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Throughout these difficult economic times, school boards are forced to take drastic measures to reduce deficits caused by a lack of federal and state funding. When trying to balance the budget, a school system really only has two options, either reduce the amount of expenditures or produce additional revenue.
Across the commonwealth, many school boards are considering the possibility of a property-tax increase as a way to provide additional revenue to meet the educational needs of its students. For districts like Owen County without much industry, this is the only recourse.
The majority of a school district’s state revenue comes through the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding system. The SEEK funding program is a formula-driven allocation of state provided funds to local school districts.
Although this formula was originally put into place to ensure adequate and equal funding for every district, the state has provided districts with less money over the past few years.
Our SEEK funding this year is currently at $3,833 per student, compared to $3,866 per student in 2008-09. I say currently because it would not be out of the ordinary for the state to reduce that amount in January, resulting in even more financial distress for districts like ours after budgets and staffing have already been determined.
Local funding for a school district is mainly provided by property tax. Property taxes are set each year by the board of education. A school board can choose the compensating rate or elect to exceed the compensating rate. The compensating rate is the property tax that will produce an amount of revenue approximately equal to that produced from property tax in the preceding year. This rate can be enacted without a public hearing. A board can legally propose a higher tax rate up to four percent, which requires a public hearing. Anything above the four percent is subject to voter recall.
Owen County schools, over the past three years, in order to reduce expenditures, has cut employee contract days, reduced staffing, frozen staff salaries and removed several programs.
During a time of educational reform when we’re expected to prepare all students to be college and career ready, making severe cuts like these can have long-term implications for our students, our community and our state. There just aren’t any other things we can cut and still offer our students a world class education. Therefore, I will be making a recommendation to our board to approve the four-percent tax rate this year.
Raising taxes is never a popular subject, especially during our current economic conditions.
However, it is a school board’s responsibility to provide adequate resources to its students. Legislators, being remiss in their duties to deliver sufficient funding to their districts, have placed a burden on local school boards to pick up the slack. If the per pupil allocation from the state continues to decrease and boards choose a tax rate that generates the same amount of revenue as the previous fiscal year, the difficulty in balancing our budget will continue. Unfortunately, the cost of educating our children continues to rise each year as well.
David Raleigh is the superintend of the Owen County School District.