Education

The board of Jefferson County Public schools is holding a public hearing and vote on Thursday on a proposal to raise local property taxes. A majority of the board has signaled support for the increase, which has been in the works for about two years. But the tax hike is subject to recall, and may be a tougher sell for taxpayers during the pandemic.

The Proposal

The school system has been advertising an 8-cent property tax increase, bringing JCPS’ property tax rate from 73.6 cents per $100 assessed real estate value to 81.6 cents. That would mean the owner of a $200,000 home would see their annual property taxes go up by $160. It would increase general fund revenues by $58.9 million.

Proponents of the increase say it’s necessary to make up for years of under-funding. At a recent JCPS board meeting, superintendent Marty Pollio said without more revenue, the district’s aging facilities will be in dire straits.

“Sooner rather than later, we are going to have to close down facilities. Not just floors but complete facilities,” he said during a May 12 board meeting.

The district says 32 school buildings are at the end of their lives. The newest JCPS high school was built 50 years ago, and schools across the district are in need of major renovations.

In addition, Pollio said that to create a new student assignment plan that allows students in West Louisville to stay close to home, the district will have to build two or three new schools in that part of town. But JCPS’ current bonding capacity would not allow for both renovations and new school construction.

“The math does not work out to get that done,” Pollio said. Adding the 8-cent increase however, would substantially increase the district’s bonding capacity, and allow for both kinds of projects, he said.

The money would not just go to facilities. Pollio has proposed allocating the increase as follows:

  • $21 million for teacher pay increases
  • $10 million for programming at struggling schools
  • $5 million to increase summer school opportunities to 10,000 students
  • $2 million for school leadership development
  • $2 million for a teacher residency program

The 8-cent increase is the maximum increase the board is allowed to pass. Members who support the tax hike say it’s necessary to make up for years during which past boards declined to raise taxes. They point to comparable and competing districts with higher tax rates. Jefferson County’s property tax rate is lower than Fayette County’s, Oldham County’s, and Anchorage Independent’s, for example.

“Anchorage students, who already come from higher-income families, receive 50% more resources than kids in JCPS,” board member Chris Kolb said.

Pandemic May Change Minds

Before the pandemic, nearly all board members had been supportive of the tax increases. The only opposition came from Linda Duncan, who at one point said she preferred a “nickle tax,” a 5-cent tax that would be earmarked only for facilities.

But at a recent board meeting, at least one board member, Chris Brady who previously supported the increase, said things have changed because of the pandemic and economic downturn.

“We’re a victim of bad timing,”  Brady said during the May 12 board meeting. “I can’t agree with raising revenue and raising taxes on our citizens right now when everything is so uncertain.”

Other members said the pandemic only highlighted the importance of raising revenue.

“The difference between a homeowner in certain parts of our community paying $100 or $200 more per year versus students in other parts of our community going to school in dilapidated buildings without the resources they need…it would be a neglect of my responsibility as a board member to allow that to continue,” board member James Craig said.

“For some communities, a tax increase never comes at a good time,” member Corrie Shull said.

If an 8-cent increase is passed, the tax hike could be recalled by voters in the 2020 general election. State law allows voters to recall property tax increases that increase revenues by more than 4% percent. A recall would be initiated with a petition of 35,000 signatures certified by the county clerk within 50 days of the vote.

Public Hearing Details

A public hearing on the tax increase is taking place virtually at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 21. Board members will vote after the hearing. It will be streamed online here.

Because of the pandemic, JCPS has had to get creative about allowing public comment. JCPS spokeswoman Renee Murphy said those who want to comment during the hearing will be let in one at a time to the JCPS Vanhoose Center on Newburg Road, where they can address the board at a teleconference station.

Murphy said the district will be following CDC guidelines around social distancing.

Those wishing to speak should be outside the Vanhoose Center by 5:30 p.m. More details will be included in the district’s meeting notice, which has yet to be posted to the website.

Public comment can also be sent by email to assistant secretary to the board angela.gilpin@jefferson.kyschools.us. Written comments should be 500 words or less, and must be submitted by 5 p.m. on Wednesday to be shared with board members and entered into the meeting minutes.

Clarification: This post has changed to clarify the amount of the increase. 

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.