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Board considers expanding John Adams to ease overcrowding

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After months of parents voicing concerns about a redistricting plan proposed to let South Hills schools address overcrowding, the Kanawha County Board of Education is leaning more toward expanding John Adams Middle School instead of changing attendance zones in the area.

"I believe there is a majority of members on the board who would much rather enlarge the school than destroy a district," said Kanawha County school board President Pete Thaw. "If we add on to John Adams, that would solve the problem. We wouldn't have to redistrict at all."

The John Adams expansion would cost about $1.5 million, and the board is determined to find ways to provide funding without burdening taxpayers, Thaw said.

John Adams currently enrolls more students than any other middle school in the county, and when the board discussed redrawing elementary attendance zones to feed some of the overflow into the South Charleston district, many parents were outraged.

At a board meeting last month, parents suggested establishing a bond to fund the John Adams expansion and offered to help find private funding as well.

Thaw said private is the way to go.

"A bond won't sell. I am not interested in a bond issue at all. I believe we can raise the money privately, and I prefer that to taxing the people," he said. "We don't know exactly how we are going to raise the money yet, but there are ways to do it without indebting the taxpayers."

Thaw said he knows one outlet the board will not get the money from: the School Building Authority. The agency, which distributes money to improve schools across the state each year, has denied the request for funding a John Adams expansion in the past.

"We will have to go find the funding for this because it won't be from the SBA. They've made that very clear," Thaw said.

That's because, Thaw said, state officials disagree with Kanawha County's cap on its excess levy, an additional property tax that provides millions in funding for the school system.

Kanawha is the only county in the state with a cap on its excess levy, which prevents the board from spending more than $44 million of taxpayers' dollars each year.

"They don't like the fact we have a cap on our levy. They've said some derogatory things about it. But that cap is a godsend for the taxpayers. The county has zero bond indebtedness, and that's a wonderful place to be," Thaw said.

Parents who showed up at George Washington High School's Local School Improvement Council meeting Thursday evening to address the overcrowding issue seemed skeptical about the board's plans for an expansion of the middle school.

"Most of the parents are skeptical because it sounds too good to be true, and I wish I could assure the families that we are not going to do anything without them knowing about it first. They think we're going to sneak up in the night and tack a sign up that says, 'redistricted.' We're not doing anything without them," Thaw said.

Thaw said that while nothing is set in stone yet, the board has made the issue a top priority.

"This is not urgent. It's not imminent. If we add on to John Adams, it's going to take some time because the work would be considerable," he said. "People want a timeline, but the bottom line is we don't have one. However, the board is going at this in a very deliberate manner."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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