By Tracy Harris Green
Director of Communications and Development
Oldham County Schools
For the past two years, Oldham County Schools has developed active campaigns to promote passage of tax rate increases. Last year’s campaign was very successful and much different that how the district had handled tax rates in the past. Here, I will share with you a bit about our financial situation for background, and our communication plan for the past two years.
Oldham County is a very conservative county and opposition to tax rate increases has been very vocal in the past — with little representation from those who support. The board kept tax rates flat for three years during the recession, but it became obvious last year — when facing a $5 million deficit — that our district couldn’t continue to rely on our contingency fund or building transfers to make up for spending beyond our recurring revenues.
Last year, our campaign focused on why the district was facing such a large deficit and why it was a fiscally sound solution to raise taxes to right the ship. We reduced expenditures by $3 million (it was a big year of cuts, including teacher positions) and raised taxes the maximum 4 percent. We developed a FAQ and fast facts sheet, recorded a voice over with a Keynote presentation, and encouraged principals and school staff to share the info with the public. At the tax hearing, we had about 20 speakers, who split evenly between for and against. The increase passed and enabled us to actually have a budget surplus anticipated for 2014-15.
However, as we prepared our 2014-15 budget and began looking ahead to 2015-16, we had cause for concern. The state-mandated 2 percent salary increase in 2015-16 will cost our district an expected $1.2 million, not to mention step increases of $1 million and KTRS retiree health assessment increases of $360,000. We also anticipate the need to purchase buses in that fiscal year and to replace outdated classroom technology.
We also recognized we have lost a number of administrators and high caliber teachers to other districts for the past few school years, so we compared our salary schedules against nearby districts and found ourselves sorely lacking. Add to that added pressure and time commitments due to KPREP and we felt it was time to advocate for a salary increase for teachers.
When the Superintendent decided to ask for the maximum increase amount, which would be a 3.1 cent increase, we began putting together additional information for the public. It is our goal to be transparent about the reasons we are asking for an increase and how those dollars will be spent.
Our budget communications plan for 2014-15 included …
– Updating and adding to our Frequently Asked Questions list, posted on our website and distributed in hard copy at several public meetings
– Updating our Fast Facts sheet, posted on our website and distributed in hard copy at several public meetings
– Developing four Finance Module videos that explain how school finance works and what our district’s finances look like
– Posting a listing of district-owned property and the method of acquisition to address questions about why the district doesn’t sell off vacant property (part of hard copy packet also) (Click here for spreadsheets detailing the property owned by the district)
– Submitting an editorial column to our local weekly newspaper discussing our reasons for a tax increase
– Speaking at both local Rotary organizations as well as to our educational foundation and encouraging them to speak in support
– Working with our teacher’s association to launch a grassroots campaign of support (email below), in which teachers encouraged other teachers to send letters of support, attend the hearing and speak about their own experiences, and wear red to show unity and support.
Our web content for the tax rate hearing is here: http://www.oldham.k12.ky.us/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1466&Itemid=3341