Federal/state cuts, dire facility needs cause Graves Schools to cut own budget, seek tax of just $3-$6 more monthly on average home
Well-publicized and numerous cuts to public education that both state and federal governments have made in recent years have strained the Graves County School District’s budget. In response, the district has cut $800,000 from its central office alone. With no other alternatives, pressing needs for aging buildings and an HVAC system have compelled district leadership to seek a modest tax increase. It would cost the average homeowner only $3 to $6 more per month – less than the cost of most fast food meals – and would ensure financial viability for the district’s schools.
“School systems in Kentucky and across the country operate on funding from state and federal governments,” said Graves County Schools Superintendent Kim Dublin. “That simply is the way funding has developed over time. Therefore, when government officials reduce our budgets at the local level, we simply are stuck. We’re left with few, if any resources to gain the funding we need.”
Dublin noted that in response, she, other district officials, and the board of education have collaborated to reduce costs at the Graves County Schools’ central office by one-third – from $2.4 million to $1.6 million. The number of assistant superintendents has declined in recent years from three to none. Costs also have been reduced measurably in transportation, custodial work, and staffing.
Still, expense reduction at the local level is not enough because state government not only has cut funding, but costs also increased. During the course of the past four years, legislators cut state aid to Graves County Schools by $725,000. This year’s budget cut alone is expected to be $700,000 for the 2018-19 school year. Grant cuts since 2013 have totaled nearly $1 million. Meanwhile, pension costs have increased and transportation funding has decreased. Calculating total realized cuts and increased costs ultimately result in $1.1 million less funding for the 2018-19 school year.
Meanwhile, needs have grown. School safety, always important, has emerged as a top priority in the modern world. District officials believe increasing the number of school resource officers from two to four would improve safety significantly. That’s based on the fact that the district has nine schools spread across one of the five largest counties in geographic size in the commonwealth.
Lowes Elementary School clearly is in the worst physical condition of any elementary school in all of western Kentucky. The estimated cost of an appropriate renovation project to meet the needs is approximately $12 million. Farmington Elementary School’s heating/ ventilation/ air conditioning system, or HVAC, is 35 years old and declining rapidly. It would cost $1.5 million to replace, all according to estimates experts have provided the district.
“This tax levy would increase bonding capacity from $6.8 million to $18 million,” said Supt. Dublin. “Besides addressing needs in school buildings, it would provide approximately $190,000 that could be used to fund those two additional school resource officer positions, including associated costs such as benefits and vehicles.”
Dublin concluded, “The Graves County School District can transform these necessary improvements to school safety and suitable facilities for students into realities. The added monthly cost on their tax bills for the average homeowner is only $3 to $6 more per month.”
Graves County School District leaders believe that the people of Graves County, with few exceptions, can see the obstacles the district faces and the district’s strong efforts to cut costs. They also believe the people of Graves County understand the big difference a small tax increase would make to the students, schools, and Graves County itself.