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JCPS School Board Considers Options To Raise Taxes

Liz Schlemmer

The Jefferson County Board of Education is exploring a range of local tax hikes it could levy in the future to give JCPS more money to renovate schools, construct new schools or support the school district's general fund.

Tuesday night, JCPS Chief Financial Officer Cordelia Hardin and Chay Ritter of the Kentucky Department of Education presented the board with a range of tax options members could consider adopting. Those include:

  • a recallable nickel tax on real estate to support school building needs;
  • a tax on cell phone service and utilities to support the JCPS general fund;
  • an up to 4 percent increase in the county property tax.

The recallable nickel tax would increase current property tax rates by about five cents on every $100 of property value, and would become permanent after one year. The bar for adopting this tax is high — taxpayers will be given a window of time in which they can petition to recall the tax. If that petition succeeds, voters will be able to approve or deny the tax increase in an upcoming election. Depending on the timing of that process, taxpayers could receive the bill for this tax separate from their county property tax bill. Sixty-seven school districts currently levy this tax. Jefferson County Public Schools has never before adopted a recallable nickel tax, according to a district spokesperson. This tax is estimated to yield around $37.9 million in Jefferson County, and would be restricted to facility needs.

The utility gross receipts tax could add up to 3 percent to Jefferson County residents' utility bills for cell phone services, water, electricity, gas and cable or satellite television. The tax is also recallable. JCPS is one of only 14 districts in the state that has not levied this tax, which could raise up to an estimated $35 million for the JCPS general fund if adopted.

In KDE's 2017 comprehensive audit of JCPS, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis criticized the Jefferson County Board of Education for not being aware of all its revenue-raising options. The discussion Tuesday night was an effort to better inform the board to help it meet the district's Corrective Action Plan.

KDE Finance and Operations staffer Chay Ritter fielded questions from board members about how the petition process has gone in other counties that levied the recallable nickel tax and the utilities tax.

JCPS CFO Cordelia Hardin began her presentation by giving additional context for the district's needs. She described funding sources the district has lost — such as state funding for textbooks — and noted rising costs, particularly a roughly $20 million rise in the district's contribution to employee pensions. The district also needs an estimated $1.3 billion to meet all its facility needs.

"Clearly if we have over $1 billion in unmet school facility needs, we have to do something," said board member Chris Kolb. "Not increasing revenue, for me, is not an option."

Kolb added that he would like the board to consider how to lessen the burden any tax increase would cause for low-income Louisville residents.

The board and Superintendent Marty Pollio discussed the possibility of forming a task force to further study the revenue-raising options. Board member Chris Brady also proposed considering a campaign to market any recallable tax the board might seek to pass.

"We may call you back," board chair Diane Porter told Ritter at the close of his presentation.

Pollio said if board members were to consider a recallable tax, they might aim to put the measure on a May primary ballot, if possible, or look to the November 2020 presidential election.

Superintendent Evaluation

The Board also approved its performance evaluation of Superintendent Pollio, who received a largely positive review. The Board had the option to rank Pollio as exemplary, accomplished, developing or requiring improvement across six categories.

Pollio received exemplary marks for cultural leadership, noting his work to improve the culture and climate of schools and for his leadership on the Racial Equity Policy. The board ranked Pollio as accomplished for his strategic, instructional and managerial leadership.

Pollio received a rating of "developing" for collaborative leadership, with a note that he could improve collaboration with the board.

"The board recognizes that the many expectations placed upon Dr. Pollio require him to act quickly and decisively," the board stated in its evaluation. "However, the speed at which the district is moving has led some to feel that less collaboration with stakeholders is occurring..."

The board also ranked Pollio as "developing" in the category of Human Resource Leadership saying hisroll-out of a new human resources reorganization "lacked coordination" and was not effectively communicated "particularly [to] staff affected by the plan."

Based on the feedback, Pollio said he plans to improve his communication with the board. The full superintendent evaluation report is available here.

Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.

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