Fewer school districts raising property taxes as high as they can to help educate students

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LEXINGTON, Kentucky — More school boards are opting not to increase property taxes as high as they can to help educate students.

That's according to a Lexington Herald-Leader (http://bit.ly/18i0wCl) analysis of state data going back to the economic recession in the 2007-08 academic year.

State law allows school boards to increase the tax rate annually so that it provides 4 percent more revenue than the previous year without being subject to a voter recall.

In the 2007-08 academic year, 107 of the state's 173 school district's voted for the 4 percent increase. During the 2012-13 academic year, that number had fallen to 76.

For districts that didn't approve the increase, the automatic default is the compensating rate, which means taxes are adjusted to bring in the same amount as the previous year.

Some state education officials say the anti-tax fervor is depressing, especially when those same leaders ask lawmakers every year for more funding.

"Nobody wants to vote for a tax increase, but at least it shows we're doing what we can within the constraints of the law," said Roger Marcum, chairman of the Kentucky Board of Education.

Last fall, Pike County school board members declined to even vote for the compensating rate, and school board members can say they didn't vote for a tax increase.

Pike County schools finance director Nancy Grubb said because of declining property values, taxes on a $100,000 property will increase by about $65. If the 4 percent raise had been approved, the tax rate would have increased by $90.

Superintendent David Lester said budget cuts will end extra staffing that has resulted in higher test scores.

"We have moved well up the list of districts as far as test scores, and I hope that will continue, but if we don't have additional monies, we will have to make changes that will affect test scores," he said.

Rockcastle County Superintendent David Pensol said his district is doing well even though it has taken the compensating tax rate for the last seven years. He said it's not fair to criticize school boards that choose not to raise taxes.

"To me that's not even where the conversation ought to be because of the difference in the communities and what a community is able to do," Pensol said. "Our compensating rate may be harder for us to do than someone else's 4 percent."

For example, the compensating rate might still lead to a tax increase in an economically depressed county while the 4 percent might lead to taxes remaining steady or decreasing in a wealthy one.

"There's a limit to what local communities can do to support their schools, and there's no way to bunch us all together," Pensol said.

State school board member David Karem, who was a lawmaker in 1979 when the 4 percent cap was approved, called the fear of raising property taxes a "fiscal tragedy for the students and the school district."

"The 4 percent was put in place as a cap, almost punitive in essence, to keep school districts from overdoing it financially," he said. "Everyone seems to think it's some wild, crazy amount of money, when the Legislature's full intent was to put a lid on it. When you don't take that money, it's out of the base, and in essence never can be recaptured."


Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com

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