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Jefferson County School Board Passes 7-Cent Property Tax Increase

JCPS school bus parked outside The Academy @ Shawnee.
JCPS school bus parked outside The Academy @ Shawnee.

The board of Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) approved a 7-cent property tax increase Thursday night by a 5-2 vote. The move raises the tax rate from 73.6 cents per $100 assessed value to 80.6 cents.

"It's beyond time," board chair Diane Porter said.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio recommended the 7-cent tax increase, saying it is needed to help address $1.2 billion in facilities needs, raise teacher pay and provide more support to struggling schools.

The district had been advising an 8-cent increase, the maximum allowed under state law. But the final recommendation was 7 cents.

"We looked at the numbers, and we saw that 7 cents would help to generate the revenue that we need to do the things we need to do in the future," district spokeswoman Renee Murphy said.

Forefront for Pollio Thursday night was the need for funds to renovate and build new schools in West Louisville, which has not seen a major facilities investment since 1990.

"The residents of West Louisville should be upset with JCPS for not investing in that community for the last 30 years. It is time to right that wrong," Pollio said.

Because the tax hike represents a revenue increase greater than 4%, it can be recalled by voters in a referendum. To put the increase on the November ballot, those opposed must file a petition with at least 35,000 signatures within 50 days.

Board members Diane Porter, Chris Kolb, Joe Marshall, James Craig and Corrie Shull voted in favor of the increase. Linda Duncan and Chris Brady voted against.

How Board Members Explained Their Votes

Member Chris Kolb, a professor at Spalding University, supported the tax hike, saying the increase was an "urgent necessity" because for many years, past boards had chosen not to raise taxes.

"Our buildings are literally falling down," he said. "I've heard people say this is a tough time, and it is. But you know what? The 65,000 kids in our schools who live with poverty have been dealing with tough times their whole lives."

Noting the opportunity for a referendum, board member and classroom teacher Joe Marshall called the board's approval a "suggestion."

"We're making the suggestion that our kids matter, that our teachers matter. That our administrators matter. That where you learn matters," he said.

Diane Porter, a former educator and administrator, said the need for funding goes beyond facilities.

"Our kids, no matter where they live, they need academic help," she said. "All schools should be performing at a level higher than they are."

Board member Corrie Shull took issue with some board member's reticence to increase taxes during the pandemic, and resulting economic downturn.

"This is the time to do what is right and what we must for our communities," Shull, a local pastor, said. "Without investing in their potential today, we lose opportunity to really make the strongest possible impact on students."

He noted the board would have to wait two years before considering another increase beyond the 4% cap.

James Craig, a lawyer, called out past boards for failing to increase revenues, and said the pandemic makes the need for more funds even more pressing.

"We haven't funded this district enough to meet the needs of the poorest in our community," he said. "The needs are greater today than they ever have been, and they're getting worse."

Chris Brady, an IT professional who previously supported the tax hike, voted against it Thursday, citing the economic downturn due to the pandemic.

"When this crisis has passed or we've learned to live with it, then this community should absolutely support an increase in revenue," he said. "However I cannot in good conscience vote to raise taxes at this time."

Linda Duncan, a retired longtime JCPS educator, also voted against.

"A pandemic changes everything," she said. "Unfortunately things that we want right now might not be able to happen right now. There are lots of people feeling like that right now."

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.