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Ky. Supreme Court To Hear Challenge To JCPS Tax Hike

Liz Schlemmer

This story has been updated.

The Kentucky Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from opponents of a property tax increase passed by the Jefferson County Board of Education last May.

The Louisville Tea Party group has been trying for about a year to get the 9.5% tax increase recalled. The tax is an additional 7 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Jefferson County Public Schools estimates the tax will bring in an additional $50 million a year to address crumbling school infrastructure and rising student needs.

At issue in the state Supreme Court case is whether a petition to recall the tax increase is valid.

Under state law, school board tax hikes greater than 4% can go before voters for a recall, but opponents of the tax have to gather a number of signatures equal to 10% of the voters in the last election. In Jefferson County Public Schools, tax opponents needed 35,517 signatures. 

The Jefferson County Clerk’s office initially certified that petitioners had the required number of signatures, and added the recall question to the ballot. But the Jefferson County Teachers Association and the district challenged the clerk’s decision to certify the petition after a web developer hired by the teachers’ union found the clerk had certified thousands of erroneous signatures.

Later, petition organizer and Louisville Tea Party president Theresa Camoriano admitted to altering information entered by the signers to try to get birth dates and addresses to match a Republican Party database. 

Before the election, in October, Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Brian Edwards sided with the school board and the teachers’ union, saying the clerk’s office erred in certifying the petition. 

Since the question was already printed on the ballot, and early voting was underway, Edwards ruled that votes on the question be “retained but not tabulated.”

According to court filings, the state Supreme Court agreed Thursday to hear the tax opponents’ appeal. The Jefferson County Clerk’s Office is also party to the appeal.

“We’re really glad,” Camoriano told WFPL News Friday. “We’re excited to get this thing moving....We want to roll back that tax hike.”

Camoriano and the other tax opponents also allege the Jefferson County Board of Education broke state law when it passed the tax increase, saying the board should have waited until after the county tax roll was certified to pass the hike. The school board disputes this claim. 

In an emailed statement from JCPS spokeswoman Renee Murphy called Edwards' decision "strong."  "We believe the Kentucky Supreme Court will come to the same conclusion. While this case may be playing out in court, it’s important to remember that students are at the center of this discussion and we want to provide the resources they need to be successful for years to come," Murphy said.

Representatives for the teachers union and the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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

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