The Franklin County Board of Education has voted unanimously for a 2.5-cent increase in property taxes, citing looming funding cuts at the state and federal level.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility to fight for our kids, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Superintendent Chrissy Jones said before Tuesday’s vote.
The increase to 59.6 cents per $100 of assessed value will generate the maximum 4 percent more in revenue – $1.02 million if officials collect all $18.1 million in taxes owed – without triggering a possible recall by residents.
But officials expect a collection rate of about 96 percent. According to documents presented last month, the board would see an additional $335,000 from the tax hike if that prediction holds.
That could pay for a 1 percent raise for Franklin County Public School employees, Jones said at a meeting last month. She and board members have expressed concern that teacher salaries aren’t competitive with neighboring school districts.
Three taxpayers attended a public hearing Tuesday to speak against the tax increase.
A Franklin County resident with a $100,000 home will pay an additional $25 per year over the current rate.
Joyce Groves, a state worker, said property owners are tired of being targeted for more money.
“You all just need to learn how to put a bean on the table instead of coming to our pockets every time we turn around,” she said.
“I knew how to pull out those pinto beans and throw in a ham hock, and you all need to learn how too.”
She said teacher pay, which starts at about $32,000 in Franklin County, is competitive with state government salaries. Teachers also receive “step increases” for additional experience and education, while state workers face furloughs.
Mike Hartley told board members they need to do a better job managing the school district’s money.
“The school board, and schools in general, get part of every federal tax dollar we pay, they get part of the state tax dollars,” he said.
“I think schools have become an over-inflated bureaucracy, and all they know how to do is look for more money – they never look for ways to save money.”
He pointed to construction at the Franklin County Career and Technical Center that will more than double its size, school buses he’s seen sitting idle and $100,000 in unpaid school lunch bills that the district reported a few years ago.
“I think anyone on the board who votes for a tax increase, the next word out of their mouth should be ‘I resign from the board because I can’t do my job and manage the school system effectively,’” he said.
Stephen Pulliam questioned whether Franklin County residents are getting their money’s worth when they pay their school taxes.
“I think it’s frequently lost on the school board that the money you have to spend is not your money, it’s taxpayers’ money – and what are we getting for this money?” he said, pointing to the district’s graduation rate and questioning how many students complete a postsecondary degree.
He also said board members must consider the community when saying teacher salaries need to be more competitive with surrounding school districts.
“Some of the surrounding counties, such as Fayette, Woodford, Scott, have a much wealthier tax base than Franklin County,” he said.
Last fall, the board voted to take the compensating rate, which was projected to keep revenues at the same level as the previous year. But because officials collected 97 percent of taxes, the school district’s revenue dropped.
The decision to take the compensating rate for several years in the 1990s has had “a lasting effect” on the district’s income, Jones said Tuesday.