JCPS report to outline 'strengths and weaknesses' of each school - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS report to outline 'strengths and weaknesses' of each school building

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The entrance of Ballard High School (WDRB file photo) The entrance of Ballard High School (WDRB file photo)
JCPS facility planning master schedule as of October 2015 (Source: JCPS) JCPS facility planning master schedule as of October 2015 (Source: JCPS)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Jefferson County Board of Education will hear an update on the "strengths and weaknesses" of each of the district’s 155 school buildings during work session that will be held Tuesday afternoon.

Michael Raisor, chief operation officer of JCPS, has spent the past year visiting each school to develop a detailed infrastructure plan.

During the 4:45 p.m. work session, which will be held at the Van Hoose Education Center, Raisor will present a report to the school board on the status of each school. A copy of the report will not be made available to the public or the board before the work session, according to a JCPS spokesperson.

No recommendations will be made until June and no action will be taken by the board on Tuesday.

As WDRB reported last month, the district has more than $880 million worth of facility needs scattered across the county.

Those needs – which include the replacement of dozens of old roofs and end-of-life heating and cooling systems at more than 40 schools – are in addition to a shifting student population that has left some of the district’s schools over capacity, while others sit half empty.

In a previous interview, Raisor spoke with WDRB News about the infrastructure assessment.

“I’m looking at the strengths and weaknesses – what are other possible uses for this building and what, if anything, scares us about this building?” Raisor said. “I’m going to tell them how things are and I’m going to be very clear about each situation.”

Raisor said the focus of his report in June will be broken down into three parts.

“This will be a comprehensive assessment of our primary operational infrastructure – our school buses, buildings and the technology our students use every day," he said. "We will come out with reports and recommendations of what next five years should look like in each of those areas."

JCPS has been dealing with aging facilities and a shifting student population for at least a decade, but with a capital improvement budget of roughly $35 million annually, it has been difficult to keep up with $886 million in needs identified in the district’s facility plan that was submitted to the state in 2014.

At times, it has led to a debate among board members about whether they should increase taxes to pay for more renovations and construction projects and/or consolidate schools and problems to save space.

Linda Duncan, who has been on the school board since 2006, has also brought up the district’s facilities at meetings over the past six years.

“I think it’s time for us to consider an increase of nickel tax,” Duncan said. “Facilities are an ongoing expense and it doesn’t get any cheaper. Right now, we just put Band-Aids over everything. Eventually, it’s going to catch up with us.”

The nickel tax is a special tax that generates money for school facility renovations or construction projects. Currently, the nickel tax in Jefferson County is at 5 cents, which is the minimum requirement.

What is a nickel tax?

  • The district's current property tax rate is 71 cents per $100 of assessed value, which means the owner of a $100,000 home currently pays about $710 in property taxes to JCPS.
  • Of that 71 cents, 5 cents (equivalent of about $33 million annually) is reserved for capital improvement funds.
  • In addition, JCPS collects 58.5 cents per $100 of assessed motor vehicle value and 5 cents from that tax is also reserved for capital improvements.
  • School boards in Kentucky can vote to levy an additional nickel tax, which can be recallable by voters. This means that community members have 45 days after a school board's vote to file a petition with the clerk’s office to recall the nickel tax. It would then be put on a ballot for voters to decide.

JCPS spokeswoman Allison Martin said while the district has the option to ask for the nickel tax, it has not utilized that provision in the past.

“This is not something that is being considered at this point,” Martin told WDRB last month.

Martin added that JCPS has not had to ask for an increase in any property taxes since 2013.

One of the district’s main focuses in the past two years has been dealing with crowding issues in eastern Jefferson County.

Two of the district’s largest elementary clusters were expected to be over capacity by 2018, so the board decided to convert Alex Kennedy Metro Middle in Jeffersontown back into an elementary school at the start of the 2015-16 year and build a new school in Norton Commons, which opens this August.

“We have done a really great job at balancing all of our capital projects and our staff has done a phenomenal job maintaining the buildings that we have,” Raisor said.

According to his most recent analysis, Raisor says the average age of the district’s buildings is approaching 60 years old.

Three years ago, officials told the board 46 schools would need a “recommended replacement” of their HVAC systems by 2020. Since then, only a handful has been replaced, Raisor said.

Replacing an old HVAC system can cost anywhere from $5 to $20 million. Case in point: JCPS has spent more than $40 million in the past two years on renovating the HVAC systems at Fern Creek High and Southern High.

“You're ripping the guts out of the building and putting them back in brand new,” Raisor said. “It's a very invasive type of exercise to do."

When looking at the district as a whole, Raisor says he is open to exploring all options. That could include closing some schools and building new – instead of renovating.

“Old building utility costs and maintenance are so much more than new modern buildings are,” Raisor said. “That's kind of the X-factor, you have to determine what you are now spending on those things and what you would be spending in the future.”

In addition to the 4:45 p.m. work session on facilities, there are also three other meetings scheduled for Tuesday:

  • During a 4 p.m. work session, the JCPS will hear an update on a proposal to move Frost Sixth-Grade Academy and Valley Preparatory Academy to the Stuart Middle School campus. As of Thursday, the full description of the proposal and attachments were still pending on the JCPS website, but the school board is expected to vote on a proposal at its 7 p.m. meeting on Tuesday.
  • During a 5:45 p.m. work session, the board will receive the recommendations from senior administration in regards to the budgeting priorities for the new year, as well as information on next steps in the budget process. Officials will also present information on the request for a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) Agreement for the Phoenix Hill and Mercy Academy properties.
  • During the 7 p.m. regular meeting, there are a few items of interest: including the Class of 2016 graduation schedule will be up for approval, as will a plan to spent $2.9 million to purchase 35 school buses in order to replace aging fleet inventory (this is part of the district's normal bus replacement program cycle).

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

Copyright 2015 by WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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