The Fayette County Public Schools board on Wednesday approved a property tax increase that will fund a $13.5 million initiative to make schools safer with everything from more secure buildings to more counselors to additional metal detectors.
Following a packed public hearing, the board added a 5‐cent property tax for every $100 of property value with a 4-0 vote. Board member Ray Daniels was out of the country Wednesday, though he said through a district spokesperson that he supported the tax and would have voted yes.
Just prior to the vote, board chair Melissa Bacon said, “Does it hurt, does it pinch, does it squeeze? Absolutely.” But she said, “We will be doing exactly what’s best for our kids and fulfilling the charge we are given.”
Board member Doug Barnett’s voice broke as he talked about the need for safety in Fayette schools.
The property tax increase will cost the average homeowner with $175,000 property about $7.30 a month or $88 per year.
Superintendent Manny Caulk said “the world began to change” in January with the Marshall County High fatal shooting, the February Parkland, Florida shooting and the copycat threats that followed in Lexington.
“With changing times our values must remain constant,” said Caulk, explaining why he convened a safety council that held hearings and made the recommendations in the $13.5 million plan.
“Doing nothing does not make the problem go away,” Caulk said.
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.
There are currently 1,700 possible points of entry at Lexington schools. The tax increase would pay for security alarms for all exterior doors, cameras, security systems and other enhancements.
Crawford Middle School Principal Mike Jones, a member of the District Safety Advisory Council that made the recommendations, said Wednesday that “we can not continue to cut instruction to provide safety so we are going to have a steady source of revenue in order to provide the safety measures that the council recommended.”
“We are in desperate need of mental health professionals, law enforcement officers” and assessments for kids, Jones said.
Martin Luther King Jr. Academy Associate Principal Vaughn Little said he was also in favor of the tax increase.
“What are pennies when you reflect upon the life of a kid?” Little said.
All middle and high schools as well as other programs would get walk-through metal detectors and more security personnel to help school staff with implementation. Caulk said metal detectors were not failsafe but they were a deterrent.
Rudy Lesshafft told the board that he was against the tax increase when he first arrived at the meeting, but had changed his mind and decided to support it.
Before the meeting, Lexington resident Ronald Vissing said he hadn’t made up his mind and wanted to see how school district officials arrived at the $13.5 million figure and how the money would be spent after the one time purchases were made.
Caulk said recurring expenses would include paying for mental health professionals. During the meeting, Vissing told the board his questions had been answered and he had decided to favor the plan.
“I just came to get the facts “, said W.B. Galbreath, another resident. Galbreath said before the meeting that the tax increase “might be a little excessive.”
After hearing more information, he told the board he liked the presentation.
Caulk told the crowd that after fatal shootings in Marshall County and Florida earlier this year, the school district faced a number of threats. 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.
In other incidents, a Henry Clay student brought a gun to school and a Douglass student shot himself in the hand during class.
The increased amount would be on this fall’s tax bill and the taxes would be collected in October and November. The safety improvements will be implemented soon after.
Thursday marks the beginning of a 45 day window for people to collect signatures on a petition asking for the issue to be placed on the 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.
Lexington resident David Ketron has said he will try the get enough signatures to put the issue on a ballot. Steve Lombardo told the board that he supported a referendum ballot as a means of slowing the tax proposal enactment, allowing more engagement with residents and property owners, and more information provided.
A handful of people spoke against the tax increase, including people who said they were on a fixed income. Lexington resident Rebecca Abner asked board members to wait until Daniels was present so all board members could vote. She said she was in favor of school safety, but thought the tax increase was too much and the proposed plan should be reworked.