked they report back the information to board of education members prior to any discussions about levy renewals so members can "make an informed decision."

"I for one can say affirmatively I will not be in favor of raising our levy and maintaining that 95 percent rate," Jorden said. "I think there could be some discussion about lowering this rate, but we should be careful."

Jorden said the school district has $2.5 million in its rainy day fund, and he suggested board members might decide it needs to be increased. Additionally, Ohio County Schools needs to strengthen its bond construction and permanent improvement funds, according to Jorden.

He said Ohio County Schools has an operating budget of about $58.8 million, and property taxes account for 36.42 percent of the funds.

In other matters, the board did not address the issue of Ritchie Elementary School counselor Kristyn Fetcko, who is facing federal drug charges regarding the alleged sale of oxycodone pills.

Board members, though, did exit their public meet for about 34 minutes Thursday night for an executive session to address "personnel issues with legal counsel." The board took no action following the executive session.

Wheeling Park High School boys soccer coach Mario Julian and girls coach Aubrey Taylor also appeared before the board with their players who were selected for the West Virginia High School Soccer Coaches Association 2013 AAA All State teams. Grant Robertson, Nate Mauck and Eric Bonar were chosen for the boys all state team and Briella Taylor and Mikia Mueller were chosen for the girls team.

The board also honored Woodsdale, Steenrod, West Liberty and Bethlehem elementary schools for being named 2013-14 High Performing Reward Schools. The designation is determined by the West Virginia Department of Education based on student achievements in math and reading skills.