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Michael Bush, left, explains why he supports the JCPS property tax rate increase as Keenan Burton listens on Oct. 19, 2020.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A pair of Jefferson County Public Schools graduates who also played in the National Football League offered their support Monday for the district’s 7-cent property tax rate increase about two weeks before a potentially consequential election.

Michael Bush, a 2003 Male High School graduate and NFL running back for seven seasons, and Keenan Burton, who graduated from duPont Manual High School in 2003 and played two seasons as a wide receiver in the NFL, joined Bellarmine University basketball coach Scotty Davenport in backing the district’s property tax rate increase, which is expected to generate $54 million in new annual revenue.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said both former gridiron stars contacted him to lend their support for the district’s tax increase. They said during Monday’s news conference at the Louisville Urban League that they believe disadvantaged students will benefit from an influx of new tax revenue.

“With everything going on, the social unrest, people need hope, so this is the perfect time to reach out,” Burton said during the news conference coordinated by Yes 4 JCPS, a nonprofit backing the district’s new tax rate of 80.6 cents per $100,000 of property value. “This is the perfect time to find a way to be the solution because we’ve got a lot of problems happening right now.”

“If we get everyone’s support, I think it can turn the whole JCPS around and the kids will have something to look forward to for them to have a future,” Bush said.

The property tax rate increase, which amounts to $70 more in yearly taxes for someone who owns a $100,000 home, will be on the Nov. 3 ballot regardless of the outcome of a legal battle involving the Jefferson County Board of Education, Jefferson County Teachers Association, Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw’s office and members of the recall petition.

The board and teachers union have questioned the validity of many signatures gathered through the group’s online petition, enough to potentially nullify its certification by Holsclaw’s office. The county clerk verified 38,507 of the 40,320 signatures submitted on the recall petition.

The group, No JCPS Tax Hike, claimed in response that the school board erred in the timing of its rate approval by voting before local tax rolls were certified.

However, Jefferson Circuit Judge Brian Edwards on Friday rejected the petition committee's push to overturn the tax rate increase by summary judgment on those grounds.

The group "failed as a matter of law to demonstrate that JCBE improperly implemented their proposed tax rate increase in violation of their legal obligations to the citizens of Jefferson County," Edwards wrote in his order.

If the tax increase survives legal and electoral challenges, the district plans to spend at least $15 million in new revenue to renovate and build facilities. That construction drive will include updating sports amenities within Kentucky’s largest school district, Pollio said.

JCPS sports facilities “are in nearly as dire condition as our buildings,” Pollio said, noting that Ballard High School’s football stadium was condemned last year.

“We are very fortunate that that did not collapse with people in it during a football game,” he said.

Other districts, such as Fayette County Public Schools, have built turf fields for their high school sports programs, Pollio said.

“Our football players in JCPS go to those schools and see the facilities they have and then compare them when they come back to our schools, and quite clearly I think it’s very symbolic to our kids in this community how much we care for them unless we fund them at a greater rate,” he said.

Other funding priorities with new tax dollars include $15 million to provide more resources to high-need schools, $12 million to add instructional time for students and $12 million for racial equity initiatives like lessening achievement gaps, according to a resolution passed Sept. 17 by the school board.

Opponents of the increase say JCPS can pursue reforms without increasing taxes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether voters will pass or reject the district’s spending strategy won’t be known until after Nov. 3, but Pollio says he’s been pleased with the support JCPS has developed within the community ahead of the election.

Internal polling commissioned by Yes 4 JCPS found that more than half of respondents favored increasing funding for the district, he said.

“We have seen a good deal of support for it, and I’ll say once again I’ve been inspired by the broad range of support that we have had,” Pollio said.

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