Wednesday, August 15, 2007

School disrepair focus of tax raise in Fayette Co

Arlington Elementary School's faulty heating and cooling unit forces students and staff members to wear sweaters during the summer and T-shirts during the winter. Students in wheelchairs can't attend the 108-year-old school on North Limestone because there are no elevators to accommodate them.

At Leestown Middle School, a storage closet for athletics has been converted into an office for the school's social worker. And the cafeteria is so small that students have a difficult time moving through the lunch line.

Fayette school leaders are hoping those images of school disrepair will encourage the community to support a school tax increase of 5.4 cents per $100 of assessed property value. District leaders say the nickel will allow the district to borrow the estimated $290 million it needs for immediate school construction and renovation projects, in addition to paying for regular operating expenses such as teacher salaries and textbooks.

"Go to Johnson (Elementary School) and then go out to Veterans Park," said Debbie Tronzo, interim principal at Leestown. "And then we're saying all children should have equal access to things?"

School leaders have said the public has been supportive of the proposed increase from 54.1 cents to 59.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. But they won't formally hear from the community until Aug. 27, when a public hearing will be held at 5:30 before the board's meeting at the district's central office, 701 East Main Street. Opponents could challenge the increase by filing a petition for a voter referendum.

Tina Moorhead, 16th District PTA president, said she is in favor of the increase.
"As soon as you say 'taxes and increase' everyone gets up in arms," said Moorhead. "But when you are talking about school and education, it's really just going to be hard-pressed for you to say no to what they're wanting."

The increase would raise the property tax bill on a $100,000 house by $54. On a $165,000 house -- the median home value in Fayette County -- the increase would be $89.10.

Of the 59.5 cents the district would collect, 53.9 cents would cover regular operating costs. The other 5.6 cents would be used for renovations and construction at up to 25 schools. Without a rate increase, the district would have the money to address the needs of only three schools.
About half the 54 schools in the district need immediate construction or renovations, district officials say.

In addition to its HVAC system, Arlington needs upgrades to its electrical system. There are always fuse malfunctions in the school's computer laboratory, Principal Robert Wilkirson said.
"You add anything electrical, you definitely risk popping a fuse," he said.

Tronzo said Leestown, which was built as an elementary school in 1957 and renovated to become a junior high school in 1984, is the only school that was never renovated to become a middle school.

In most local middle schools, students are divided into groups taught by a team of four teachers and teams are clustered together in a building to reduce time for switching classes and to encourage joint lesson planning. But at Leestown, the science labs are in one wing of the building, making the team concept difficult.

"This is something that is long overdue," Superintendent Stu Silberman said. "If we don't move it forward now, (school construction costs) are going to just get more and more expensive."
A move to change to year-round schools wouldn't help, Silberman said. "If you have to replace a heating unit, you have to replace it, no matter what your school schedule is." he said.

The following shows the amount Fayette County Schools leaders would pay if the proposed increased is approved.

This from the Herald-Leader.

For a database of residential property records in Fayette County, visit

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