The Jefferson County Board of Education has approved its sixth straight annual tax increase—but it’s a smaller hike than the JCPS staff’s 3.1-percent increase recommendation.
Several people addressed the board Monday night, criticizing the idea of increasing property taxes 3.1 percent, which would have forced homeowners in the district to pay $22 more than the $700 they now pay for property assessed at $100,000.
The 3.1 percent tax hike would have given JCPS an additional $18 million in revenue.
The board rejected that increase with four board members—Carol Haddad, Chuck Haddaway, David Jones Jr. and Linda Duncan—voting against it. The move was met with applause by several in attendance, but shortly after, Jones requested the board adopt a rate increase that was around half of what was proposed—1.4 percent. This would cost homeowners an additional $10 a year for a house assessed at $100,000 (t0 $710) and it would create about $8 million in additional revenue for JCPS.
The board took a second vote, this time with Jones Jr. joining Chris Brady, Debbie Wesslund and Diane Porter in approving the lesser tax increase.
After the meeting, Jones said the tax rate is already too high and that the lesser rate was a compromise to meet the district’s goals as laid out in its strategic plan, called Vision 2015.
“Everybody on the board supports the strategy. Everybody believes that we have a team that is capable of executing the strategy. The difficult question in these times is how to pay for it,” he said.
JCPS officials said cuts to state and federal funds and money lost from the housing crisis has forced the district to seek new taxes.
The district will still have to pay for programs it’s obligated to fund, including $7.5 million for extended learning services for the lowest achieving schools, $10.5 million for teacher salary increases that were negotiated in the latest union contract, and general utility costs. That’s nearly $10 million that will have to come from the district’s “fund balance account,” which is like a savings account, Chief Financial Officer Cordelia Hardin said.
Jones said the district promised not to pay for the extended learning services for at-risk students with tax-payer money. JCPS wants to structure three days in each of the 18 priority schools where these students can get extra help.
“We need to pay for the improvements and that’s what we did,” Jones said.
A majority of those who addressed the school board Monday night were opposed to the tax increase and several received applause after speaking. Reasons for opposition included the large JCPS budget, transportation costs, fiscal responsibility, large administrative salaries and poor academic results.
The $1.2 billion JCPS budget is one of the largest in Kentucky state government, but Superintendent Donna Hargens said the tax hike was needed to continue offering strong student services.
“I think the board thoughtfully considered what is a very difficult decision and I appreciate their thoughtfulness,” Hargens said.
Last year, the board voted to increase taxes 3.4 percent to pay for dozens of assistant principals in elementary schools. In 2011, Hargens’ first year on the job, the board approved the smallest tax increase in the past six years, which was one-tenth of a cent.
Hargens was able to save some money by restructuring the central administration office, which was a recommendation from an independent audit commissioned by the board during her arrival.