Sunday, August 22, 2004

Pressure is off on N.Ky. schools


They don't have to fool with tax levies

By Karen Gutierrez
Enquirer staff writer

NEWPORT - As a school superintendent, Mike Brandt would much rather work in Kentucky than Ohio.

That's because Kentucky districts rarely have to seek voter approval for tax increases. Under state law, school systems automatically can raise property taxes by 4 percent a year, so they generally make do with that.

This frees up superintendents and teachers to focus on education, says Brandt, who was superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools from 1991-98.

This year, he agreed to take the top job in Newport partly because he wouldn't have to spend nights and weekends chasing levy votes.

"That's how the game's played here," Brandt says. "It doesn't seem to raise the ire of the general public and deflect attention away from the purpose of education as much as it does (in Ohio)."

This doesn't mean Kentucky schools don't have money problems. For the most part, though, belt-tightening is gradual: class sizes inch upward, teachers make do with 10-year-old textbooks, students are asked to bring in cleaning supplies on the first day of school.

This year, Gov. Ernie Fletcher will increase education funding by $69 million. That's partly because of automatic, mandatory increases in certain costs, but Fletcher also is increasing general school funding by $10 per student and adding $5 million to a pet reading project.

Other programs have taken cuts, however, such as a $13 million reduction in grants for after-school tutoring.

Superintendents have long argued that regardless of year-to-year tinkering, Kentucky schools don't get enough state money to meet improvement goals. A lawsuit over this issue is pending.

This year, Kentucky's level of education funding earned it a C grade in a national report by Education Week. By comparison, Ohio earned a B-minus and Indiana a B-plus.

In Northern Kentucky, low teacher salaries are of particular concern. This year, a school in Indiana offered a $17,000 raise to the band director at Campbell County High School, Principal Ginger Webb says.

She couldn't blame him for leaving.

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E-mail kgutierrez@enquirer.com




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