BUCKHANNON?-After working in the Upshur County School system for more than 40 years, Roy Wager finally retired last December. He was ready to roll up his sleeves and start checking items off the list of tasks his wife, Patty, had given him to do around the house.
That's when he received a call from Upshur County Board of Education members asking him if he'd consider returning as the school system's superintendent - the post he currently holds.
"I said, 'what?'" Wager told the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce Monday at its monthly meeting. "I was a little bit shocked, but when they asked me to come back, they said, 'well you know everybody in Upshur County' and that's pretty true. I've been in this county for a long time."
Wager said he and board members believed his familiarity with not only school personnel, but community members, would bode in the board's favor on Feb. 8, 2014 - the day Upshur County residents will see the levy renewal proposal on the ballot at their local polling places.
The levy renewal would raise $3,346,000 annually beginning July 1, 2014, and ending June 30, 2019. The current five-year levy expires on June 30, 2014.
Wager said he's been discussing the proposed levy renewal at every board meeting and with as many civic groups as possible.
"If nothing else, I want us to be above board on this," Wager told the Chamber, "and we want to be as honest about the levy as we possibly can be."
Wager emphasized the proposed levy is a renewal of the current levy, and that it won't result in a tax increase.
"We are not increasing the percentage of the levy that we have," he said. "It's been at 42.8 percent for as long as I can remember, and it's not going to be raised."
The levy makes up about 9 percent of the county school system's budget, and is used to purchase instructional materials, as well as maintain and upgrade buildings and facilities, Wager said.
Although the school system receives funding from the state to purchase instructional materials, levy funding is so valuable because it supplements that amount, which is "never enough," he said.
Wager also highlighted the recent renovation of the Buckhannon-Upshur High School auditorium, which was made possible by levy funds.
"With the levy funds we had, we were able to totally gut everything but the stage, and now there's movie-theater seating, new carpeting and a new lighting system," he said. "It looks like a brand new place."
Levy monies also pay for co-curricular and extracurricular activities, including team travel to and from sporting events, which Wager said is especially crucial now, given that B-UHS is one of the few Class AAA-size schools in the area. As a result, students must travel more miles more often than in prior years.
"We have to travel to find other AAA teams to play, so we're going to Hampshire County and we're going to Lincoln County, and I think they wanted us to go to Point Pleasant," the superintendent said, "and that gets quite expensive."
Wager said the levy also supports music and arts programs; provides $200 to each teacher for classroom materials; and ensures all instructors have laptop computers.
"I'm so proud of this," Wager said of the distribution of laptops, "because I have visited one or two of our surrounding counties that don't have levies, and I'll tell you what, when you see what we have compared to what some of our surrounding counties that don't have levies have - it just blows your mind."
The levy, if passed, will enable all Upshur County students - as well as senior citizens 60 and older - to attend any school-sanctioned extracurricular activity free of charge with the presentation of a special ID.
Wager said he's frequently fielded questions about the timing of the levy vote, including why the levy isn't at issue this November.
"The thing is, we don't have a general election this year," he said. "And so people ask, 'well, why don't you wait until next year?"
Waiting wouldn't be a strategically smart move, Wager said.
Staging the election in February 2014 means people's taxes won't fluctuate if the levy passes.
"February 8th will be our election all day, and hopefully, you all will get out and vote," Wager concluded.
In other business, West Virginia Strawberry Festival Association President Charliena Eubank announced the dates for the 2014 West Virginia Strawberry Festival. The festival will be May 10 though 18.
"The major difference this year is that it's encompassing the entire week, and we're actually going to have the opening ceremonies at noon on May 10, and that coronation ceremony will also be that evening."
For more detailed information, visit www.wvstrawberryfestival.com.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IMT_Kuba.