Monday, May 07, 2001

Property tax levy to boost learning

Beechwood issue on ballot Tuesday

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT MITCHELL — Beechwood Independent Schools is hoping to make history for the second time.

        The 1,000-student district is asking its voters to raise property taxes, a feat that only Beechwood has been able to accomplish.

        Beechwood is the only Northern Kentucky school district to pass a voted-on property tax increase since the onset of the Kentucky Education Reform Act and the state's new school-funding system.

        This week, it'll try again.

        “The community has a lot of confidence and trust in the school system,” Superintendent Fred Bassett said.

        A special election is being held Tuesday, the only election in Northern Kentucky this spring. Fort Mitchell residents will vote on a proposal to increase real-estate and tangible property taxes by 14 cents, from 53.5 cents to 67.5 cents per $100 assessed value. (Where to vote)

        That increase would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $140 a year. If approved, it would add about $464,000 to the district's $6 million annual budget.

        Blaming a lack of state funding, school officials say the tax increase is sorely needed to keep the top-performing district afloat.

        Because of the district's high property values, Beechwood receives one of the lowest state funding allocations. Last year, the district ranked 162nd out of the state's 176 school districts for the amount of revenue per student, including local, state and federal dollars.

        Parents, students and community members have been on the campaign trail, walking door to door to persuade residents to support the levy. Volunteers will be on the phone tonight to remind supporters to vote, and students are holding a rally this afternoon.

        However, a low voter turnout is expected because no other elections are drawing people to the polls in Northern Kentucky.

        “Education is a worthwhile investment whether you're a parent or not,” said Carol Buckhout, a parent of three Beechwood students who worked on the campaign. “It's essential for a community to have a strong school system.”

        School boards must have voter approval to increase tax revenue by more than 4 percent, so few even try.

        Only one other Northern Kentucky district has passed a tax levy at the polls in the past decade, but it was to implement a utility tax.

        In 1997, Bellevue and Fort Thomas independent schools both sought to impose utility taxes. Bellevue's levy failed, while Fort Thomas was successful.

        Boone County Schools tried and failed twice to pass property tax increases. In 1993, the district made a bid for a 20 cent increase per $100 of assessed value. And in 1994, a 9 cent increase was sought. Both were defeated by wide margins.

        The last time Beechwood asked voters for more in taxes was in 1994, when a 10 cent increase was approved.

        That election, however, drew more attention and opposition. Just a few years into the state's new funding system, residents were more leery of how the mon ey would be used, Mr. Bassett said.

        This levy vote, however, has remained fairly quiet, with no organized campaigning against it.

        “People in the community are coming to understand that there is a problem with the state's school funding formula, and Beechwood is in a situation where it really has to rely on its local taxpayers to keep the district viable,” Mr. Bassett said.

        In the past 10 years, Beechwood's state funding has increased by about 28 percent, which district officials say has not been enough to keep up with rising costs. Beechwood's local revenue, however, has increased by nearly 90 percent in that time.

        “If (the levy) doesn't get passed, programs and teachers will get cut,” said Brian Gooch, 16, a Beechwood High School junior who has been leading students' involvement in the campaign.

        “You're not going to have as good a school if you don't have the same programs and good teachers. It's going to hurt the quality of the school.”

Where to vote

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Where to vote on school tax levy
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