Menifee County Schools in July 2015 had so many problems, in finances and in the classroom, that the Kentucky Department of Education took over its management. In Kentucky, only one other school district — Breathitt County — is under state management.
But the Menifee school district in Eastern Kentucky has been making improvements, said Tim Spencer, who works for the Kentucky Department of Education and is the state manager for the district. The outlook is even better, he said, since voters approved a property tax increase in a special election Jan. 3. He said the district might be closer to replacing Menifee County Elementary School, which was built in 1958 and “really needs a lot of repairs.”
Lorri Bartley, the district’s finance director, said the elementary school, which is in a flood zone, has been flooded multiple times.
“The heating and air conditioning needs to be redone. That building is a real drain on our whole budget,” Bartley said. “The bathrooms are in poor condition.”
The tax will add the equivalent of five cents per $100 assessed value to a property owner’s annual tax bill from the school district. That means taxes on a property valued at $65,000 would increase by an estimated $37, district officials said.
Spencer said of 1,093 voters, 594 were in favor of the tax and 499 opposed. There was a 25 percent voter turnout, he said.
The district needed the extra money because the low tax base doesn’t provide the money to finance school projects with bonds. The bonding capacity before the vote was $720,000. The vote increased the bonding capacity to $6.2 million with state matching funds and allows Menifee County to be third in line among school districts in Kentucky for some “urgent needs” money that the General Assembly could approve in 2018, according to district officials.
The new school would be a $14 million or $15 million project, he said. There are 525 students enrolled in the elementary school.
A new school building that results in a “quality educational environment” could attract more people, more industry and more jobs to Menifee County, he said.
He said district staff are working to improve academics in the classroom.
“We have a wonderful county,” Bartley said. “Our kids deserve this. To show them that we support them and that we have pride in them. That’s what this is about.”
Meanwhile, Spencer said, under state management, the district’s finances are improving. When the district first went under state management, the contingency, or rainy day, fund was $443,000. It is now more than $1 million. The district has an annual budget of $11 million and 1,050 students.
District officials “went through a lot of cost-cutting measures,” Spencer said. “Really, they watch every dime that is spent.”