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Amid budget shortfall, Jefferson Co. Board of Education lowers tax rate for 2023-2024

The sign for the Vanhoose Education Center, where the Jefferson County Board of Education meets.
Liz Schlemmer
/
LPM
JCPS estimates the new, lower tax rates will bring in more than $711 million in local revenues.

District officials say federal pandemic funding can bridge the gap for now. But cuts may come next year if revenues don’t increase.

The Jefferson County Board of Education voted to decrease tax rates for the 2023-2024 school year. Because property values went up, the new, lower rate will bring in 4% more in local revenues.

The increase is not enough to cover a projected budget shortfall of $242 million. But district officials say federal pandemic relief funding can bridge the gap.

Board members unanimously approved a rate of 76 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value — down from 76.3 cents last year. That means the annual tax bill on a $200,000 home would fall to $1,520, from $1,526.

The district estimates the rates will bring in $711,020,193 in local revenues.

While local revenues increase, state funding for Jefferson County Public Schools is decreasing this year by $32 million under the SEEK funding formula. Under SEEK, state funding for districts decreases as their local property values go up.

JCPS is also planning to take on numerous investments this year, including a 5% pay raise for all district employees, and $8,000 stipends for teachers at the most high-needs schools. That’s resulting in a shortfall of $242 million under the proposed working budget.

JCPS Chief Financial Officer Cordelia Hardin said the shortfall can be covered by savings the district has accrued due to an influx of federal pandemic relief funding.

“It is sufficient to cover the revenue gap for this next year. Of course, there will be decisions that have to be made over the next couple of years in order to get us back in line,” Hardin said.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said many of this year’s costs are one-time expenses that won’t be a burden on future budgets. Those one-time expenses include the $7 million “initial cost” of bringing in AI weapons detection.

However, Pollio suggested cuts may be on the horizon, unless the district increases revenue next year.

“Especially when we're looking at continued salary increases,” he said. “If we're going to keep doing that, we're going to have to make some decisions of either increasing revenue or decreasing expenditures.”

District 2 board member Chris Kolb said he was “frustrated” that fellow board members did not support his proposal in May to increase tax rates, and said the board carries part of blame for this year’s busing crisis by not taking more “proactive steps.”

“Things like that are just going to continue to happen until we do take those steps as a board, and we are certainly not doing it with a tax decrease right now,” he said.

District 3 board member James Craig proposed creating a committee to explore a possible tax increase. But Kolb disagreed.

“The best time to act on this has passed,” Kolb said. “We are elected and sit in these seats to make difficult decisions like this and not to seek the cover of a committee. ... I wish we had had the courage to do that this year. … I can only hope that we have the courage to do it as soon as possible.”

The board will consider the working budget for final approval at its September meeting.

That’s also when Pollio said he will bring a presentation to the board with more details about the district’s troubled transportation system, and begin conversations about solutions — which may include axing transportation for some students.

“If we want to make sure that bus rides are short, buses are not overcrowded, then we're going to have to make some tough decisions about who gets transportation and who doesn’t,” he said.

During public comment at Tuesday’s board meeting, Eastern High School senior Taylor Sams said the long shifts the transportation plan requires of bus drivers leaves her father with just a couple hours a day to spend time with her.

“My father loves his job, and so do so many other bus drivers,” Sams said. “But how long can you keep asking them to continue to overwork themselves and sacrifice the relationships they have with their families?”

Pollio said he’s hoping to bring a contract to the board at the Sept. 26 meeting for an independent audit of the transportation debacle.

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