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New Superintendent Outlines Goals; Newport Schools Look at Tax Rate

This article has been corrected where noted.

The Newport board of education met in person last Wednesday, though not in the usual meeting room.

A larger room was chosen so that attendees could practice social-distancing.

The new mental health therapists in the district were introduced. Amber Onkst and Jacqueline Scruggs each told the board how they planned to implement their programs in the schools. 

The board welcomed them to the district and said that they were pleased they didn't have to go outside the district for the mental health services. Onkst will start the year with the middle and high school, while Scruggs will start at the primary school.

The board also listened to options related to the new tax rate.

Financial Director Tete Turner, who is set to retire soon, and Jennifer Hoover, is replacement, explained the numbers.

The board is not considering a 4 percent increase plus a compensating rate, as previously reported here, Turner said. Instead, it is considering what is called the "maximum tier I rate, or 101.7 per $100 value of real estate. Turner said that is a solution to "protect against the $190,520 possible loss in state tier I payments."

WFPL described tier I payments in 2018 as, "Local school boards can also choose to set higher property taxes to help fund schools, and the state will match these tax hikes up to a certain extent — proportional to the local taxing capacity — to level the playing field across poor and wealthy districts. That last piece is known as Tier 1 funding."

The district, Turner said, was adversely impacted in its revenue by Campbell County's reassessment of all properties in Newport this year, which he said saw assessments in the city grow by over $108 million, excluding automobiles. That caused state funding, or SEEK (the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK), a formula driven allocation of state provided funds to local school districts. The formula includes funding for transportation costs and special needs students as reported by districts, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.) to drop by $386,186, he said. Additionally, when the Kentucky Department of Education issued a property tax calculator options, the district discovered that if it did not adopt the maximum tier I rate, it could also lose an additional $190,520 in state tier I payments.

Turner recommended the rate of 101.7 cents per $100 in assessed value.  The move, he said, would bring in $370,000 more than the compensating rate. This rate coupled with the projected increase in automobile tax revenue is expected to produce about $71,500 in net new revenue, when accompanying for the previously mentioned state revenue losses.

The board will meet again on September 9 to make a decision.

Superintendent Tony Watts started his report by playing the John Legend song "Wake Up Everybody", which he said has a similar theme to what he sees happening in the world today. Watts quoted the lyrics, "the world won't get better if we let it be", and "so much hatred and world poverty>"

Watts recommended that the song be the theme of this school year.

Watts, who took over as superintendent earlier this summer, outlined some of his goals, which include a revisited vision and mission statement. He would like to form a committee to work on where the district wants to be in the future.

He also plans to implement a system for school performance and to visit each school periodically.

Additionally, Watts stated that he wants to change the culture for students and teachers, and to implement a system to attract minorities to the district. He hopes to visit colleges and to attract them to work in the district by showcasing Newport's housing options and the district's tuition reimbursement program.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor

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