The Oldham County Board of Education approved a tax rate increase for the second time in two years during a special-called public hearing Sept. 6.
In a 3-2 vote, the board raised the existing rate of 80 cents per $100 on real estate and personal property to 81.2 cents per $100 for fiscal year 2023. For a $100,000 home, that translates to an additional $12 per year in property taxes, $36 more for a $300,000 home.
Board members Joyce Fletcher, Larry Dodson and Andrea Neikirk voted in favor of the increase. Suzanne Hundley and Patrick Kehoe voted in opposition.
The new tax will generate approximately $5.5 million in additional revenue over the previous rate. Of the $62.5 million in projected revenue from the 81.2 cent rate, $3.8 million will come from new and personal property.
A public notice from the district said the increased revenue will predominantly pay for building funds and instructional costs.
The approval also intersects with the district’s battle to retain and recruit teachers. Despite the board’s recent approval of a 3% salary raise and step increase in May, the first since a 1% base salary raise in FY18, more than 155 teachers decided to retire or resign from the district since spring, Personnel Director Richard Graviss revealed at the Sept. 29 regular-called meeting. Some among that number left for Jefferson County Schools, others left education altogether.
The district hustled through summer to recoup many of those losses, but the number of “certified outs” has steadily grown since the 2016-17 school year.
Board Chair Joyce Fletcher stressed the importance of staff retention efforts in tandem with rising inflation and cost of living.
“We’re swimming upstream with staffing,” she said. “We’re fighting to retain [our] outstanding staff and trying to keep salaries competitive.”
The district also must fund the 3% salary plus step increase already approved by the board, she added.
Board member Larry Dodson reminded those gathered how Oldham County’s rising property value can impact school funding, namely the state-allocated per-pupil SEEK formula.
A SEEK calculation document from the Kentucky Department of Education shows that Oldham would receive guaranteed base funding of $64 million total per pupil funding for FY23 (approximately $4,100 per student) before application of a mechanism called the “30 Cent Local Effort.”
Based on property assessment values, that funding mechanism will return nearly half, or $39 million, of Oldham’s SEEK funding to the state to be redistributed to districts with lower assessments.
“I’ve been pushing, pushing and pushing in [Frankfort] for them to change this SEEK funding and they will not listen,” Dodson said. “We need to press them harder to redo the formula. We have to give back $25 million to all the schools that go above us. Jefferson County [is one of the districts] who get part of what we give back.”
Several residents who spoke at the meeting spoke out against the Oldham County Property Value Administration (PVA), one calling it a “big old mess.”
Blaine Anderson urged the district to keep a flat tax rate and to confront the PVA about potential revenue schools could be losing.
“A lot of people we know we have issues in this county with the assessments,” he said. “You can say it’s [the PVA’s] responsibility, but…why don’t you take some leadership and say ‘hey, PVA, we’re hearing these stories and there’s an opportunity to increase your bottom line without tax increases. Some people are going to get an assessment increase, but that’s going to increase the actual revenue that we get, so I think there’s a real opportunity there.”
A number of residents present at the hearing also said the district isn’t alone in feeling the financial sting of inflationary costs.
Cheryl Criddle, a local retiree said 65% of her taxes, or $2,673, go to the school district each year.
She called OC schools “the best around,” but asked the board to hold off on an increase in the current economic climate.
“I’m asking you to wait another year,” she said. “This year is a rough one all the way around. Everyone knows it….[beyond] our taxes, I know my daughter has four children in the schools and she paid $600 [in school fees] to start them off this year.
Board member Andrea Neikirk a retired teacher, choked back tears in her final comments before casting a vote in favor of the tax increase.
“I believe in our schools, our staff and our community,” she said. “I just don’t see any other way right now based on all the data I have.”