As the Union County Public Schools Board of Education continues discussing overcrowding, many parents and community members are calling for more long-term planning – which some say must include a tax increase to pay for more campuses.
The overcrowding discussion comes at a time when school board members say they do not have the funding to repair older schools in the county, and even if they get the pending $91 million a jury has ordered the county pay to the school system, there still won’t be enough money to make the needed repairs – let alone build additional facilities.
Estimates, given to the school board recently by UCPS Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis, suggest redistricting is the only option to ease overcrowding in the near future that does not involve additional costs to the system. But in terms of long-range planning, some local leaders are in support of a possible tax increase, focused solely on additional funding for county schools.
“If you don’t have a dog in the fight, you’re not going to want a tax increase. I wouldn’t,” Indian Trail Councilman Chris King said. “But unfortunately for the common good of the county, a tax increase is needed. … (I support) a structured tax increase, where the money will go directly into a fund to build and maintain schools. If the fund starts to run low, then the county needs to do their part.”
Many residents have spoke in favor of a tax increase to provide additional funding for local schools, as the school system and Union County Board of Commissioners have spent the past few years arguing over funding – culminating in last summer’s mediation and lawsuit. One resident spoke at the Tuesday, Feb. 4, UCPS Board of Education meeting in favor of a tax increase to help repair aging facilities and build additional schools, but county commissioners aren’t so sure a tax increase is necessary.
“If a tax increase is warranted or if it’s deemed to be needed (budget discussions are) where you make that decision in terms of having a tax increase,” County Commissioner Jerry Simpson said. “It’s a little premature to be talking about a tax increase when we haven’t received that information.”
The county has already offered nearly $20 million to the school board to help repair schools, Simpson sought to remind people, including $3 million for the purchase of mobile classrooms to help ease overcrowding. Board of education members have not discussed the $3 million offer from the county in public yet, but plan to make a decision on whether or not to accept the funds during an upcoming work session. A date, time and location have not been set for the work session, according to UCPS Chief Communications Officer Rob Jackson.
Regardless or what happens in terms of redistricting, adding new facilities or any other alternative the school board moves forward with, King said an increase in taxes will eventually happen in Union County to help supplement the growth seen, especially in the western part of the county.
“As a result of low taxation (in Union County), you get over development,” King said. “When that happens, you get what we have right now with overcrowded schools. The county has basically become a victim of it’s own success. … I hate raising taxes, I would consider every alternative before raising taxes, but I do feel at some point there is going to have to be a tax increase.”
County commissioners and the board of education have not started discussions for the upcoming 2014-15 budget due to the pending $91 million jury award that has been appealed by the county.