School consolidation, closure among options in JCPS facility fix - WDRB 41 Louisville News

School consolidation, closure among options in JCPS facility fix

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CPS chief operations officer Mike Raisor presents the facilities assessment to the school board on March 22, 2016 (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB News) CPS chief operations officer Mike Raisor presents the facilities assessment to the school board on March 22, 2016 (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB News)
Some of the recommendations that will be made to the school board on June 28, 2016 Some of the recommendations that will be made to the school board on June 28, 2016

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Consolidating offices and programs and closing some JCPS schools are among the things being considered as officials try to "right the ship" with more than $880 million in facility needs scattered across the county.

Michael Raisor, chief operations officer for JCPS, will present a report to the school board on Tuesday suggesting a number of ways for the district to deal with a number of aging buildings and a host of critical repairs that are needed.

According to the board agenda uploaded to the district's website Wednesday, Raisor's presentation will "outline various strategies" to address the conclusions of the comprehensive infrastructure assessment shared with board members in March and present a "path forward for the next five years."

In order to "right the ship," Raisor says the district must consider:

  • Giving the ESL Newcomer Academy, currently housed at the Academy @ Shawnee, its own space
  • Creating free-standing early childhood centers
  • Consolidating programs to maximize educational and financial impact for students
  • Reducing fixed costs while increasing targeted resources
  • Building new, energy efficient buildings and modernizing viable buildings to highest possible efficiency standards
  • Maximizing viable building usage by exploring different grade configurations - perhaps putting K-8 or K-12 all on one campus 

As WDRB reported in February, the district has nearly $886 million worth of facility needs, which include the replacement of dozens of old roofs and end-of-life heating and cooling systems at more than 40 schools. 

In addition, JCPS has been dealing with a shifting student population that has left some of the district’s schools over capacity, while others sit half empty.

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.

In his PowerPoint presentation, Raisor says that the district's facilities planning process has "never been effective in JCPS."

JCPS facilities have been "habitually under-funded, thus under-maintained, resulting in triage as standard operating procedure," Raisor says.

Raisor says there are currently 44 schools that are operating on "end of life" HVAC systems and that it would take 12 years to address given current funding. Replacing an old HVAC system can cost anywhere from $5 to $20 million.

"At least 28 more schools would be “end of life” at that point," Raisor said. "This cannot continue. It is not sustainable."

One way the district could increase funds for facilities is to ask for the nickel tax, a provision JCPS has not utilized in the past.

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.

In addition, Raisor says the district's facility plan is due to be revised during the 2016-17 school year. 

He described previous facility plans as a "billion dollar buffet that was confusing, frustrating, and overwhelming."

"That’s about to change," Raisor says in the report. "We’re going to address our needs a la carte."

Over the next few months, the district will create a "local planning committee" that will make specific recommendations for the future of each of these buildings to be included in the district's facility plan.

According to Raisor's timeline, the school board will select committee members in August, with the committee holding its first meeting in September and with a goal of having a new district facility plan developed by December. 

From there, a draft of the plan would be shared with the school board in January, with the finalized plan to be approved by the board in February.

"If we make innovative efforts to become more efficient, truly maximizing every dollar, and authentically involve the stakeholders and community in the decision making process, we can gain the community support needed to fund the infrastructure of our school district to insure equity and excellence for all children," Raisor said.

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

Copyright 2016 by WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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