School districts affected by the tornado hope for a stable tax base for their future

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As the school year begins across much of the state, school district leaders in western Kentucky, hard hit by last year’s tornado outbreak, see the future of their districts tied their local tax bases in the future.

Two tornado-affected communities have their own school districts – Mayfield and Dawson Springs. Mayfield Independent School District staff director Kelly Stinson said enrollment is up in the district this year. Dawson Springs Independent School District Superintendent Leonard Whalen said the district of just over 500 students is down about 15 from last school year, but they expect a few more are signing up by Labor Day.

Both districts lost numerous homes during the December tornado outbreak, making them potentially vulnerable to losing financial support with a reduced tax base. The two neighborhoods too previously expressed concerns to lose state funding tied to student enrollment due to families being able to leave their communities.

The Mayfield Independent School District didn’t see much change due to the tornado, Stinson said. Overall, the district has weather safety measures in place and plans to continue exercising as usual.

“There are a few families who are still homeless and displaced due to the tornado and we are still addressing those needs,” Stinson said.

Stinson said the district isn’t exactly sure the reasons for listing are increasing slightly. At this time, the school district is not concerned about the potential loss of tax base in the area due to the tornado. Stinson said they turned to the state government for help with the things MISD needed help with.

“For example, with transportation, they’ve helped with funding to help transport displaced students, so far they’ve been very helpful in our needs,” Stinson said.

When or if a diminished tax base becomes a concern for MISD, Stinson said they hope the state government will help the district. Right now they don’t really see the effects of the loss of tax base since the storm that happened less than a year ago. She said the district could see the financial impacts this year when taxes are due.

“I would think that if anything, [the tornado has] just made us stronger and made sure we have all of our proper procedures in place for situations like this and challenged us to be more proactive in thinking in terms of ‘what if’,” said said Stinson. “While maybe in the past we’ve played scripts but not to the extent that we are now, just because of what we’ve been through.”

The Dawson Springs Independent School District had about 550 students at the start of the last school year before the tornado and about 535 at the end of the school year. The superintendent said they had rebounded from the previous year and expected to have about 540 students enrolled in the K-12 district.

“Once the dust settles here, I think we’ll be very close to what we had at the start of last school year,” Whalen said.

The Dawson Springs Independent School District expects to see a loss of tax base as a result of the tornado outbreak. Whalen said he has discussed this issue with local lawmakers and people in the governor’s office.

“I’m hopeful that when it looks like there will be a special session called by the governor,” Whalen said. “I hope it is [with] some of the things that they’re looking at in eastern Kentucky, that they’re looking at some stabilization of some tax base for schools that have been impacted by natural disasters like we are here with the tornado and those in the eastern Kentucky with flooding.

DSISD anticipates approximately $200,000 that they will lose from their local tax base. According Data from the Kentucky Department of Education, DSISD secured $869,424 from local sources out of nearly $7.8 million in total funding the district received in 2021.

More than two-thirds of the district’s total funding that year—$5.5 million—came from the state. About half of the state funding to the school district came from SEEK, the school district funding program which is related to student registration.

Whalen said they should be okay for this school year, but as they plan for next year, they hope to see a stabilization of the tax base to maintain their staffing levels. The estimated time to rebuild after the tornado outbreak could take three to five years to recover apartments and government housing that were lost in Dawson Springs.

“I think anyone here would agree that our school is the center of this community, it’s

the heart of the community,” Whalen said. “We really are a massive part of town in the city of Dawson Springs.”

Kentucky recently passed a open enrollment invoice for school districts. Whalen said DSISD has entered into reciprocal agreements with school districts in Hopkins County and Caldwell County to allow students to attend DSISD schools or their preferred county schools in the past. so there is not much change in enrollment for these school systems. However, open enrollment will allow students from the neighboring Christian county to attend DSISD schools if they wish.

Whalen said the most important thing for his district is getting back to his normal routine.

“Between COVID and then the tornado, the last three years or so have been tough and obviously that was amplified by the tornado that hit, but really just we’re getting back to our normal routine, our high expectations, getting back to building those strong relationships like the ones we have always had with our students and their families,” Whalen said. “We’re really looking forward to a great school year.”


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