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School board considers tax increase

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Superintendent Wells to recommend four percent maximum raise

By Kenny Colston

 

Oldham County homeowners could see another increase in their property taxes if a recommendation by Oldham County Schools is approved by the Board of Education at a special meeting Sept. 11.

OCS Superintendent Will Wells plans to recommend a “four percent” increase, referred by that number because it represents the amount of increased revenue that would be raised by the school district. It is the highest amount the board can approve without the tax being subjected to a recall, OCS spokeswoman Tracy Harris said.

If approved, the tax increase would actually be a 4.2 percent increase, Harris said, from 73.4 cents to 76.5 per $100. According to statistics provided by the district, that would be a $2.58 a month increase for a $100,000 home for a total of an additional $31 per year. For a $200,000 home, it would be $5.17 a month for $62 a year. The average home value in Oldham County is $207,000, Harris said.

The increase would generate $3.2 million more than fiscal year 2014 revenue, the bulk of which will be used to give at least a one percent raise to the district’s teachers and classroom staff, Wells said.

“Our teachers are second to none, that’s how we’re getting the results we’re getting,” Wells said. “We’re aggressively hiring the best teachers we can find, training them to get better … they need a wage that will compensate them for the level of professionalism they’re providing.

“We can’t be outpaced by Shelby, Bullitt and Carroll counties when it comes to our teachers.”

According to data provided by Wells, Oldham ranks no higher than sixth when it comes to neighboring school districts and compensation, despite delivering some of the best test scores and educational experiences, he said.

OCS consistently ranks behind Shelby, Bullitt, Anchorage Independent and Carroll schools districts in compensation for teachers whether they have an entry-level degree or a top-level education, the data shows. Jefferson County Public Schools ranks first at all three levels, offering a full $5,000 more at entry level, expanding to almost $20,000 more at the top level.

The most recent state budget included a one percent raise for the 2015 fiscal year, as well as a two percent increase the following budget year. Wells wants to give an additional raise on top of that, he said. The final total for how much of a raise the district’s teachers will receive wasn’t available at press time, but Wells said it could be anywhere from one to three percent, and the district’s financial staff would hopefully have the final number available by the special meeting.

Those raises, as well as increases in retirement fundings and other mandates will create a $2 million hole in fiscal year 2016 that is also contributing to a need to raise tax rates, Wells said.

If state government, which recently passed an increase in state funding to local districts in the latest budget, went back to fully funding schools then local school boards wouldn’t be put in such a bind, Wells said.

“It’s about the state passing down their obligation to fund schools,” Wells said. “And school boards either have to decrease programs or raise taxes.”

Wells said OCS can’t cut anymore out of their budgets, after cutting $3 million last year, without jeopardizing the district’s reputation as a top-notch district.

“When expenses go up you either tighten your belt or you expand revenue,” Wells said. “In a home, you either cut back or get a second job. If we cut, our class sizes will go up. We’ll cut early intervention programs, the alternative school, programs at the Arvin Center.

“You see how tall the grass is at our schools, we’ve had calls all summer about that. That shows how much we’ve cut our operating budget.”

Harris said the district’s administrative office makes up less than two percent of the overall budget and lower than the state average for percentage of budgetary costs. To cut the central office anymore would also impact classrooms, she said.

“I don’t know how much lower you can go,” Harris said. “Most of those remaining costs go to things that protect teachers.”

Wells also noted that before last year, the district had not increased tax rates for several years. And for critics of the increase who point to the district’s property list or building fund, Wells said to cut the building fund would jeopardize expansions and renovations, as well as risk state matching funds. As for currently unused property owned by the district, he noted the district has stopped property sales for the last few years and all current unused property was bought at either a discount for future school sites or could not fetch decent value if sold in the current market.

Wells said a good school district is one sure-fire way to maintain or increase property values and if OCS isn’t granted an increase, their reputation could be at stake.

“We know that 70 percent of homeowners in Oldham County do not have kids in school,” he said. “But 100 percent of homeowners should take pride in their schools. Research shows that property values in communities where there are good schools stay strong and don’t deflate during a tough economy.”

Wells will formally make his pitch to the five-member school board for the four percent increase at a special meeting held Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Oldham County Schools Arts Center, 7105 Floydsburg Road in Crestwood. The public is invited to attend and comment.

He encouraged those curious about why the district is requesting an increase and why further cuts could not be made in this year’s or future budgets to look over a “frequently asked questions” section placed on the district’s website, oldham.k12.ky.us.

Email us about this story at editor@oldhamera.com.