JCPS will have plans ready if it seeks new taxes, Pollio says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jefferson County Public Schools must consider new revenue streams to help fund the district’s substantial facility needs as part of its corrective action plan with the Kentucky Department of Education, but Superintendent Marty Pollio says any effort to boost receipts will come with detailed plans on how those tax dollars will be used.

The Jefferson County Board of Education Finance Advisory Committee met Thursday for the first time since JCPS and KDE finalized the corrective action plan Sept. 19, a critical piece of the district’s settlement with the state to avoid a recommended takeover.

The committee reviewed aspects of the corrective action plan that dealt with school and district finances.

The state’s first recommendation for the school board in that category: look at ways to generate additional tax revenue to start addressing some $1 billion in JCPS facility needs.

Some options mentioned in the plan include instituting a nickel tax, which adds an extra 5 cents per $100 of assessed property values on tax bills for facility needs and can be subject to a recall vote, or a utility tax.

Pollio says those will be options for consideration by the school board, which voted to boost the local property tax rate by 2.1 cents per $100 of assessed property value in August, but buy-in from the community will be key in that discussion.

He said any push to generate more tax revenue, if that’s the route the school board takes, will be accompanied by detailed construction plans, school renderings and getting out in the community to pitch the need for additional dollars. He noted during Thursday’s meeting that JCPS is one of eight Kentucky school districts that do not levy a nickel tax.

“If that were to be the road that the board takes, it’s not going to be something that pops up quickly or is a surprise,” Pollio told WDRB News after the meeting, noting that the district has about $1 billion in facility needs. “There’s going to be a lot of discussion about it.”

“Our newest high school turns 50 this year in this city, and so we’re going to have to really take a look at our facilities and how we are going to address that need,” he added.

The state’s other recommendations for JCPS in the corrective action plan include ensuring federal grants are more equally distributed to schools, informing principals of remaining state grant funds, training teachers and assistant principals on school activity spending and giving members of local school councils greater say in their schools’ budget priorities.

 On the latter point, the district will have to implement training and procedures for school-based decision-making council members and monitor SBDM agendas and minutes. The results of those reviews will be shared with assistant superintendents and be reflected in principal evaluations.

Business consultant William Mansfield II said he’s heard concerns from several JCPS principals who are frustrated by the transition between old and new policies over the past year.

“It’s kind of like flying a plane at 30,000 feet and changing the engine at the same time,” Mansfield said.

Pollio said he understood how disruptive such changes can be to school leaders, but “the expectations are a lot higher than they’ve ever been” at JCPS.

“This is all new stuff, but this is where we are right now,” he said. “So if we want significant change, then this is what’s going to have to be.”

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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