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JCPS Tax Increase Headed To Voters After County Clerk Certifies Recall Petition

Short waits times at the Jefferson County polling site at Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville on June 22, 2020.
Short waits times at the Jefferson County polling site at Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville on June 22, 2020.

A petition to recall a 7-cent property tax increase supporting Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) has gathered enough signatures to put the tax increase on the November ballot, according to the Jefferson County Clerk's Office.

A bi-partisan committee has certified 38,507 signatures out of the 40,320 submitted by a group opposed to the increase, clerk Bobbie Holsclaw said Monday. That's about 3,000 more than the 35,517 signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot.

"We have been waiting on pins and needles to hear the results, and we are very happy to see that our effort was successful," petition organizer and Louisville Tea Party president Theresa Camoriano told WFPL News. Camoriano gathered many signatures through a form on a website.

She said the district's test scores are low, and that JCPS isn't making good use of taxpayer dollars.

"JCPS's performance is very poor, and so the taxpayers are not getting their money's worth," she said.

Supporters of the tax increase say the district is underfunded, and needs more investment to improve student outcomes. They point to declines in state and federal funding for JCPS over the last decade.

"Students desperately need these resources," Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) president Brent McKim said. "We have school buildings that are badly in need of maintenance and repairs. We have places in the city that need new school construction. And we have students that need additional services or they're not going to be able to succeed."

JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio has said the district faces $1.1 billion in unmet facilities needs.

The 7-cent increase would raise JCPS's property tax rate from 73.6 cents per $100 assessed real estate value to 80.6 cents. That would mean the taxes on a $200,000 home would increase by $140.

JCPS's tax rate is lower than many other districts' including Fayette County's, Oldham County's, and Anchorage Independent's, where Camoriano lives. JCPS also has a much higher percentage of students in poverty, who require more resources to educate.

Teachers Question Validity of Signatures

The JCTA is questioning whether all of the signatures gathered are valid. McKim said because signatures were collected through an online form, "anyone with a list of registered voters could have gone through and entered their names and addresses, and date of birth."

"There was no validity check whatsoever," McKim said.

McKim said teachers and other supporters of the tax increase have been combing through the list of petition signers, and making phone calls to "check on the accuracy" of the signatures.

He said 12 out of 56 people initially reached said they did not sign the petition, and they do not want their name on it. Two of them, according to McKim, were longtime retired teachers.

The clerk's office did not call individual signers. Instead, a bi-partisan committee checked voters names' against the roll of voters registered in Jefferson County.

McKim said he hoped the school district would challenge the clerk's decision. JCPS has 10 days to appeal.

A spokeswoman for JCPS, Renee Murphy, did not say whether the district would move forward with a challenge.

"We have just been notified of the decision from the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office and we will be reviewing their findings," she wrote in an email.

Meanwhile, Carmoriano is accusing teachers making the phone calls of "harassing" petition signers.

"The only purpose they can have is to harass, and to frighten people," she said.

McKim said the callers were polite and provided the following script callers used:
As you may have heard, there was a petition circulated to allow a recall of the revenue increase passed by the Jefferson County School Board to pay for updating our schools, building some new schools, and expanding programs to help more students. To be sure your name was not used without your permission, I am calling to let you know your name is listed on the petition and verify that it was actually you that signed it and that you want your name on the petition. Can you verify whether this is accurate?
If the petition is not appealed, the tax increase will appear on the ballot during the general election in November.

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