Hopkinsville and Christian County Public Schools have been the talk of the town this week.
Images on social media of leaky ceilings and dilapidated facilities began a conversation in the community about the condition of Hopkinsville High School and Christian County High School. Several outlets across the region picked up the images, put microphones and cameras in front of students, teachers and parents, and got us talking about the need to do something.
On Tuesday night, The Hopkinsville League of Women Voters held a forum at HHS to discuss the structural state of both public high schools in the district. The deteriorating buildings, built in the 1960s era, were a focal point of the beginning presentation.
Regardless of how the buildings came to be in the condition they are in, and whether the photos on social media were legitimate or not, there is no doubt that the fifty-plus year-old school buildings need to be rehabilitated or replaced.
Within this same conversation comes the question of how to pay for what needs done.
As property values rise in the county, the amount of revenue the school system brings in from property tax also rises. While this is good, and a sign that the Hopkinsville area is booming, it is not keeping up with the drying up of state and federal funding for public education. Because of this, CCPS has been forced to raise the property tax rate that it collects.
In August 2018, the Christian County School Board voted to raise the school-tax rate on personal and real estate property to 42.8 cents.
The hike means Christian County residents are charged 42.8 cents for every $100 of personal or real-estate property owned. For example, if a resident owns $100,000 in personal and real-estate property, they will pay $428 in school taxes. The median home value in Christian County is $116,000 – paying $496.48 per year in school taxes.
That is a four-percent increase from the 41.2 cents rate that was in effect the year prior. That four-percent increase is the most a district can raise the tax in a given year. That being said, Christian County still has the seventh-lowest tax rate in the Commonwealth, much lower than the state average.
Henderson County has the median tax with 61.2 cents per every $100. Wolfe County has the lowest with 34.7 cents and Silver Grove Independent has the highest with $1.24.
It’s important to note that some property isn’t subject to this full 42.8 cent tax rate. Angie Strader, Christian County’s property evaluation administrator, told the New Era last August that farmers don’t pay the full tax on actual farm land, but they do pay the full tax on buildings and personal property.
Taxes not being enough to cover the system’s needs, the district’s only option is to take out bonds to build the schools, which work much like a home mortgage. The problem is that the system’s current revenue would not allow the district a high enough bond to even make a dent in the amount needed to build.
Christian County Public Schools’ bonding potential is $15,730,00. According to Ron Murrell, an architect at RossTarrant, Inc. specializing in educational facilities and advisor to CCPS since 2015, the cost to build new facilities is closer to three times the district’s bonding capacity at $42 million.
So, how can the district raise its bonding potential? By increasing income, and the only option left to do so, especially in the immediate future, is what is called a recallable nickel tax.
The nickel tax is a five and one half-cent tax on every $100 of taxable land and home properties in the county. Enacting this tax would increase the district’s bonding capacity to $54.7 million, enough to build the new schools many agree we need.
Assuming the school board passes the maximum four-percent increase each year until reaching the required bonding capacity, the system is at least four years from being able to have the necessary conversations to get to work – and who’s to say the current facilities useful life will extend that extra time needed?
The nickel tax also opens the district up to more help from the state of Kentucky. The Facility Support Program of Kentucky will not help with any facility funds unless an original nickel tax levy has been enacted first.
This five and one half-cent tax would put the school’s property tax rate at 48.3 cents per $100 valuation – still well below the median tax rate of 61.2 cents.
The typical $116,000 home in Hopkinsville will see an annual tax increase of $63.80 as a result – just over $5 per month.
Any educator will tell you, distractions in the classroom prevent learning. What’s more distracting that the rain from outside also falling inside?
Is it worth a cup of coffee per month to us that the future leaders of our community are able to receive a quality education in an environment that facilitates their learning instead of distracting from it?
I personally don’t believe that public education could ever have enough funding. Federal and state cuts over recent years have caused districts to tighten the purse strings. In an effort to retain the quality of the educational programs, the first areas to see their budgets dwindle are typically facilities and personnel.
It is our responsibility to ensure that our young people are given the tools to succeed, one of which being the ability to focus in the classroom. It should be our ambition to provide the very best resources that we can produce for them. Today, our school district is in need of facility upgrades.
We’re not talking about building football stadiums and basketball gymnasiums here. We’re discussing classrooms, libraries, cafeterias and computer labs.
After all, we say our children are our future. I say we should put our money where our mouth is. I’m all ears if a better idea presents itself, but none have been presented as of yet.
Brandon Cox is the publisher of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, Ky. He can be reached by email to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BrandonJCox.