Op-Ed

Pay for school safety by cutting other spending, say petitioners for recall election on tax increase

Lexington’s Frederick Douglass High School  installed walk-through metal detectors in May and Dunbar High School in October . Student concerns about the metal detectors were addressed as a  Kentucky school safety work group held its final meeting Tuesday in Prestonsburg in advance of  the 2019 General Assembly.
Lexington’s Frederick Douglass High School installed walk-through metal detectors in May and Dunbar High School in October . Student concerns about the metal detectors were addressed as a Kentucky school safety work group held its final meeting Tuesday in Prestonsburg in advance of the 2019 General Assembly. cbertram@herald-leader.com

The Fayette County school board’s recent 4 percent property tax increase, purportedly to implement its 10-point safety plan, is not necessary and is being defended with arguments filled with false choices and contradictions.

Our view, which is shared by thousands of Fayette County voters, is that school safety is the top priority and should be first in line to be funded, not made contingent on the additional tax.

While the school board says that safety is a priority, their actions tell a different story. That the school board has not immediately implemented its safety plan with existing resources and states it will refuse to do so without the tax increase demonstrates that it views enhanced school safety as a low priority. From its more than $600 million in revenues annually, not to mention a $31.5 million contingency fund on hand, the school board does in fact have the resources to implement the safety plan now.

But instead they refuse to fund it while maintaining a top-heavy administrative infrastructure and failing to find cost savings across other budget categories. This is poor fiscal management. If safety is the top priority as most responsible citizens agree that it should be, every other expense is of a lower priority and should be cut or deferred as necessary to implement the safety plan now.

Fundamentally, the school board is playing a budgetary game of chicken by refusing to make safety enhancements unless every other item in the 2018-19 budget is funded at current levels.

And their implicit message is that you are against safety if you oppose the tax. This is a contemptuous attempt to blame taxpayers for the board’s refusal to prioritize funding.

Every household, business, and private school has to make adjustments to their budget and prioritize spending based on available revenue. The school system should do the same and re-prioritize its spending instead of unilaterally imposing additional taxes on every property owner in Fayette County, for many of whom this tax increase is a material burden.

Thus, the school board should fund its safety plan immediately and identify and cut $13.5 million of the least important items in its budget. Restoration of these low-priority expenditures would then be what any tax increase would fund, not essentials like safety. As a show of good faith, the board should start by imposing a moratorium on conference travel for administrators.

If the school board refuses to identify and cut the lowest priority items, it should then explain why every expenditure in its current budget is more important than school safety.

The school board’s tax increase should go before the voters. To give them that opportunity, our committee is engaged in a petition drive to put it on the ballot. For more details, go to www.fayettetaxvote.com.

Whether you agree or disagree with the need for the tax increase, the public should have a right to weigh in. A vote against the tax hike is not a vote against school safety. It’s a vote to tell FCPS to get their budget priorities in order, and that the safety of the kids, teachers and staff should be funded first, not last.

The authors are organizers of the Committee for Recall Vote on Fayette County Property Tax Increase.

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