Friday, October 09, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Supporting new district

We share your excitement — the opportunity to grow Jacksonville by transforming Jacksonville-North Pulaski into a world-class, destination school district.

We’re tired of people moving away from Jacksonville and the mishmash, bottom-of-the pile, second-class-citizenship status thrust upon its schools by decades of neglect by PCSSD school boards and administrations.

Instead, we envision a district that provides not only new, safe, comfortable state-of-the-art buildings, but excellence and opportunity in academics, great and dedicated teachers, a dynamic talented-and-gifted program, training for non-college track students and bountiful opportunities in art, music and performing arts.

When the newly elected JNP school board met Monday, president Daniel Gray looked like a kid finding a new bike under the tree on Christmas morning, and we hope this first elected school board will prove to be a vehicle that the district can ride into a shiny new future.

Some goals require hard, smart work; some require money, and some — like this — require both.

Coaches like to tell their teams that luck equals preparation plus opportunity. Heaven knows, folks here prepared — for decades — and finally helped create their own opportunity. Now they need to add money to the mix.

Superintendent Tony Wood is expected to recommend at the Nov. 2 meeting that the school board put a 7.6-mill property tax increase before district patrons, payable over 25 years, to raise $45 million toward construction. That would help pay for a new Jacksonville-North Pulaski High School and a new elementary school that would replace both Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementaries.

The state is expected to pay about 45 percent of the cost of a new high school. The Defense Department appears ready to pay 80 percent of the cost of the new elementary school, with the state picking up about 45 percent of the balance.

Wood and state facilities and partnership consultant Charles Stein have suggested a special millage election Feb. 2 to vote on the additional 7.6-mill increase.

The millage would cost property owners about $152 a year more on a home valued at $100,000.

Residents in the Jacksonville area have been steadfast over the years in taxing themselves to support children, higher education and public safety and, while we are not taking anything for granted, it seems likely that the same voters and the same enthusiasm that approved a standalone Jacksonville district to be carved from PCSSD by nearly 95 percent will tax themselves to support the new district and new and renovated buildings.

We’d like to see the district strike while the iron is hot. We’d like to see a special meeting called in the next few days to commission a poll among patrons to gauge support for an even higher millage increase. In rough numbers, each additional mill would raise almost $6 million while costing the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $20 a year.

Three more mills — a total of a 10.6-mill increase — would raise another $18 million for a total of $63 million.

That’s enough to add a performing arts center instead of an auditorium. Or to better renovate other elementary schools.

If there was sufficient support in the poll, the board could consider the current recommendation versus a larger increase at the Nov. 2 board meeting and still adhere to the timeline for a Feb. 2 special millage election.

Let’s not be greedy, but perhaps the district can take advantage of the deep reservoir of need and goodwill.