Education

Fayette schools could raise taxes this week for safety upgrade. What you need to know.

‘No child should go to school in fear.’ Superintendent describes sweeping school safety plan

Fayette County could adopt a property tax increase that would fund a $13.5 million initiative to increase safety in public schools.
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Fayette County could adopt a property tax increase that would fund a $13.5 million initiative to increase safety in public schools.

On Wednesday, the Fayette County Public Schools board will vote on Superintendent Manny Caulk’s far-reaching plan to make Lexington schools safer — including everything from more counselors to added metal detectors — paid for with $13.5 million in increased property taxes.

Caulk will ask the board to add a 5‐cent property tax for every $100 of property value.

Here are some answers to key questions about the proposal:

How much will it cost me?

The property tax increase would cost the average homeowner with a $175,000 property about $88 a year, about $7.30 a month.

What will it pay for?

The tax increase will pay for placing law enforcement officers in every school, hiring more mental health professionals, securing exterior school doors, constructing secure vestibules, partnering with University of Kentucky Adolescent Medicine to provide access to comprehensive assessment and health services for students in grades six through 12, expanding emergency planning and safety training, monitoring social media activity, and implementing metal detectors in every middle and high school.

Why is it needed?

Caulk says he wants children and those who educate them to be safe at school. After each shooting over the past two decades, including a fatal shooting in Marshall County earlier this year, he said educators, students and parents have wondered if it could happen in our community.

He said that question was answered Feb. 17 when Lexington Police officers removed an AR‐15 semi‐automatic rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition from the bedroom of a Dunbar student who was later arrested for making threats to shoot up the school.

The issue took on added urgency this spring when a Henry Clay student brought a gun to school, and a Douglass student shot himself in the hand during class.

What if it doesn’t pass?

Caulk said if the measure doesn’t pass, “then our schools will remain as vulnerable tomorrow as they are today.” The proposals in his safety plan would not be implemented.

What is the timeline for rolling out the safety changes?

The increased amount would be on this fall’s tax bill and the taxes would be collected in October and November. The safety improvements would be implemented soon after.

If the board approves the tax, can it be repealed and how?

The day after the vote marks the beginning of a 45 day window for people being able to collect signatures on a petition asking for the issue to be placed on a ballot. The number of signatures needed would be 10 percent of the people who voted in the last presidential election. The Fayette County Clerk handles the process.

Has anyone else done this?

District officials aren’t immediately aware of other school districts that have raised taxes to pay for safety improvements, but they know that other districts are looking to support investments in safety.

Who supports the tax?

The business community is among those who say they support the tax. Several business leaders appeared with Caulk at a news conference when he announced the proposal. Legislator and attorney Bill Lear, spoke for the business community, including Commerce Lexington, at the press conference. He said people like the “robust mix” of measures, which combine tangible safety changes with more attention to mental health.

“Every once in a while, there’s something so important it’s worth paying extra for,” he said. “We think it’s appropriate to stand up today for school safety.” Lear was flanked by other community heavy hitters, such as Central Bank CEO Luther Deaton, Urban League President P.G. Peeples, United Way Director Bill Farmer, and entrepreneur Alan Stein.

Who is opposed to it?

Lexington resident David Ketron said he is trying to gain support to put the issue on a ballot so that the community can vote.

“I’m not against school safety by far, but I’m against raising property taxes to try to generate revenue to pay for it,” Ketron said.

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