Sustained Outrage

Times - and wallets - are tight as ever. Still, West Virginia families will have to shell out even more money this fall when college students head back to campus.  

Officials at 12 of the state’s public colleges and universities – all offering at least some four-year degrees – have increased tuition and fees for the 2009-2010 academic year, according to data released by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.

Four schools – Concord, Glenville State, West Liberty and WVU-Parkersburg – increased tuition costs by at least 8.6 percent for resident undergraduates.

By comparison, Fairmont State and West Virginia State hiked tuition costs by 3.08 and 3.99 percent, respectively, for resident undergraduates. Still, a year’s tuition and fees at Fairmont State, at $4,952, costs more than four of the other schools. Concord, at $4,974 a year, is the exception.

For resident undergraduates, West Virginia University begs the highest yearly tuition, at $5,304 per year, while WVU-Parkersburg and WVU’s Potomac State College, at $2,845 and $2,886, will cost the least per year. The latter two schools offer a mix of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees with some two-year and some four-year programs.

Officials at both WVU and Marshall, who raised tuition 4 percent and 6.90 percent, respectively, were criticized for announcing their tuition increases so late in the spring. 

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How green are the proposed Putnam schools?

In response to last week’s update about Putnam County’s proposed school bond, a  Gazette reader asked whether construction of four new schools would include environmentally friendly designs?

We contacted the architect for the proposed schools, George Williamson, president of Williamson and ShriverArchitects Inc. in Charleston.

Williamson said preliminary designs for the new schools incorporate energy conservation aspects as specified in state code. The aspects include motion sensors for lighting in the building that turn off if a room is vacant for a specified period of time, and energy efficient cooling and heating systems.

He said preliminary designs so far include just a basic layout of the buildings, but if the bond is approved, the architectural designs for the building will incorporate natural lighting sources.

“On energy saving and cost prevent measures, it absolutely makes sense,” Williamson said.

usgbc.jpgThere is also a chance that the state School Building Authority will chose one of the Putnam County schools for its initiative to build one “green school” that is certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a standard set by the U.S. Green Building Council.

One LEED certified school is already under construction in Berkeley County.

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A Gazette reader asked a good question: Why does Putnam County’s school bond proposal include construction of a new building for Buffalo High School, a school with only 300 students?  See proposed floor plan and fact sheet.

We posed that question to Superintendent Chuck Hatfield and Putnam Board of Education member Debbie Phillips.

“You’re kind doomed if you do, or doomed if you don’t,” Hatfield said. “We’ve looked at consolidation… [and] the voters will not support it, and probably more importantly to that we believe in community schools, especially in the rural areas of West Virginia.”

A new Buffalo High School would be built for 400 students to accommodate projected growth, Hatfield said. With the new U.S. 35 and the Toyota plant, Putnam is still expecting growth.

The new high school will also be built on a 46-acre site that the board bought in the 1970s. The school’s track, baseball and softball fields already sit on the land.

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Kanawha County school officials still have work to do at two schools where mold showed up in the past year.

School officials expect a price quote soon to determine the cost to replace air-conditioning ductwork at Lakewood Elementary, county maintenance director Terry Hollandsworth said Thursday.

The old ductwork in the school’s lower-level wing, which was taken out in April, contained cladosporium (or common tree mold). The tree mold can cause allergy-like symptoms such as stuffiness, itchy eyes and congestion.

Hollandsworth said a section of windows also needs to be removed at Lakewood.

He said a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning unit has been installed and is operational on Andrew Jackson Middle School’s roof, where parents complained in September 2008 that mold and dusty, dirty conditions made students sick.

In at least two cases this year and last, students and a former Andrew Jackson teacher sued the school system.

Chuck Wilson, the lead school architect and facilities planner for Kanawha County Schools, has said more rooftop units might need to be installed in the next 10 years.                 

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The Putnam County Board of Education will put a $56.75 million bond request — its largest ever — before voters on Aug. 29.

County voters have not approved a bond since 1976, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying by the school board.

Voters rejected proposed bonds for school improvements in 1993 for $39.5 million; 2001 for $35.8 million; and 2002 for $20 million.

Voters will be asked to decide whether the county should borrow $56.75 million to be paid back over 15 years, the way a family buys a house or car. The Board of Education has put an interest cap of 6.75 percent on the bond. Interest rates today are about 3.75 percent.

Money from the bond can be used only as specified in the proposal, which you can read in detail in the election order. If passed, the bond would fund construction of three new schools:

Poca Middle School. See the proposed floor plan and fact sheet.

Confidence Elementary School. See the proposed floor plan and fact sheet.

Buffalo High School. See proposed floor plan (pictured above) and fact sheet.

It would also pay to completely renovate Poca Elementary School, as well as to build three new auxiliary high school gyms and a new gym for Winfield Elementary School.

