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Op-Ed: Why I Voted Against Covington Schools' Tax Increase

The following op-ed is written by Covington board of education member Tom Haggard.

On August 26, with little public fanfare, the Covington Board of Education voted 4-1 to raise taxes for property owners throughout the city

While many governments were choosing to protect our fragile economic recovery and leave tax rates the same or even lower them, the administration for Covington Independent Public Schools believed this was the right time to raise taxes. 

I disagreed. I voted against the school tax increase because I believe we have the resources we need to succeed, and because I do not have confidence in the vision of the current superintendent’s leadership.    

  • The school system ended Fiscal Year 2021 with a positive balance of $8.7 million

  • The school system has been awarded nearly $30 million in COVID-19 relief funds over the past 18 months to ensure the sustainability of operations and to keep our students safe 

  • The increase that was approved from 106.1 to 108.1 will generate an additional $1.3 million annually and drive up costs for the average homeowner 

  • Thanks to the growth of the city, the board could have kept the rate the same at 106.1 and generated an additional $975,000 in revenue – something I recommended in the Budget Committee as well as to the full board

For the past five years, our public school system has been stuck in neutral.  While the city of Covington has grown and begun to flourish, our public school system has shrunk and not kept pace.  Over the past five years, we’ve seen an 8% decrease in enrollment and that number does not even cover the dramatic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in public schools.  We know the families of nearly 700 students – the population of two average size elementary schools - who live within the boundaries of our Covington public school district choose to send their children to other public schools in the region, private or parochial schools, or choose to homeschool.  Those families are choosing to pay fees or tuition, in addition to one of the highest property tax rates in the region, to not have their children attend our public schools.  Why is this happening? 

Kentucky has a long and proud history of independent school districts across the Commonwealth. In most cases, our independent school districts are centers of innovation and high expectations.  Taxpayers understand the trade-off of higher local tax rates for exceptional education opportunities for their children. For decades, this was the case in Covington as well.  Unfortunately, the educational programming options available for our students today are not consistent with the high tax rate we pay.  For the past ten years, both Holmes Middle School and Holmes High School – institutions I attended and adore – have consistently been ranked in the bottom 20 in the state. The Kentucky Department of Education determined that in 2019, only 84 of our 165 graduates that year were “Career-Ready” – barely 50%. Add on to this the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on in-person learning and our students are slipping further and further behind. Sadly, this is exactly why families decide to either move out of the city or send their children to other schools once they reach sixth grade. 

Our students can and do achieve – when they are pushed and supported with high expectations and strategic leadership.  Unfortunately, this is not what they are receiving at this time.  

I love Covington Independent Public Schools.  I attended our public school system from kindergarten to twelfth grade and I am a proud graduate of Holmes High School. I came back to serve our community where I worked in our public schools, served as a coach and volunteered as a mentor. Simply put – I’m all in when it comes to Covington Independent Public Schools.  That’s why I know, first-hand, that we need bold and meaningful change. That’s why I raised my hand, and with the help of so many of you, I am in my eighth month of serving as a member of the Covington Board of Education.  I am humble enough to know there is still much for me to learn.  

However, I am tired of being told to sit down, be quiet and not make waves.  I believe the voters knew what they were getting when, in my first election, I received the most votes in our contest that included two incumbents.  They knew I was not interested in glacial change or being patient with a system that should have been fixed many years ago. They knew I wanted to bring big, bold change to a system in need of a shock and I am committed to forging ahead.  So please join me again.  Attend our school board meetings and let us know what you think.  Speak up on issues that are important to you on social media.  Reach out and share your concerns and your hopes for our kids. We need a public school system in Covington that is excellent with dynamic leadership, engaged in a way that doesn’t allow the public to be left out, and equitable so opportunity is available for everyone. Our teachers deserve it.  Our families deserve it.  Our taxpayers deserve it.  Most importantly, our kids deserve it. 

Tom Haggard is a lifelong resident of Covington and a member of the Covington Board of Education.