School System Faces More Potential Problems

By: Amy Walker
By: Amy Walker

The controversy continues over schools in one Eastern Kentucky county, but this time the issue is about money. This comes after Thursday night's failed attempt to pass a property tax increase at the Harlan County school board meeting.

Some of the school board members say they cannot meet their budget without passing a tax increase to 40.3 cents per 100 dollars and they expect disciplinary action from the state to follow. But officials at the state level say that should not be viewed as a threat.

It was an issue that brought the county school board meeting to a halt as members voted against a property tax increase of 40.3 cents. The board instead passed a rate of 38.8 cents. Board Member Gary Farmer says that means county schools will face discipline if the state takes control.

"They will come in here and change your classroom size, they'll change your staffing plan, and max you out. We will lose some jobs," Farmer said.

But officials at the Department of Education says those are drastic measures that the state uses only as a last resort.

"That doesn't have to mean that staff will be let go, that doesn't have to mean that more students will be in the classroom. Really there's no guarantee on what it might mean. There may be no visible effect on student's education," said Lisa Gross with the Department of Education.

Board members say the proposed 40.3 cent rate is significantly lower than the 2005 rate in several surrounding counties including Bell County at 43.5 , Middlesboro Independent at 47.8 , Jenkins Independent at 56.7, Corbin Independent at 50.4 , and Leslie County at 41.4.

Gross says all districts must maintain a 2 percent contingency in the general fund for emergencies and when they don't, that's when the state offers help. She says that so far, Harlan County isn't even on the watch list.

"We're just in the very beginning stages of the process we go through to help districts avoid getting below that 2 percent," Gross said.

Board member say they will now try to rework their budget to fill the funding gap.

Just to show you what an issue this has been, some residents took out an ad earlier this week in the local paper, asking people to come to the board meeting and object the increase. The board's financial advisor says the 40.3 rate would only have cost a property owner about 18 dollars on a 50 thousand dollar piece of property.


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