By Richard Urban
Recently, without any public discussion or notification, and in the midst of the economic hardships of the Corona Virus, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted school officials an annual salary increase of $310,000. This increase is tied to percentage of total salary, and will continue to reap benefits for school administrative staff for years to come. This increase was also voted in at the last meeting before new school board member Donna Joy took her seat on July 1st, 2020.
Now, we the voters of Jefferson County are asked to renew this wasteful and expensive tax, which more than doubles the amount of school tax collected, while increasing overall property tax bills by a whopping 40%. On a rental property valued at $225,000 that means a monthly increase of property taxes of $103, or $1239 per year. That means renters will pay over $100 per month extra for rent that their landlord will pass along to them. Similarly, homeowners will also pay over $50 per month extra.
The Board of Education has apparently come to consider these funds as an entitlement. Voters have to hire a detective to figure out where the funds went. It took some three months for the Spirit of Jefferson newspaper to get the information needed to calculate for themselves how much salary increase each of 38 administrative employees got. The highest amount was $20,755 annual increase, with the average annual increase being $9207.
Only about two percent of the excess levy goes toward increasing teacher and service personnel salary. Due to lack of transparency, it is impossible to readily ascertain how much is spent on additional non-teacher positions, like librarians, and how much is paid for the bloated administrative staff, now at 38 positions to administer 1280 school personnel and 8900 students. In contrast, the much larger Kanawha County school system serves 25,373 students and has 47 administrators!
Another example is the lack of transparency into what the legal expenses of the Jefferson County School System are. No invoices detail how much is paid for legal services. In fiscal 2019, $997,678 were paid to EPIC, an inter-county organization that provides support services for schools. However, the invoices do not say what the expenditures were for. One of the services provided by EPIC is the services of attorney Laura Sutton, although that is not one of the stated services listed on their website.
Also, don’t forget the $140,000 the Board of Education foolishly spent (that we know of) trying to condemn the Rockwool property after it changed its mind about the Rockwool plant due to public outcry.
On a closing note, teachers in Jefferson County earn an average of $50, 327 and are contracted to work 200 days (40 weeks) per year. As I mentioned above, only some 2 percent of this pay comes from the excess levy mega tax. Much of the tax goes toward the bloated administration, excessive legal expenses and who knows what else. And due to a lack of transparency, we won’t know what else.
In 2015, less that 14 percent of registered voters voted in favor of the excess levy mega tax, saddling all county property owners with the huge mega tax. Be sure to vote on November 3rd, and vote “AGAINST THE LEVY” on the school excess levy mega tax. Also vote “NO (AGAINST THE BOND ISSUE) on the school bond issue, which will increase taxes even further. The Jefferson County School Board cannot be trusted for a transparent accounting of your tax dollars and the above examples show how your tax dollars are being spent wastefully.