The lawsuit seeking to knock out the May 2014 vote on the Morgan County school levy will be heard before Circuit Judge David Sanders tomorrow morning at 9:30 am at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Charles Town, West Virginia.
The lawsuit was filed by a group of Morgan County citizens who argue that the special election, scheduled to be on the May 13 primary ballot, is illegal.
The levy was defeated last year by Morgan County citizens by a vote of 1,637 (55 percent) to 1,329 (45 percent). It was the first time the special levy was defeated since it was first passed in 1958. The levy has raised more than $5 million a year over the past year for school programs.
The lawsuit was filed by Dorothea “Jeannie” Ford, the wife of Morgan County Commissioner Bob Ford (R), Kent “Brooks” McCumbee, and by Freida Ickes. They will be represented in court by their Martinsburg attorney Michael Scales.
The defendant in the lawsuit, the Morgan County Board of Education, will be represented by Charles Trump of Trump & Trump in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
The anti-levy forces have argued over the past year that the battle is between the half the population of Morgan County that is in poverty and can’t afford the levy –and the well to do elite that has organized to pass the levy.
For example, in a letter to the local newspaper, the Morgan Messenger this week, Carlena Veillon writes that “many letters that have favored the levy are from well-to-do citizens.”
“With a poverty level of over 50% in Morgan County, why would our school system want to place this extra burden on its citizens?” Veillon asks.
But could it be that the lawsuit that Ford, McCumbee and Ickes have filed is being funded by wealthy Morgan County landowners who care little for the poor, but instead are concerned only for their own pocketbooks? After all, they stand to save thousands of dollars — and in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars each — if the levy is defeated.
And could it be that the “well-to-do citizens” who are fighting to pass the levy care more about the poor children who will benefit from the school programs if the levy is passed?
These questions will be left for the political fight when the levy comes up for a vote.
The argument before Judge Sanders tomorrow will focus on when that vote will take place.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that a provision of the West Virginia code (18-9-1) makes it clear that if a school levy is defeated, then the school district “shall again submit the question of a school levy to the voters of its district or independent district at the next general election.” According to the same statute, the school district can only hold an election prior to the next general election if the district gathers on a petition signatures from at least “40 percent of the qualified voters of the district,” something the Board of Education failed to do.
In response, the Board of Education argues that the statute the plaintiffs rely on is “obsolete and inapplicable to the excess levy election scheduled for May 13, 2014.”
Instead, to justify the May 2014 election, the Board relies on a provision of the West Virginia Constitution (Article X, Section 10) and a provision of the West Virginia Code 11-8-16 that is in conflict with the provision cited by the plaintiffs.
“In truth, the levy is a contingency, a critical one for Morgan County,” the Board of Education argues. “If the new excess levy which has been proposed by the Morgan County Board of Education is approved by the voters and adopted in May, Morgan County children will place 46th out of 55 counties in expenditures per student. If the levy is defeated, or, if this court improvidently precludes the holding of the election which has been ordered, then Morgan County’s children will be last among all of West Virginia’s counties, and it will be by a margin which is considerable.”
But why not wait until the November election?
“While approval of the levy at an election in November could help move Morgan County’s children from West Virginia’s lowest per child expenditures starting in the 2015-16 school year, it will come too late to prevent the looming evisceration of educational programs in this system,” the Board of Education argued in its answer to the lawsuit. “By then, the school system in Morgan County will have been decimated and the children will suffer for years while the Board of Education tries to rebuild what will have been destroyed. November will be too late.”