Education

‘Uphill battle.’ Effort to recall school safety tax struggles to collect signatures.

Fayette school board approves tax increase for school safety

The Fayette County Board of Education approved a 5 cent tax increase for school safety earlier this year, after a packed hearing for public comments.
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The Fayette County Board of Education approved a 5 cent tax increase for school safety earlier this year, after a packed hearing for public comments.

With only two weeks left to get 13,632 signatures to put a recall of a Fayette school safety property tax increase on a ballot for a special election, the lead organizer of the effort says his group is considerably short.

“It’s an uphill battle. We need to let people know that its sort of now or never. The tax will certainly be in place if we don’t get it on the ballot,” said Attorney Dan Rose, who leads the five-person committee trying to get the signatures on a petition by Sept. 1.

He said that the group probably only has 4,000 signatures so far.

“I would estimate that we probably are not quite a third of the way there,” Rose said Wednesday. While Rose concedes that “we are a long way from even being in the ballpark,” he also said, “we’ve got more and more (signatures) coming in. We are continuing to get a lot of positive feedback from people that they are working on this, that they are going door to door.”

Rose said the group is working to buy an advertisement for the signature drive. They have a website called https://fayettetaxvote.com/ and they’ve held events at public library branches so that people can sign the petition. They plan door-to-door drives in the next two weekends.

“We’re going to keep pushing for the last couple of weeks here to see if we can get close to the goal,” Rose said. He said there seems “to be a widespread lack of awareness by the public about their taxes being raised by the school board.”

On July 18, Fayette County Public School board members voted to add a 5-cent property tax for every $100 of property value. That would pay for Superintendent Manny Caulk’s ambitious $13.5 million plan to improve school safety in the district, adding more secure entrances, walk-through metal detectors at middle and high schools, more district police officers and mental health professionals. The property tax increase will cost a homeowner with a $175,000 property about $7.30 per month or $88 a year.

The day after the board vote marked the beginning of a 45-day window for people to collect enough signatures to put a recall of the property tax increase on the ballot for a special election.

Soon after, the group led by Rose signed an application at the Fayette County Clerk’s office saying that they would start collecting signatures as a first step toward the recall.

Their view is that school safety should be the top priority for the district to fund with existing resources and not made contingent on the additional tax.

After fatal school shootings in Western Kentucky and in Florida, Fayette County saw significant copycat threats and gun incidents. Caulk commissioned an advisory group to come up with school safety recommendations and drew upon those for his plan.

He has said that the school board looked for other sources of funding, has cut everywhere possible and prioritized spending on instruction. He has said that the property tax increase is necessary because the district can’t risk not making the safety improvements.

Rose, meanwhile, said he’s disappointed, but not necessarily surprised, that more signatures haven’t been collected at this point.

“I’m confident that if we had a little more time we could get to the number. It’s just the short time frame that makes this extremely difficult, “ he said, “Maybe we are just fighting a general sense of apathy that the public has about issues like this.”

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