By LISA BICKNELL
CV&T News Editor
“I’m not a big tax guy…and sometimes we’re overtaxed,” said Superintendent Jeffrey Saylor in a one-on-one interview with the Citizen Voice and Times last week.
When he first stepped into the role of superintendent here, he was reluctant to raise taxes until he had a clearer picture of the Estill County school district’s financial situation.
“I have wanted to make sure we have done everything we can to be fiscally responsible,” Saylor said.
“I think that is why I was hired-to be a fresh set of eyes on the budget and finances in general.”
Saylor is proud of the fact that he worked with the board to cut $1.3 million out of the budget, but after being here for two years, he says he can say with assurance that the tax increase is needed.
“Some have not been easy cuts, and they have included personnel,” he said. “The question remains, ‘How are we going to address construction needs?’”
Saylor explained that the HVAC system at Estill Springs probably will last about one more year, and a new roof is needed on the middle school. Those projects will cost about $4 million.
In addition, the district has committed about two million for a vocational and tech school.
Some question the need for a vo-tech center as they doubt whether there are enough jobs here to warrant building it.
But Saylor insists that there are. “Carhartt has had to move jobs out of this community, because they cannot find highly trained workers. Hundreds of supply jobs have been outsourced…Marcum and Wallace has jobs they cannot fill because of the lack of skilled workers. We don’t have the ability to fill those jobs now.”
“No company is going to come here unless they know we have a highly skilled work force,” Saylor said. “Are we going to close the walls around this county? Circle the wagons, and say there are no new jobs? To do so is to have a mindset that will never allow this community to grow.”
“If we are going to keep kids here, we have to have the facilities to offer them the training and skills they need.”
“We need to be able to offer them a first class education in first class facilities.”
Saylor went on to explain that there are two ways of funding what the district needs: “through the capital outlay tax (100 percent of nickel tax would go into that), and the general fund, which should be spent on teachers, for kids, for books, on buses, and some on general maintenance.”
But if the board were to pass the nickel tax, it would generate bonding potential for the district’s major needs and there could be enough to fund some of the things on the district’s “wish list.”
“We could finish our high school and maybe upgrade athletic facilities,” Saylor said.
However, he knows that convincing the public of the need to raise taxes is a tall order. He acknowledges that “there’s been a lot of mistrust in the community,” but Saylor says the Estill County School District has raised taxes twice in the past ten years.
There are those who would argue that it doesn’t take a fancy building to learn.
“We no longer drive Model T’s, or, in most cases, 40 year-old vehicles,” Saylor said. “There is a level of progress, and things just change.”
He also spoke of the need to maintain and upgrade facilities. “Roof systems and HVAC systems typically have 20 to 30 year life spans…after about 20 years, it is probably not as efficient to keep them or wear them out.”
“Good schools and nice facilities attract families,” Saylor said. In recent years, school enrollment has been steadily declining.
Some might call into question the quality of the education Estill students are receiving, but Saylor fully expects test scores to improve.
He says school culture has changed from one of “blame and denial” to one where teachers are more energized and engaged.
“I think the school system had lost it’s vision, or maybe didn’t have a clear vision,” he said.
“We can’t make excuses-we have to take responsibility. Evaluate and make decisions on how to improve. All employees-we can’t blame parents, situations, poverty…we have to take responsibility.”
But why not wait until the community has seen more evidence of this engagement?
“I wish I had more time,” Saylor said, “but no businessman would want to keep throwing good money after bad.”
He also sought to clarify that he has never said the proposed nickel tax was not really a tax increase.
“It is a tax increase…but I look at it as giving the people a choice in whether they want the tax increase.”
If the school board votes to impose the tax as expected on Thursday night, citizens opposed to it have the option of circulating a petition to recall it. If 10 percent of those who voted in the last presidential election sign that petition, the board can move to hold a special election, and taxpayers would have opportunity to vote on whether or not they want the nickel tax. That special election would likely cost the district about $20,000.
“If you are not for a tax increase, I understand that…but don’t be anti-the nickel if you don’t know the facts.
“If the nickel tax doesn’t pass, we will figure out a way,” Saylor said. “But it will take money from resources they [teachers] need.”
“If we want to retain our best teachers, we’re going to have to pay them to keep other districts from cherry-picking our employees.”
Without the nickel tax, the school board will still have the option of raising taxes four percent, but the district would receive no matching funds from the state.
With the nickel tax, the state matches every dollar raised from the tax with 2.10 dollars, effectively more than doubling the school district’s bonding potential.
Saylor said he is willing to speak to any group that would like to learn more about the proposed nickel tax. He can be reached at 606-643-7899, or 723-2181.