Consolidation at heart of school bond election in Ritchie County

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RITCHIE COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) - Early voting began Friday in Ritchie County, as residents will decide whether or not to approve a $9.9 million school bond, which could potentially fund up to $17.9 million worth of projects.

If the bond passes, superintendent Rick Coffman says it's likely the School Building Authority would contribute an additional $8 million.

The bond would allow the school district to make improvements to the high school and middle school. It would also trigger the consolidation of three of the county's four elementary schools: Harrisville Elementary School, Ellenboro Elementary, and Creed Collins Elementary School in Pennsboro.

Coupled with the funds from the SBA, the bond would pay for the construction of a new pre-K to 5th grade school in Ellenboro, to house students from the three aforementioned schools.

"They'll have better music, better art, better physical education, better health," Coffman said, citing academic cuts that have hurt the district. "The building is going to be healthier, safer."

The district has struggled financially due to declining enrollment, a dip in tax revenue collections, and the mounting costs to maintain aging facilities.

"It really puts a lot of pressure to operate a school system and give the students everything they need when you're losing money," Coffman said.

5 News spoke to several parents who returned from casting their ballots Friday. They said the vote for the bond was an investment in the future for their children.

Meanwhile, opponents say the district should look at other means to stay afloat, as opposed to asking taxpayers to pay for the construction of a new school.

"We need to be looking at ways to cut back the spending, to help meet those anticipated shortfalls, rather than thinking we can just rely on the taxpayers again to cut another check," said Eric Benson, who plans to vote 'no.'

According to the superintendent's office, on an appraised value of $100,000, taxes will increase less than 5 dollars a month for each taxpayer.

In the full story above, you can hear from more voters, including those who have reservations about the logistics of any consolidation.

In our web exclusive content, Coffman touches on some of the other projects the bond would help finance.

The election will be held Saturday, September 9.