After decrying state funding cuts to its textbook fund, loss in motor vehicle tax revenue and an unfunded mandate by the legislature to give teachers a one percent pay raise this year, the Corbin Board of Education decided to hold the line on property taxes this year, actually lowering it three tenths of a percent over the previous budget cycle.
The vote came last Thursday during a special meeting of the board at Corbin Elementary School. Board members made the move on the heels of complaints by two local residents regarding increasing taxes.
Betty Sue Surmont, co-owner of Owens’ Auto and Truck Service, asked the board to not take a rate suggested by school district administration that would result in the collection of four percent more in real dollars than the year before.
"You think we could lower what you are wanting?" Surmont asked the board. "Maybe not do the four percent."
Local resident Bill Boggs had the strongest words for the board, saying ever increasing taxes are hurting business and elderly people on fixed incomes.
"You are putting a hardship on a lot of elderly people," Boggs said. "You can just take so much blood out of anything and then it’s going to run out. You can’t just keep taxing and taxing and taxing … Are we building Corbin or running people out of Corbin?"
Corbin Superintendent Ed McNeel presented several options to the board regarding its 2009-10 tax rates. A 51.4-cent per $100 of assessed value rate would generate $2,228,000 he said and was the lowest rate the board could legally accept. He suggested the 53.4 percent rate that would produce four percent more in collections. The district could attempt to go higher at risk of having voters recall any increase.
He said 107 school districts across the state last year took the four percent option. Thirty-nine school districts took the lowest "compensating" rate, and another 19 opted for something in between.
The last option, raising the rate a penny, is one that Board Member Kim Croley advocated following a public hearing on the tax rate. She then said she didn’t favor a tax increase because the board had promised the public it would not at a meeting in April when expansion plans for the high school were approved.
"We told people we weren’t going to. We felt we could raise the bonds and do what we needed to do at the high school without raising tax rates. I just wonder in my mind, have we looked at everything we do to see if it is the most efficient way to do it."
Board member Angela Morris echoed Croley’s sentiments, but was more resolute in wanting no increase at all. She said she felt like there is "more fluff in administration and faculty" than when she went to school and that the district’s teachers were creative and could come up with ways to provide the same quality of education in a more cost efficient manner.
"I have a personal problem trying to increase something when we told them no," Morris said.
McNeel pointed out that any tax money garnered from the raise would have no effect on the district’s building fund.
But Board Member Todd Childers said he was concerned that the perception would still be out there that the school system was raising taxes to pay for high school renovations.
"I do think we made a broad statement at that meeting … that we would not raise taxes and what came after that, I don’t think anybody heard it," Childers said. "I don’t want to be the person that votes to do that if we don’t absolutely have to. Just because we can get it from the people doesn’t mean we should."
Board Chair Lisa Cleary noted that the state just recently informed the district that it was cutting $80,000 from its textbook fund, and that teacher salary increases would cost another $160,000, but said she felt like cutbacks could be made to compensate.
McNeel promised that the administration would do whatever was necessary to "maintain a sound budget."
"We are going to take the steps to do that," he said. "Some way or another we will do something to make it a sound district."
McNeel did not elaborate on what those steps would be.
The board unanimously voted to take the lowest rate of 51.4 cents per $100 of assessed value, a little less than the 2008 rate of 51.7. McNeel said the rate dropped because average property assessments were higher.
In other business, the board:
¥ Heard a presentation from district Director of Instruction Dave Cox regarding a research program that the school system has been partnering with Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Department of Mathematics and Statistics on.
He said data collected from the research has shown that an alarmingly high percentage of students are not proficient in math "automatistic" skills when they reach their freshman year in high school. Automatistic skills are things like multiplication tables or simply arithmetic – things learned by rote memorization so they can be implemented quickly and free of error.
He said students K through 8th grades have been tested the last two years on these skills and that there is a direct correlation between being able to do these things and math achievement in algebra and other more complex classes.
"The research is real clear, kids that don’t have these skills … they lose their estimation skill and basic number sense. It usually manifests somewhere around Algebra I."
¥ Discussed the bussing situation at Corbin Primary School.
Croley said she has had calls from parents that students are still getting home late, some as late as 4:00 p.m. and wondered if it was normal.
Tremaine said most of the problems had been worked out and that the route she referenced in particular, which ends in Oaklawn subdivision, is the longest at the school and there is no feasible way to change it.
¥ Heard a presentation from Corbin Housing Authority Director Dora Mobley regarding Corbin East School.
Mobley asked the board to give the Housing Authority temporary ownership of the vacant school while it seeks grant funds to renovate it and turn it into affordable housing. She said plans are to build two other buildings at the site that would offer a total of 32 units for rent.
The board would keep roughly an acre of land in two parcels on either side of the building that it could still sell.
Board Attorney Bob Hammons said the board needed to consult with the Kentucky Department of Education first to find out if it actually could gift the property to the Housing Authority.
Childers made a motion for McNeel to look into what options the board has regarding the property. It was approved.
Croley cheered the move.
"I applaud the fact that we are looking at ways to use that building in a beneficial way to the citizens."