SHEPHERDSVILLE - Despite several residents who voiced concerns, the Bullitt County Public School Board voted to implement a 4 percent tax increase when bills are sent out next month.
The 3-1 vote, with Gary Wooldridge in opposition, will allow the district to collect an additional $1.3 million in taxes.
Real property tax rates, including a double nickel for construction projects, will be 57.6 cents per $100 of assessed property. A $100,000 home would now generate $576 in taxes, an increase of $24.
In comparison, Bullitt remains the lowest of nearby counties. Nelson property owners pay 62.575 cents, while Oldham pays 68.9 cents and Shelby pays 69.7 cents.
Board member Tim Wiseheart has voted on both sides of the tax issue in the past. Up until a couple of days before the meeting Monday night, he was still undecided.
He relied upon Google to find some wisdom, including seeing what the Bible said about taxation.
“Taxes and paying taxes are Biblical,” revealed Wiseheart.
Wiseheart said he knows there are people who are having tough times, including some of his relatives, but he also knew he was responsible for the nearly 13,000 students in the district.
“My kids are worth the $24 or the $48 - whatever it takes,” said Wiseheart. “I’m here to do what’s right for the children. I’m not here to win the next election.”
With Bullitt County being near the bottom in per pupil funding, Wiseheart said 167 other districts found the way to better support their schools. This is because, in part, past boards have not always taken the full 4 percent allowed by the law.
“It’s an investment,” said Wiseheart.
After reading the district’s mission statement to the crowd, board chairman Dolores Ashby said the taxpayers are the system of support for the students and teachers.
“They are this county’s future,” Ashby said of the students. “They are at our mercy.”
She said the district couldn’t turn its back on students who are struggling. It is the district’s mission to make sure every child receives a quality education.
“This is not an easy issue but it’s not about me,” said Ashby. “It’s about our children and their future.”
Board member Lorraine McLaughlin said the quality of education plays a key role in attracting new business. She said the district must ensure that its graduates are well-qualified for life after high school.
Wooldridge said his only concern is that there is still too much waste in the district. He mentioned that last year and Wooldridge said much of that waste remains.
He did not argue that many of the things said about the needs of the district were valid. However, until some of his concerns are addressed, Wooldridge said he would not entertain a tax hike.
Prior to the vote Monday evening, several individuals outlined their views about the proposed tax.
Denise Smith, the district finance director, outlined some of the facts about surrounding systems and where Bullitt County fell in the rankings.
She also outlined some of the items the money would be used for - if approved.
David Marshall, director of secondary education, said the district has been forced to implement many new programs but no funding every followed the mandates.
He said teachers and administrators are being asked to constantly do more but there is no additional pay or assistance.
Stretching a rubber band to illustrate his point, Marshall said the work is stressful and the challenges are many.
“We’ve done what we can without any additional money,” said Marshall.
Several educators spoke about the need for the additional funding.
Gelena Ballard, currently a teacher at North Bullitt High, said she has seen tremendous changes in the past few years. The culture of the county has changed and she said so has everything else.
Fighting the perceptions about Bullitt County, the native said it is a good community with good schools.
Michele Harris, another North Bullitt teacher who is also president of the Bullitt County Education Association, said instructors do special things for kids every day because they want to. She said teachers are facing issues brought into the classroom on a daily basis.
Reasonable sacrifices are things we should all be able to make, said Harris. And she asked the board members to pass the tax and let the county move forward.
Mary Parker, media specialist at North Bullitt, said teachers are leaving for other districts due to the high pay levels.
Debi Carnefix Needler, another teacher, said the decision on whether to provide the additional funding rests firmly on the school board.
“We are doing all we can do with the materials and resources you have provided us,” said Needler.
But several residents were not so keen on the whole tax increase issue.
Al Bischoff was totally against any increase, especially when a district doesn’t find ways to cut first.
“We’ve got to cut our expenses somewhere,” said Bischoff. “If times get tough, you do without.”
Larry Clark said that he was also totally opposed to any tax increase.
He requested a delay in a decision until a meeting could be held for others in the community to attend. Working people don’t have time to get to a 5:30 p.m. meeting.
“I think there are other avenues to get the money,” said Clark.
He suggested dropping the number of six days from 12 but that must be done in Frankfort.
“My odds are better in Vegas than I do in getting anything done tonight,” said Clark.
Jerome Bischoff said the district would not get his support, especially after a teacher got fired due to the buddy/buddy system.
He also questioned why Brooks Elementary was built in an area that would require a lot of fill work.
Bischoff was also upset that lights are left on at night in schools when that money could be part of the savings.
“I’m against the tax,” he said.
Superintendent Keith Davis said he was pleased with the board’s support of the tax and the progress being made by the district.
“It will help us for sliding back,” Davis said of the passage.
With the state funding cuts continuing, Davis said money would always be tight. If the county’s per pupil spending was close to the state average, the district would have millions more to spend on instruction.
“We would have gotten by no matter the vote,” said Davis. “But the board had to make a tough decision and I’m proud of their commitment to the students."