JCPS WIDE

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Members of the Jefferson County Board of Education continued laying the groundwork Monday for their case to increase property tax revenue this year.

The board is poised to seek a property tax rate that generates more than 4% revenue growth during a May 21 hearing, according to presentations and discussions during the board’s work session.

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio said the district will likely begin advertising an increase of up to 7.4 cents per $100 of assessed property value on Wednesday, which, if enacted, would put the district's tax rate in line with the 81 cents per $100 of property values levied by Fayette County Public Schools.

Pollio noted that the district and board were criticized for not taking the full 4% tax growth in recent years by the Kentucky Department of Education in its sweeping audit that prompted the state’s pursuit to control operations at JCPS.

Chris Kolb, the board’s vice chairman, who led the district’s Revenue Advisory Task Force, said by not acting in the past, the district has missed nearly $300 million in cumulative revenue. That figure will grow to nearly $607 million by fiscal year 2026, and additional tax money will allow the district to invest in classroom resources and teachers at a time when state and federal funding streams are shrinking, he said.

Pollio said, “I think that every one of us would say our student need is greater than any of these districts around us from our special populations to school turnaround to the social supports, the mental health supports, the safety, the security, all the things that we talk about … if we’re going to meet the needs of our students. We have to find more ways to increase revenue in order to do that.”

Pollio also urged the board to commit a percentage of any additional tax revenues to facility needs. JCPS says it has more than $1 billion in unmet facility needs, and two school board members during Monday's work session referred to the current state of many schools in Kentucky’s largest district as “embarrassing."

Pollio said 35 schools are “at the end of life” and need to be replaced.

The district’s bonding capacity is about $260 million, and an additional 7 cents in the district’s property tax rate of 73.6 cents per $100 of assessed property value would boost that borrowing threshold to $534.8 million, Pollio said.

JCPS is also looking at revising its student assignment plan. Part of the updated plan includes a provision to give families in Louisville’s West End the option of attending middle and high school closer to home.

Pollio said those changes would require at least two new middle schools and one new high school within the next decade. Based on averages presented Monday, such construction is estimated at $139 million.

“Our bonding capacity currently is inefficient, is not enough,” Pollio said, noting that other building costs such as renovations must also be considered in the district’s overall facility needs.

Kolb said he worried about how the district’s facilities would be affected in the next five years without action now.

“Things are hanging together by duct tape often as it is, and we’re going to start seeing some really negative effects on student learning if we don’t increase our bonding capacity significantly,” Kolb said.

If a higher tax rate were recalled by voters and defeated at the polls in November, the board would likely have to wait until 2022 to try again. Voters would have 50 days to begin collecting signatures on a recall petition, which can be done electronically, after the May 21 tax hearing.

JCPS has the 46th highest property tax rate in Kentucky, while Anchorage Independent’s property tax rate of 98.2 cents per $100 of assessed property value ranks 11th, according to KDE data for the 2019-20 school year.

Both districts levy occupational taxes of 0.75%, but Anchorage’s motor vehicle tax rate of $1.10 per $100 of assessed value is nearly double the 58.5 cents charged by JCPS, according to Kolb’s presentation.

Kolb said those higher tax rates allow Anchorage to invest more than $8,000 more per student than JCPS.

“Our kids are going to compete for jobs with students who are now receiving a huge advantage in educational resources,” he said. “That’s not fair to our kids, many of whom already grow up in very challenging environments. Every day that we don’t act, we’re putting our kids further behind the eight ball.”

While Chris Brady, who represents District 7, had previously expressed concern about pursuing a tax increase in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, no board members during Monday’s work session expressed misgivings about seeking a higher tax rate.

Consulting firm Osborne & Associates won a contract with JCPS to handle public relations on the push for higher taxes.

Joe Marshall, who represents District 4, said, “We have to call on the community to come together." 

Corrie Shull, who represents District 6, said anyone in Jefferson County who doesn’t back the board’s pursuit of more tax revenue doesn’t “support the children of this community, especially the most vulnerable.”

“We don’t really have a choice in the matter, and so I encourage the effort, and I want to see us reach the finish line,” Shull said.

Correction: A previous version of this story identified Osborne & Associates as a Virginia-based company. Its principal location is Danville.

Copyright 2020 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.