Education

Kentucky House lawmakers have passed a bill that would dramatically reduce hurdles to recalling school board taxes in the state’s largest districts. Supporters of the bill say it gives voters a greater voice, but critics say it will hamper efforts to raise much-needed revenue for public schools.

In order for a school board tax to be placed on a ballot for recall, the current statute requires tax opponents to submit a petition to the county clerk with a number of signatures equal to 10% of votes cast in the previous election. For Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest district, that would be just over 35,500 signatures. 

The measure would cap the maximum signatures needed at 5,000. 

The measure, House Bill 133, was filed after a Louisville Tea Party group failed to gather enough valid signatures for a recall of a recent 9.5% property tax increase levied by the Jefferson County Board of Education. Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville), a bill co-sponsor, assisted the group in compiling the petition. According to the Courier Journal, several of the bill’s sponsors signed the failed petition, including Rep. Kevin Bratcher (R-Louisville) and Jerry Miller (R-Eastwood).

“[HB 133] just allows the people to have a voice,” Bratcher said on the House floor Monday night.

The measure also requires signatories to only submit their birth month, not their exact birth date. 

“That would be a lot easier to do. Pray that [HB133] passes!” petition organizer and Louisville Tea Party President Teresa Camoriano wrote in a Louisville Tea Party newsletter.

One reason the Jefferson County tax recall petition failed is because a judge threw out thousands of signatures with incorrect birth dates and other abnormalities. Camoriano is facing allegations that she and her daughters altered birth dates, addresses and other information submitted by voters to help the petition pass muster with the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office.

The Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) opposes the bill, saying it will disproportionately impact larger districts, such as JCPS, since the measure will require a small fraction of the signatures currently needed for a recall in large districts.

KSBA communications director Josh Shoulta said he thinks if passed, the measure would result in an increase in tax referendums. 

“I think more of these decisions made by school boards would be subject to a long and more arduous process,” Shoulta told WFPL News.

And he said voters already have a voice when it comes to taxing decisions.

“People are having an active role in that determination of taxation when they are voting for their school board member,” he said, noting many school board candidates campaign based on their stance on taxes.

Shoulta added that the impact would be felt in the very districts that rely most heavily on local tax revenues. That’s because under the state’s school funding formula, larger districts receive less per pupil in state funding than small ones.

“In Jefferson County, we have crumbling schools,” Rep. Joni Jenkins (D-Louisville) said on the House floor in opposition to the bill. “We rely on property taxes to pick up the slack when the state does not do their part.”

The bill passed the House 72-21. It is not clear whether it has support in the state Senate.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.