Taxes are an investment; education is worth it.
The Jefferson County Public School system is a wholly unique institution in the state of Kentucky. We are without comparison. At nearly 100,000 students, we dwarf our closest peer district by almost 60,000 children. With over 150 schools in operation, we double our sister district, Fayette County Public Schools. While we have more buildings, more children, and a much larger overall staff, there is one area where Fayette County Public Schools exceeds us; property taxes.
As Americans, we are slightly programmed to balk at the mention of taxes and increasing them. Our rebellious founding leaves a distaste for taxes for many of us. The reality is that taxes are a necessity to provide government services that are basic rights. Looking at other districts, it is clear that JCPS is behind the curve when it comes to levying property taxes.
Compared to the districts closest to us and closest to our size, JCPS is not following the trend of our fellow districts. In fact, the second highest property taxes is by our closest neighbor, Anchorage, a district carved out of the middle of our own. While people who oppose the tax increase will make noise that they can just move to Oldham County, the taxes there are even higher than Jefferson County.
Aside from comparing ourselves to other districts’ property taxes, we have to look at some stark realities. Our district is in dire need of renovations. Over thirty of our buildings will reach end of life over the next decade. We don’t know exactly when it will be and it could be overnight as the condemning of Ballard’s football facility was during the 2019 football season. Except next time, it might be the actual school building. While Ballard was able to play their games on other fields, where would we house students if their building suddenly fails? What if more than one goes at once? We also need more buildings. While opponents often remark on the need to end bussing to save money, the reality is that the buildings to house students in the West End do not exist. If we suddenly stopped bussing students west to east in Jefferson County, there would not be seats in the West End to accommodate them. Further, the buildings that exist also need renovations. It’s short-sighted and inequitable to just demand that students from the West End no longer be allowed to attend schools outside of their zip code. We are a district of choice. Our students and families have the choice to choose the school that fits their needs and that also includes bussing students from the East End to magnet programs that fit their needs.
In addition to all of these needs, over 60% of our students qualify for free/reduced lunch. We have over five thousand students who are homeless. Those are just the ones we know about. Our English as a Second Language and English Language Learner population is over ten thousand students and growing. With the societal issues brought to light while dealing with COVID-19, we know our students need smaller classes and more technology now more than ever. We don’t know what the return to school will look like, but we know that there is no way to social distance with the current high school classroom cap size of 31 students per class.
Are there ways our district can save money? Absolutely. And we are working on those. The truth is that we cannot continue to squeeze blood from a turnip and expect to give our students what they deserve. Our students deserve the best our city has to offer them and that means paying slightly more in property taxes. The proposed increase would amount to $70 total for a year on a home that costs $100,000. Isn’t that amount worth it to help children? Isn’t that an amount where you can look at a child and say “you are worth the investment.” We are not asking for an insurmountable amount. We are just asking for an investment in the future of our children and our city.