By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
After more than two hours of listening to public opinion and passionate discussion, the Madison County School Board voted 4-1 Monday evening to set a property tax rate calculated to increase revenue by 4 percent.
The 2013 tax rate on both real estate and personal property will be 60 cents per $100 of valuation. The 2012 rate was 58.3 cents on real estate and 58.8 cents on personal property.
Board member Mary Renfro was the only dissenting vote, saying she would only favor a smaller tax increase.
Both Renfro’s husband and school-aged daughter had stood at the podium that evening to speak against the tax hike.
The decision will generate nearly $1 million in extra revenue, which Superintendent Elmer Thomas wants to use to fund full-day kindergarten in the district in the 2014-15 school year.
Madison County is one of eight Kentucky school districts that offers only half-day kindergarten. The other 161 districts offer full-day classes, and five offer either option, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.
Late last week, Thomas broke the news of his kindergarten proposal and several educators, including kindergarten teachers, showed up for the meeting Monday night to support the increase.
At the 2012 tax-hike meeting, only eight people addressed the board and all were against any tax increase. However, tables were turned at Monday’s meeting with supporters outnumbering opponents nearly 2 to 1.
Some tax-hike opponents said they supported all-day kindergarten but did not trust the school board to spend the extra funds wisely.
One citizen said she didn’t understand why the district “wasted” money on building new schools and suggested that students be divided up into existing classrooms. Several opponents mentioned the money spent on Madison Central High School’s new sports complex as a reason to distrust the board.
Supporters of the tax-hike, many of them teachers, said the extra time with students was needed to “close the gap,” especially for at-risk children in the early stages of learning.
One kindergarten teacher said academic standards are increasing for her students each year, but the time she has with them does not. If given more instruction time, she noted several specific areas in which she could grow achievement.
Some speakers cited their trust in Thomas as a reason to permit the increase. They said Thomas would do what was needed with the new revenue, including board member John Lackey, known for his questioning of district finances. He was willing to give Thomas a year with “a little extra money” and to make necessary “economies,” he said.
“The community will support a tax increase if they feel like we’re spending it properly,” Lackey said.
Thomas said with anticipated cuts in federal and state support, the district will have to reduce spending regardless of a tax increase, and at the request of Lackey, he spoke about some specific plans to save money in the future.
Thomas pointed out, however, that the 2013-14 budget was already set and the district has financial commitments it must fulfill. But, he is ready to “roll up my sleeves and get to work” on next year’s budget, he said.
Look in Wednesday’s Richmond Register for another story about Monday’s tax hearing and vote, including details from both sides of the argument.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.