Excess Levy To Fund Salaries

NEW CUMBERLAND- Of everything the Hancock County Schools excess levy pays for, salaries and benefits represent the biggest slice of the pie.

The five-year levy, which is up for renewal Nov. 9, would generate an estimated $7.1 million toward the school district’s annual $43 million budget. About $4.8 million of that $7.1 million – nearly 70 percent – is designated for salaries and benefits, Superintendent Suzan Smith said.

“It would be devastating if we didn’t have this (levy) for staffing,” she said.

Of the $4.8 million for salaries and benefits, $3.5 million is designated for salary supplements for teachers, service personnel and administrators, plus fixed charges such as Social Security, unemployment compensation and workers’ compensation.

Salary supplements are important, Smith said, because they allow Hancock County to pay teacher wages higher than the state minimum. Northern Panhandle counties compete with Ohio and Pennsylvania for teachers, she said.

“We wouldn’t get the quality we get” without the salary supplements, Smith said.

“If the excess levy didn’t exist, the supplements would be gone,” school board President Jerry Durante added.

Hancock County ranks 13th in the state for average teacher salary, according to the West Virginia Department of Education. The average teacher salary, with benefits, is $47,687.

Melanie Donofe, president of the Hancock County Education Association, said supplements can make the difference for a county such as Hancock. “We have teachers leaving all the time to go to greener pastures,” Donofe said. “If you jump over to Pennsylvania, you can make anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 more.”

The average total teacher compensation in West Virginia is $45,453, compared to $57,140 in Ohio and $62,569 in Pennsylvania, according to the West Virginia Education Association.

The WVEA is preparing to lobby for a salary increase in the upcoming legislative session.

For now, Donofe wants to keep the focus on the local levy, which she is promoting by reminding voters that it is a renewal, not a new tax, and that it covers daily operating expenses. The local teachers’ union helped pay for the printing of a brochure that is being used in the levy campaign.

“The people of Hancock County have always supported the students, so we’re hoping they support the students again and see that this is for operations,” Donofe said. “We’ve passed it every time it’s been up for renewal, and that’s what we need to do again.”

In addition to salary supplements, Smith said the levy helps cover:

Extra duty wages and fixed charges for academic and athletic trips ($120,000);

Extra duty salary supplements and fixed charges for curricular positions ($70,000);

Extracurricular athletic position wages ($525,000);

Substitute wages ($165,000);

Dental and optical insurance ($375,000); and

Supplemental contracts for summer school, counselors and Saturday school ($75,000).

As with teachers, the demands on coaches are growing as more is expected of them after-hours and during the summer months, Smith said. Hancock County is one of the lowest counties for coaches’ salaries among the five counties-Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel-in Regional Education Service Agency 6, she said.

“In order for us to be in line with the other counties in our RESA, we are going to have to increase salaries” for coaches, she said.