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Thursday, Aug. 29, a public tax hearing will be held at the Marion County Board of Education office and it’s likely the board will approve a 4 percent increase to the current tax rate.
Last year, former Superintendent Dr. Chuck Hamilton recommended and the board voted to increase the real estate and personal property taxes by only 1.1 percent, while most other surrounding school boards voted to increase the rate by the maximum percentage, which is 4 percent. Hamilton said he was trying to be sensitive to local families in the community.
However, by only increasing the rate by 1.1 percent, the district lost approximately $100,000 in revenue.
If the board doesn’t increase the rate by at least four percent this year, the school district could be forced to eventually make cuts, according to MCPS Finance Director Lisa Caldwell.
“If we continue to give up our four percent tax increase, you’re going to have to start making cuts to programs, cuts to staffing…” Caldwell said. “We won’t suffer this year and probably won’t next year… it’s when you start looking down the road and SEEK continues to go down and our local revenue is not offsetting those cuts, then you’re going to start getting into the issues other districts are in now.”
SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) is a state funding program, which provides funds to local school districts, including funding for transportation costs and special needs students as reported by districts. SEEK funding has been cut considerably in recent years, and based on current data, it will be decreasing by approximately $234,000 this year, Caldwell said.
Board Member Bernard Miles had his own solution to help with school funding, but it had nothing to do with raising the local tax rate.
“I think we should raise the sales tax and let legislators fund SEEK the way it oughta be funded,” Miles said. “That way, everybody pays the tax and not just property owners. Some people say, well, that’s not fair to the less fortunate. Well, to me it’s as fair as any way you could go because if you don’t spend, you don’t pay the tax. You got the money to spend, you pay the tax. I don’t think it’s fair to just go after one group of people. I think everybody needs to be involved in the education of children.”
Board Member DeLane Pinkston agreed, but said it’s unlikely to ever happen.
“It’s a great idea, but it’s like political suicide,” he said.
Pinkston said he feels torn when it comes to decisions about increasing the tax rate.
“I always look at this from a board member’s viewpoint and from a citizen’s viewpoint,” he said. “As a citizen, I always want to say leave it the same. And as a board member, I want to say raise it up. I get caught in between this. I understand it both ways. It’s difficult.”
Caldwell said, from a finance perspective, she is always going to encourage the board to approve a four percent increase.
“The more money you can get in, the more programs we can implement, the better education hopefully we can provide,” she said.
Board Member Mike Cecil said he was concerned that if the board doesn’t vote to increase the rate, students and their education will suffer.
“Eventually, we’ll be paying the pauper… giving up teachers, giving up programs, giving up quality education… that’s my concern,” he said.
The school board has until Sept. 13 to officially approve a tax rate, but the board plans on holding its public tax rate hearing on Aug. 29. Cecil asked why the board was holding the public hearing so many days before the deadline of Sept. 13.
“We have a reputation of being very prompt… not dragging our feet,” Board Chairman Michael Mullins said.
Before the board’s public hearing, however, a notice will be published in the Aug. 14 and Aug. 21 editions of The Lebanon Enterprise. After the second notice is published, the district has between seven and 10 days to have the hearing and approve the tax rate. The board already has a regular meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Aug. 29, so it’s planning on having the public tax hearing immediately before that meeting.
Kentucky School Boards Insurance Trust assessment payment
The Kentucky School Board Insurance Trust (KSBIT) has provided low-cost insurance to many of Kentucky's school districts for items such as workers' compensation and property insurance. The trust dissolved over the summer, and a bond will be issued to allow school districts to pay off the deficit within the next 20 years. The exact amount owed by each school district is not yet known because payments will be based on an intricate formula that considers past claims and the number of years in the program. However, the estimated amount owed by the Marion County Public School District is $565,782.
According to School Finance Director Lisa Caldwell, the district’s revenue for the 2012-13 fiscal year exceeded its expenses by $700,000. She suggested to the board that the district set aside the money to pay the amount owed to KSBIT in full.
The Marion County school district now has its property insurance with Liberty Mutual Insurance at a cost of $192,957 and its workers compensation coverage with Kentucky Employers Mutual Insurance (KEMI) at a cost of $97,668.13. The total cost is $290,645.13, which reflects a savings of $40,251.87 from last year.