Nickel tax talks abound: Lincoln Co. superintendent plans forums in every school in district, concerned about possible future loss of state matching funds...
Interior-Journal, Stanford, April 20, 2017

School board eyes nickel tax to boost bonding potential
By Abigail Whitehouse

Under the school district’s current budget restraints, it will be another 20 years before the bonding potential is there to construct a new elementary school, but if a nickel tax is approved, not one, but two new elementary schools could be constructed – and much sooner.

A recently formed facilities planning committee, comprised of school board members, staff and principals, has identified $72 million in unmet needs across the school district.

While there was discussion of consolidation, the committee’s final recommendation was to keep all school buildings, aside from Fort Logan High School, in permanent status, Superintendent Michael Rowe told board members during a working meeting on April 13.

“As a committee, the recommendation was that we don’t spend anymore money on Fort Logan, due to it’s age. We are looking at some different alternatives,” he said. “The rest of them (schools) remain in permanent status, which means as a board, we can spend money as needed on any of these schools.”

Rowe said the district’s current bonding potential of $3.2 million could be increased to $21.1 million by passing the recallable nickel tax. According to documentation provided by Rowe, the nickel tax would generate about $532,918 annually but would be matched by the state with an additional $793,004 per year.

That state match might not be around in the future, Rowe said, which is why he said the nickel tax needs to be passed now, rather than later.

“We don’t have a vision right now of what we’re going to do with our facilities,” Rowe said. “This to me is our one opportunity to fix our school system and get it where it needs to be. I’m hearing from Frankfort that this will be the last time that our state legislature will match a nickel tax and for us that is $10.7 million they would give to us in a match.”

Without that match, the district can’t get caught up on the elementary schools, Rowe added.

The district’s real and tangible property tax rate is currently set at 51.60 cents per $100 of assessed property value. According to documentation provided by Rowe, the median home and land value in Lincoln County is $90,050 which means 50 percent of Lincoln home and landowners will pay less than an additional 45 dollars a year with the nickel tax.

“This breaks down to $3.73 per month or less than a meal at McDonald’s,” the document states. “To calculate your exact additional tax, multiply your assessed value by .0005.”

According to the Kentucky Department of Education, the tax rate that districts levy to produce the five cents tax is greater than five cents because the SEEK calculation considers the fact that the tax is only applied to real estate and personal property – not motor vehicles. The rate is adjusted in anticipation that less than 100 percent of the actual tax revenue owed will be collected.

“Regardless of the amount of tax collection, districts are required to transfer the exact amount produced by five cents per one hundred dollars of assessed value of property and motor vehicles to their building fund,” KDE states.

The public has 45 days to petition the nickel and if a petition is completed, the board can choose to change the tax rate or continue and let the nickel tax appear on the ballot in the next election (2018).

Revenue generated by the nickel tax, which is added to the existing tax rate, must be used on construction or renovation.

School board member Marvin Wilson asked how soon after approving a nickel tax could construction and renovation begin, so the district can avoid spending money on facilities that will no longer be in use in the future.

“Looking at other districts who have approved that, they’re in a new building within five years. That’s the maximum time it would take for the turnaround from the nickel tax, to buying the property, doing the paperwork, having the architect draw up the plans, do the construction and have students actually in the building,” Rowe said. “That’s compared to what other districts have done, maybe we could do it faster.”

Rowe said as one bond is paid off, money goes to another bond and payments will increase over time as more money is available.

“So we have no bonding potential for the next 20 years, unless we pass a nickel tax,” he said.

The local planning committee has discussed constructing two new elementary schools, one on the west end of the county that would merge McKinney and Hustonville Elementary schools, and another on the south end of the county that would merge Highland and Waynesburg Elementary Schools.

Each of the four schools are scheduled for major renovations within the next 10 years and the cost of a complete renovation for an elementary school is estimated between $6-10 million while the cost of constructing a new school is estimated between $10-13 million.

The cost to operate facilities during the 2015-16 school year, not including labor, major repairs and renovations, at Highland is estimated at $80,436; Hustonville, $79,626; McKinney, $73,051; and Waynesburg, $90,550.

“Over 20 years, if we didn’t build, it’s going to cost almost $6.5 million to operate those, not including labor,” he said.

Rowe said while no one would be fired, attrition would take place over time and potentially save the district money in the future.

“Over time we would know, if you cut from four schools to two schools, that eventually through that attrition two principal positions would be gone, two secretary poitions, two clerical positions, two custodian positions and two food service positions,” Rowe said. That would save roughly, including benefits, $370,000.”

Based on discussions with the Kentucky Department of Education, Rowe said he was told it takes about seven years for attrition to take place in this type of setting.

Over a 13-year period, Rowe said the district would save about $4.8 million through attrition.

The merger of elementary schools would also help the district provide full-time assistant principals, P.E., music and art teachers as well as a social worker in every elementary school. Currently, not every school has these positions full-time.

School board member Alan Hubble voiced concern over consolidating schools, particularly when it comes ot sports and organizations.

Rowe said other districts have created multiple teams within a school to maintain opportunities for students.

“If we got to the point where we had four elementary schools and attrrition got the numbers down where they should be, we’d have funding to do all of that,” Rowe said. “And for the first time in our district, we would have not ‘adequate’ schools, but ‘equitable’ schools.”

Rowe closed his powerpoint presentation with a slideshow of photos from surrounding school districts’ 21st century buildings.

“This is exciting when I see this. I drive to surrounding districts and I see that they have some of these things and the question that always runs through my mind is, ‘why don’t we have something like that here for our kids?’ The bottom line is, we know it’s money,” he said.

In an effort to inform the public and hear opinions, Rowe said he will hold a town hall meeting at every school before a vote is held in June.

Town Hall Schedule

All meetings will start at 6 p.m.

• April 27 – Crab Orchard Elementary School

• May 1 – Highland Elementary School

• May 2 – Hustonvillle Elementary School

• May 4 – Lincoln County Middle School

• May 8 – Lincoln County High School

• May 9 – McKinney Elementary School

• May 15 – Stanford Elementary School

• May 16 – Waynesburg Elementary School
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