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As School Board Considers Tax Tonight, Hargens Says JCPS Must be 'Stewards of Every Dollar'

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens said the district increasing taxes just to boost revenue would not be responsible, even though it faces a near $20-million budget deficit.“We have to be stewards of every dollar,” Hargens told WFPL on Friday.  The Jefferson County Board of Education on Monday will vote yes or no on the district's county property tax; Hargens has recommended no increase to the current rate of 71 cents per $100 of a resident’s assessed property value.“That is based on actually working with our numbers and making sure we can do what we need to do to support children without asking taxpayers to have their tax rate increased,” Hargens said.Earlier this month, residents were presented with the possibility of as much as a 2.8 property tax increase in a legal advertisement in The Courier-Journal. The boost would have raised the current tax levy 2 cents to 73 cents, meaning a person with a $100,000 home would pay $730 annually in property taxes--$20 more annually than they currently pay. A 2.8 percent increase in property taxes would yield nearly $30 million more in revenue than the previous year.Board member Chris Brady, who represents District 7, said the $20-million deficit that “is being talked about” is not as problematic as it seems. He said the shortfall is “really around about $13 million,” once certain program reimbursements are considered.  And that $13 million will be absorbed by reserve funds.“We’re going to go into one time reserves and fill that deficit for the time being,” he said.Hargens said the recommendation would have been different if it was clear the district would not be able to provide all the supports deemed necessary for student success.She added that supports like additional mental health counselors, transitions centers and content coaches are new additions to the district possible in the current budget.“There is a lot in this budget that will move our district forward,” Hargens said.She said nothing would be held back or stalled by a budget shortfall.Board member Linda Duncan, representing District 5, said no increase to the property tax can be economically sustainable for the district.“If (Hargens) feels comfortable that there is enough money there to move us along without having to raise taxes now, then I am pleased with that,” Duncan said.But Duncan added that not everyone is in support of keeping the tax the same.“I know from emails I have received, not everyone is pleased there’s not going to be a tax increase, if you can imagine that," Duncan said.Duncan, along with Carol Haddad of District 6, is up for reelection this fall and faces opposition from some candidates who oppose raising property taxes.But Hargens is adamant that the recommendation made by the district is not something taken lightly or done for political gusto.  She said board members are not included in the process of coming to a property tax recommendation.“It’s based on math and numbers and, 'Can we do this?'” she said.  “That is the only way I know how to make a recommendation, based on the needs of the students.”The average Kentucky school district property tax levy is 57 cents, according to data provided by the KDE.In Oldham County the tax levy is 73 cents and in Bullitt County it is 61 cents, according to the KDE data.Public comment will be heard prior to Monday night’s scheduled board meeting.  Beginning at 6:45 p.m., the public will have an opportunity to address the school board with comments relating to the property tax.The meeting will be at the VanHoose Education Center,3332 Newburg Road.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.