Following an August 29 public hearing Thursday in which no one attended to comment on the proposed property tax rates, the Pulaski County Board of Education met in special session Friday -- approving the "4 percent" rate.
The vote increases the rate for real and personal property for taxpayers living with the Pulaski Schools district from 55.7 cents per $100 assessed value to 56.9 cents. District Fiscal Services Director Rebecca Wright noted that with the median home value of $109,100; the new rate would amount to an increase of about $13.
The new rate is expected to generate $18,088,947.45, which is $1,096,235.25 more than the revenue raised this past year. The district plans to use the vast majority of that new revenue -- $1,069,829.37 -- for instruction, with the remainder covering collections costs.
The board was also given information to consider keeping the same rate or going with the state's suggested compensating rate (54.8 cents), which actually went down due to an increase in the total assessment of property within the district. Wright noted that the district ended last school year with a fund balance of nearly $11 million.
"The fund balance is good," Wright said. "I like to see it about $10 million."
Superintendent Patrick Richardson also presented projections regarding the district's compliance with Senate Bill 1, the 2019 General Assembly's legislation regarding school safety. To update facility door locks and windows will cost an estimated $50,000. SB1's staffing goals, however, are a bit more elusive for the time being.
In partnership with the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office, the district has hired a new School Resource Officer (SRO) to cover elementary schools using Title IV monies. The district has enough funding budgeted for another, but the right candidate has yet to be found.
"It's almost like teachers, bus drivers and cooks," Supt. Richardson said. "We can't find enough people to fill the spots."
According to Supt. Richardson, the district would actually need six more part-time SROs at some $180,000 per year to fully meet SB1 criteria of an officer at every school. The superintendent noted that SB1 gives districts some leeway in its requirements by allowing new hires "as funds allows."
The law also calls for one counselor for every 250 students enrolled. With 18 currently assigned throughout the district, another 17 (with an average salary of $65,000) would be needed to completely cover the schools' 8,600 students. Supt. Richardson projected that would cost more than $1,105,000 per year.
"We're going to continue to be pushed toward meeting those goals from the state," he said. "Right now the way the law reads is 'as funds allow.' I feel like we are making progress with that."
Board member Cindy Price questioned the General Assembly's commitment to fund SB1's requirements. "They said they were going to put funds for it," she said. "There's no way they're going to put that much funding towards this…They can't fund that for every school district in the state."
Price's remarks then turned toward the governor's race, noting incumbent Matt Bevin's push for education cuts in favor of charter schools. Wright countered with challenger Andy Beshear's call to raise teacher pay by $2,000 across the board and implement a base salary of $40,000 by 2022. Pulaski Schools' base currently stands at $36,000.
"That's the problem," board chair Brandy Daniels said. "You never know what they're [the state] going to mandate."
Daniels added that taking the compensating rate at this point would just be "shooting ourselves in the foot." The "4 percent" rate was passed unanimously on a motion from Price with a second from Laura Carrigan.
The only other item of business considered during Friday's special-called meeting was the approval of maintenance project contracts for the roofs of Northern Middle School and Pulaski Day Treatment Center.