by Heather Tomlinson
One local school board has approved tax rate increases in the face of decreasing state and federal funds.
The Somerset Independent Schools Board of Education on Tuesday during a special-called meeting unanimously approved setting this year’s tax rate at 64.8 cents on real and personal property.
That is up from 62.3 cents last year. The new rate is expected to provide an increase of almost $300,000 over last year’s revenue total.
Somerset Independent Schools Superintendent Boyd Randolph said public school districts’ base SEEK funds (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) have been cut significantly, and federal grant funding has likewise been reduced thanks to the federal government’s sequesters.
“That sort of leaves us in a position to take one of two pathways,” said Randolph. “We could have raised the tax rate, or cut back on the services and programs in our schools.
“Our community doesn’t want to cut back,” continued Randolph. “Students in our district need every advantage we can possibly provide them.”
SEEK funding goes toward providing services for special needs students, transportation costs and utility costs, and toward yearly salary increases for educators.
Every year, when school boards convene to determine the upcoming year’s tax rates, two options are weighed: Taking the compensating rate, which is handed down by the Kentucky Department of Education ensuring the districts receive the same amount of revenue as the previous year, or an allowed 4 percent increase.
The 64.8 cents per $100 of property value falls into the 4 percent increase option.
“No one wants to bear a financial burden any more than they have to,” said Randolph, who added that he is “so grateful” that the community seems to support the district’s move.
Just before Tuesday’s special-called meeting, the board held a short public hearing to allow community members to speak out about the tax rates. One citizen appeared, but he had questions about the district’s spending on textbooks and not specifically on the tax rate. Board members said they would discuss the issue during another meeting.
The 4 percent increase appears to be the option that all three school districts in the county will pursue — although Pulaski County and Science Hill have yet to decide on the issue.
Pulaski County Schools Superintendent Steve Butcher said his board held a public hearing on Thursday to take any comments on a possible tax rate increase.
“We basically had our hearing last night,” said Butcher on Friday. “The board will make a determination at their next meeting.”
The new proposed rate to feed the Pulaski district’s general fund would be 48.6 cents per dollar on both real and personal property. It is projected to produce approximately $13,616,666. The compensating tax for the 2013-14 fiscal year would be 46.8 cents on real and personal property, and is expected to provide over $13,112,345.
Rick Walker, Science Hill School Superintendent, said no hearing has been scheduled yet for his district, but likely will be before the next school board meeting. He said their likely course of action is to take the 4 percent increase. That would take the rate from 58.1 cents on real and personal property from 55.5 in the 2012-13 fiscal year.