The Jefferson County Board of Education Monday night approved its third consecutive property tax increase to help fund public schools. The money will go toward textbooks, employee raises and new construction.
The increase adds about three cents to the tax rate. Property owners will now pay just under 68 cents for every 100 dollars of assessed value. The higher levy will generate about 28 million dollars for JCPS.
The board heard from about a dozen parents and protesters who oppose the higher rate. Among them was former congressional candidate Marilyn Parker, who said the district should change how it spends its current revenues.
“Neighborhood schools, charter schools, smaller classrooms, male mentors for at-risk kids and school vouchers,” she said. “We should be cutting teachers’ benefits, not increasing them.”
Board member Larry Hujo said he understands that times are hard, but the district needs the money to operate.
“You cannot run public education like a business,” he said. “You can’t do it. You can’t say, ‘Well, times are tough let’s lay off 50 teachers or 500 teachers, because you tell me what kids go home with those teachers.”
The board says the recession has led to stagnant tax revenues for the district. JCPS has about a one billion dollar budget.
Earlier in the meeting, board members apologized for transportation problems on the first day of school.
Last Tuesday afternoon, problems with student information at three elementary schools led to hundreds of elementary students arriving home hours after dismissal, some as late as 9 pm.
The school board heard from many angry parents about the problems. Rob Mattheu said he didn’t think Superintendent Sheldon Berman and the board took appropriate responsibility for the bus system.
“Do Dr. Berman and the Board of Education really thing two and a half hours to get home is something to pat yourself on the back about?” he asked. “Do you really think a 99 or 99% success rate is good enough when you’re dealing with young children, many of whom are attending school for the first time?”
Berman and several board members apologized for the delays. Two principals were suspended for three days for not properly preparing their students for bus rides on the first day.
Many of the parents who took the floor said the situation was made worse because the district could not tell them where their children were. Transportation Director Rick Caple says that issue could be solved by better radios in buses, which the district is currently considering purchasing.
“It’s very frustrating to us because we can’t get back with parents,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t know who’s on a particular bus. Especially when we have to recover from some incident that happens.”
Caple was part of a panel of officials who discussed transportation issues with the board. A JCPS spokesperson says by the end of last week, all students were delivered home by 6:15 pm.