Tom Eblen

Nobody likes a tax increase. Why this one is worth it to keep kids safe in school.

The Fayette County Board of Education meets Wednesday night to vote on a comprehensive plan to make Lexington’s public schools safer from gun violence. Before the vote, citizens will get a chance to express their views.

The plan will cost a lot of money — $13.5 million the first year — and require a property tax increase of a nickel per $100 of assessed value to pay for it. For people who own a $175,000 house — the median value in Fayette County — that amounts to $88 a year, or about $7.30 a month.

I’m sure some people will show up to gripe. Tax increases always bring out the gripers, even though Kentucky has some of the nation’s lowest property taxes. The conservative Tax Foundation ranks us 32nd among the50 states.

Woodford County voters recently rebuked their school board,voting down a 5.5-cent tax increase to replace their 54-year-old high school. People were divided over the need for a new building. Sadly, there’s no argument that schools need to be made safer.

More than 40 people have been killed and 75 injured in school shootings nationwide this year. In Lexington police found an AR-15 rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition in the bedroom of a Dunbar High School senior who had threatened to “shoot up the school.” He has since been indicted for terroristic threatening. Students smuggled loaded pistols into Henry Clay and Douglass high schools, and one of them accidentally shot himself in the thumb.

Gun violence in schools is a growing and uniquely American problem. Other developed countries share the many factors often blamed for school shootings, including bullying, family breakdowns, mental illness and violent video games. But we have something they don’t: easily accessible firearms.

Superintendent Manny Caulk in February appointed a 28-member committee to study local school safety, and it held several public meetings. The committee included students, teachers, parents, law enforcement professionals, city officials and community members. The result of this thorough and thoughtful process is a plan that covers all the bases— except, of course, gun control, which only lawmakers can do. The plan includes:

  • Hiring 50 more law enforcement officers so there is at least one in every school.

  • Hiring more school counselors, eventually getting Fayette County to the national standard of one counselor for every 250 students. The ratio now is an appalling one counselor for every 568 students. In the first year of the plan, 37 additional counselors would be hired to bring the ratio down to one for every 300.

  • Partnering with University of Kentucky Adolescent Medicine to provide access to assessments and health services for middle and high school students.

  • Installing improved communication systems and more security equipment in schools, including cameras and exterior door alarms, and requiring ID badges for all employees, contractors and middle and high school students.

  • Installing metal detectors in all middle and high schools and adding staff to operate them. The 24 local schools without double-access main main doors would get them.

  • Contracting with a vendor to monitor possible threats on social media.

  • Adopting a common curriculum for expanded training of staff,students and families on safety, mental health and social and emotional learning.

Before unveiling this plan, Caulk wisely enlisted support from Lexington’s business community. Several prominent leaders stood with him at the July 2 announcement.

“Every once in a while, there’s something so important it’s worth paying extra for,” said Bill Lear, a prominent lawyer and former chair of Commerce Lexington. “We think it’s appropriate to stand up today for school safety.”

Still, if comments I’ve seen on social media are any indication, a few gripers will show up Wednesday evening. They’ll complain about alleged waste in the school system, the size of administrators’ paychecks or some other distraction. Some may question why seniors or other people without children in local schools should pay, as if Lexington’s future were of no concern to them.

If school board members approve the tax increase, as they should and I suspect they will, some gripers may even do what people in Woodford County did and try to gather enough signatures (roughly 14,000) to call a recall referendum.

But what you won’t hear from the gripers is a better, more realistic plan to help keep Lexington’s children and the adults who educate them safe in schools.

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