Education

Fayette school board promises more transparency, recommends a lower tax rate increase.

Fayette County Superintendent presents “State of Schools”

Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk presents the 2019 State of Schools address at the Lexington Convention Center.
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Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk presents the 2019 State of Schools address at the Lexington Convention Center.

With three more meetings before a final vote, the Fayette County school board on Thursday proposed a tax rate increase that was lower than some of the options they have been considering.

Chairwoman Stephanie Spires and Vice Chair Ray Daniels also told the more than a dozen citizens who showed up at a special school board meeting that, moving forward, they would be more transparent with the public on how tax dollars were spent.

In 2018, the school board approved a total tax rate increase of 6 cents, which included 5 cents dedicated solely to school safety.

For 2018-19, the general tax levy on real and personal property was 81 cents per $100 assessed valuation for real estate and 76 cents per $100 assessed valuation for personal property.

For the 2019-2020 school year, board members are proposing a tax levy rate that would be 81.7 cents per $100 assessed valuation for real estate and 77 cents for personal property.

The board could have recommended taking a higher tax levy rate, but is not seeking an increase on the school safety tax in the proposal members approved.

Two board members, Will Nash and Tyler Murphy voted against the proposal.

“The residents of Fayette County have invested a lot in our school district over the last 10 years and at some point we reach a tipping point for what’s affordable in the community,” Nash said. “Any increase in a tax rate is going to disproportionately affect low- and middle- earners and fixed income residents. “

At the same time, he said the state has decreased its investment in Fayette County Schools.

“This should be a partnership with the state, but currently state government isn’t funding so many of the mandates that they put on us,” said Nash. “We can’t make up for that through local property taxes alone. The state has to do something fundamentally different.”

Murphy said: “While the proposed increase is below the 4 percent max originally included in May’s tentative budget, my concerns about the seemingly passive role of the Board in the budget process, the lack of sufficient stakeholder input in setting priorities, and the continued need for transparency remain. That’s why I voted against the tentative budget in May, why I voted against the proposal tonight, and why I can’t ask our community to pay more before we work together to improve the process of deliberation and oversight to ensure limited dollars are maximized for our children.”

Daniels proposed the recommendation that the board tentatively approved Thursday.

He said board members are not perfect, but they “do not take the taxpayers’ money for granted at all.”

Daniels said he didn’t think school safety dollars were spent very efficiently the first year, because there were unknowns. But he said he was trying to make sure that in the future, those safety dollars will be spent efficiently.

Spires said if the board does not raise the tax rate, “there would immediately be staffing cuts, we would have to look at cutting programs... we’d have to delay some construction projects.”

District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said that under the proposal recommended Thursday, the district would be getting enough of a revenue increase to support the general fund budget. But the district won’t be getting an increase in safety tax money, so district officials will have to slow down the implementation of additional safety initiatives.

About four hours before the meeting, Spires talked about the board’s options in a Facebook post:

“There is a lot of misinformation going around about taxes and the proposed tax increase the school board is discussing,” she said.

“We have been able to purchase a Social Emotional Learning Curriculum for the district, increase the number of nurses, social workers, and mental health professionals in our schools, along with capital improvements to our entrances and improved security monitoring, in addition to several other improvements in our District. “

“There has been some questions about the delays in implementing metal detectors in some schools. The equipment has been ordered, but due to high demand, the equipment and installation has been delayed,” she said.

Spires said that the 2019 General Assembly passed several unfunded mandates in its school safety bill. If the General Assembly does not fund those mandates in the upcoming legislative session, then as a community, ”we will have to determine how to fund these mandates.”

Spires emphasized several times Thursday that the board meets every August to review tax rate increases.

“We originally met as scheduled on Monday night and were presented with a lot of information. We wanted to take some time, ask questions, meet with our constituents, and come back together to discuss,” Spires said.

Spires said the board would have a public hearing for public input in upcoming weeks and will make a final decision in a special called meeting the first week of September. Citizens can also comment at the board’s regular meeting this month.

But on Thursday, citizens were not given a chance to speak.

After the meeting, Chuck Perry of Lexington, said he opposed the proposed increase.

“The average citizen is just not sure we are getting our money’s worth,” he said.

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