The state School Building Authority has said that if county voters pass a bond, the authority will provide $21.7 million for a new Winfield Middle School. See proposed floor plan and fact sheet.

WVU increases tuition … again

From 1997 to 2008, West Virginia University’s annual tuition and fees had increased about 92 percent for in-state undergraduate students, according to a report of the state Higher Education Policy Commission.

As of Friday, make that 99 percent.

As was reported in the Saturday Gazette-Mail, BOG members approved the increase after student representative Jason Parsons and Morgantown attorney Steve Goodwin argued that struggling West Virginians don’t deserve another financial hardship in an already beaten-down economy.

In-state undergraduates will be faced with at least a $102 per-semester increase, while non-residents face at least a $316 increase. Depending on her major, the student will likely pay more. Increases for graduate students are similar.

This year, principals across Kanawha County have recorded 45 student violations for the sale, use and distribution of prescription pills and over-the-counter medication at school.

That number of violations was recorded on the West Virginia Education Information System (WVEIS), where administrators will also record student attendance, grades and scheduling information.  

The total seems low, given some recent publicity about  prescription drug use and distribution in the county’s middle and high schools.

Kathy Burgess, who oversees Kanawha County schools’ Safe and Drug Free Schools program, also believes the recorded violations are too low.

“I don’t think the data is showing we have the problem we suspect we do,” she said.

However, Burgess said she is sure that school administrators report what they catch, but some might have incorrectly recorded a prescription drug or OTC violation as an “illegal drug” on WVEIS, which would not be included among the 45 violations.

“When I’m aware of it I point it out to them,” Burgess said.

Also, Burgess usually waits to review data until the end of the school year, when principals have had time to catch up and punch all the numbers into WVEIS.

“Some of them can stay current on data entry, some of them cannot,” she said.

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Students chiseled on rising textbook prices

West Virginia University student leaders worry about the rising costs of required textbooks and the low resale value of most of those texts at the WVU Bookstore, now run by Barnes and Noble College Booksellers. Our Sunday story details their concerns.

A number of reports point to a growing national concern about high textbook costs, especially in a troubled economy.

Students refer to a detailed report on those rising prices prepared for Congress and published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in July 2005. The report, “College Textbooks: Enhanced Offerings Appear to Drive Recent Price Increases,” points out that textbook prices have risen at double the rate of inflation for the past 20 years (see GAO chart below). The GAO also provides a brief summary of this report.

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Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is leading efforts to get federal legislation passed to protect students from excessive textbooks costs. Durbin’s Senate website has several other statements about rising textbook costs.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission created a “Statewide Task Force of Textbook Affordability,” which has not yet published its report. The commission’s website discusses the forthcoming report and has links to related news publications on this issue.

The Policy Commission also provides a place on its website for people to post their own comments about textbooks costs. People can read previously posted comments here.

Students overcharged for loans

studentloanscam.jpgIn Sunday’s paper, we have a review of Alan Michael Collinge’s new book, The Student Loan Scam: The Most Oppressive Debt in U.S. History — and How We Can Fight Back. The book details how private loan companies are exploiting millions of students with interest rates much higher than federally financed loans charge.

Easing federal regulations over the past decade has made it easier for private loan companies, such as Sallie Mae, to charge annual interest rates of 19 percent, or even higher, Collinge documents.

In addition, Collinge operates a website, called StudentLoanJustice.org, where borrowers and students can share their stories with other students and find more resources.

Some interesting additional studies and resources are also available online, including:

The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s Democratic Staff and the Senate Democratic Policy Committee released a report titled: The College Cost Crunch: A State-by-State Analysis of Rising Tuition and Student Debt.

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So, does gambling pay?

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The answer appears to be yes, and no.

Two political science professors have analyzed legalized gambling revenue and public spending in West Virginina in the most recent issue of “The West Virginia Public Affairs Reporter,” published by the  Institute for Public Affairs at WVU’s Politial Science Department.

In their report, “Counting the Chips: The Policy Consequences of Legalized Gambling in West Virginia”, professors Patrick A. Pierce and Richard A. Brisbin Jr., found:

— State and local governments have certainly become more dependent legalized gambling revenue. West Virginia received $25.4 million in gambling revenue in 1991, compared to $639.2 million in 2007.
— Municipal and county governments began receiving legalized gambling revenue in2003, when it amounted to $3.4 million. In 2007, cities and counties received $7.8 million.
Legalized gambling makes a small contribution to relatively low-wage job creation in the state.
— Social costs and problem gambling are difficult to measure, but an earlier study found that problem and pathological gambling was three to four times as common among people living closer than 50 miles from a casino compared to those living farther away. Practically every West Virginian lives within 50 miles of a video lottery outlet and five of the 10 largest cities are within 50 miles of a racetrack with electronic gaming.

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