JCPS billion dollar problem could mean higher taxes - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

JCPS billion dollar problem could mean higher taxes

(Source: WAVE 3 News) (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Dozens of Jefferson County Public Schools have aging walls, leaking roofs and rotting pipes. 

School leaders are concerned that the state's largest school district is now at a billion dollar breaking point. They're trying to figure out how to come up with the money to fix a problem that's been growing for years.

Indian Trail Elementary is one of several JCPS schools that have fallen into disrepair according to the district's own Comprehensive Infrastructure Assessment. It's a school with stained walls and a failing HVAC system.

At Indian Trail, even Old Glory looks old. The American flag hanging outside is tattered and torn.

According to calculations done by WAVE 3 News using the JCPS Comprehensive Infrastructure Assessment, 56% of JCPS schools are more than 50 years old. Forty-four percent of elementary schools are listed in poor condition with "end of life systems that require frequent critical repairs." And, 12 elementary schools are listed as more cost-effective to replace than renovate. 

+ REPORT: JCPS Comprehensive Infrastructure Assessment

Even things that are new look old again. A $22 million renovation at Southern High School is tainted by discolored tiles in the ceiling, because the district didn't have the money to fix the leaking roof.

Mike Mulheirn was JCPS Facilities Director for 16 years before retiring this summer. He now works as a school facility consultant. "This stuff is all worn out," Mulheirn said. "You know we're living on borrowed time."

JCPS Chief Operating Officer Mike Raisor said it will take $1.2 billion to repair and replace everything the district needs. Raisor is exploring cost-saving options like combining schools, using naming rights to fund high school sports facilities and even sharing space, like the new Norton Commons Elementary is doing with the YMCA. But, Raisor said the district will never be able to afford a long-term fix without the one word no one wants to hear.

When asked if there was any way for JCPS to pay for a long-term fix without a tax increase, Raisor replied simply, "No."

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A so-called nickel tax would generate $33 million per year for capitol projects. That tax would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $50 a year. But, it has to be passed by the school board and then likely survive a recall vote by the public.

JCPS Board Chair David Jones said they'll name a committee in August to prioritize the districts needs and recommend how much JCPS should try to bite off in the short term. Only then will they debate that nickel tax. 

"We need to know how much of this we want pay for before we figure out how," Jones said. 

Raisor knows to get the tax passed, JCPS will have to get the community to buy in and put the needs of students in front of their own pocketbooks.

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