Wednesday, October 07, 2015

TOP STORY >> District wants millage hike

Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District patrons could vote Feb. 2 on a 7.6-mill property tax increase to help pay for new and rehabilitated school buildings, if the new school board approves Superintendent Tony Wood’s recommendation at its Nov. 2 meeting.

That increase would bring the millage to 48.3, about North Little Rock’s millage, and would raise about $45 million with a 25-year payoff, Wood said Monday night. It would cost property owners an additional $152 a year on a $100,000 home, Wood said.

To keep the building program and state funding partnership viable for the 2017-19 state funding cycle, the board should also decide at the Nov. 2 meeting on a building site for the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski High School from among three alternatives and submit a specific six-year, long-range building plan to the state.

The purpose for the increase is to provide new and improved facilities for students and staff that support teaching and learning and to provide facilities sufficient to help remove the district from court desegregation supervision.

The increased revenue would help build a high school complex to replace Jacksonville High School and one elementary school to replace both Arnold Drive and Tolleson Elementary.

Wood said the other elementary schools — Bayou Meto, Dupree, Pinewood and Taylor — would each receive a multipurpose building, with all planned projects subject to state partnership funding and the new elementary school subject to Department of Defense funding.


Ivory Tillman, former president of the Jacksonville NAACP, questioned the placement of both proposed new schools on the west side of Hwy. 67/167 — farther from black neighborhoods, largely on the east side.

Next February is the ideal time for a millage-increase election, according to Charles Stein, the district’s facilities and partnership consultant. Until July 1, Stein was over those programs for the state.

The deadline to submit the master plan is Feb. 1, and a partnership funding application is due March 1. Stein said the state would notify the district May 1, 2017, of what it would fund. Should the district fail to meet all the deadlines, it wouldn’t be eligible for partnership money from the state until the 2019-21 building cycle.

Based on the district’s estimated wealth index, the state would contribute approximately 45 percent toward all facilities used for academic purposes — a gymnasium for physical education classes, for instance, but not a football field.

Representatives for WER Architects discussed the three possible sites for a new JNP High School and the challenges and advantages of each.


The three sites are 91 acres the Defense Department is likely to lease or sell cheap to the district, the 42-acre site of the current Jacksonville High School and the 34-acre site of the former Jacksonville Middle Schools.

Daniel Gray, re-elected board president by fellow board members, said 49 percent of 439 patrons on the Jacksonville-North Pulaski Facebook page wanted the current high school site, 38 percent liked the Air Base site and 13 percent preferred the middle school site on Main Street near Hwy. 67/167.

The cost of building, initially, a 280,000-square-foot high school for 4,000 students is considered about the same for the actual building, but the cost of site preparation, including utilities, would be less at the old middle school site. Preparing the current high school site would cost $1.5 million more than at the middle school, and site preparation on raw land at the Air Force base would be $5.4 million to $7.4 million more than the middle school site, according to Eldon Bock of WER architects, in consultation with Baldwin & Shell Construction.

During public comment, there was little support for using the middle school site, which might be better used by selling it to a commercial developer. Construction there would also require closing Sharp Drive and could cause traffic problems.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said the old middle school is a very promising commercial site and would generate revenue not only by selling it, but also from sales tax revenues generated later.


A couple dozen or more parents and students turned out before the meeting with signs calling for the district to allow students to continue attending PCSSD scholars program magnet school classes at College Station Elementary, Fuller Middle School and Mills High School. About 20 of them addressed the board.

Because of the TAG program and AP classes, one parent said his student arrived at college, day one, with 36 college credits.

At least one parent said she would move into PCSSD rather than allow her children to languish, get bored and get in trouble in classes that didn’t challenge them.

Julie Davis, a junior at Mills High School, told the board she learned to play viola in the fifth grade, was in AP calculus and will have nothing left to take if she has to go back to Jacksonville next year.

One student opened and closed his plea to be allowed to remain in the scholars program speaking Mandarin Chinese, which several of the students had taken while enrolled in the program.

Loren Wright, a parent, said, “There’s no doubt Jacksonville can create a program, but it takes time. My kids are needing education now. Please find a way for them to go while you are building a program.”

Gray thanked them for their comments and said he sympathized, but that, legally, the district’s hands are pretty well tied by state law.

“The talent pool in our community was drained and sent across the river with the best of the best,” Gray added.

“The scholars program is ended, funded by state desegregation payments,” he said “I don’t what to deny anybody an opportunity. I’ve got 4,000 students, and we’re funded on a per-child basis. Everything is based on what we can pay.

“It’s troubling to me, people fighting to stay with PCSSD. That system is what put us where we are.”

Eighty Jacksonville-area students are currently enrolled in the scholars program.

Wood said there were a couple of ways some parents could keep sending their students to the PCSSD scholars program. A parent can get a legal transfer for their students to a school district where the parents works. Also, it’s possible to affect a legal transfer that doesn’t negatively impact the racial balance at either school or district.


Jacksonville-area Justice of the Peace Aaron Robinson swore in the seven board members, including holdovers Gray, Ron McDaniel, Carol Miles and LaConda Watson and the three new members, Dena Toney, Marcia Dornblaser and Jim Moore.

Then they drew for term lengths so that there would be a school board election every September, beginning in 2017.

McDaniel and Dornblaser drew four-year terms, Gray, Miles and Toney three-year terms, and Watson and Moore two-year terms. That ensures staggered elections, but all future elections will be for four-year terms.

McDaniel was re-elected vice president, Miles as secretary, and Toney was elected the disbursement agent, who co-signs checks with Wood.


Col. William Brooks, as Little Rock Air Force Base mission support officer, was elected ex-officio board member. A non-voting member, he sits with the board and next to the superintendent.

The community and the air base have a long history of cooperation to their mutual benefit, and currently the Department of Defense appears poised to pay 80 percent of all costs to replace Arnold Drive Elementary, which is on the base, as well as to lease or sell land for the elementary and the high school.

It may well be a year before the district knows if and how the Air Force and Defense Department will make land available for a high school campus, so Stein was asked if that would prevent the district from applying for state partnership long-range facility plan funds for a new high school on that land.

“Mr. Wood and I have researched and we have not found in the partnership rules — nor in my 10 years of work there — part of the submission that mentions the actual site.”

Stein said the state uses siting averages and a formula to determine the amount of money it would provide for preparation, but that the partnership funding application need not specify the exact site.

JNP would have to pay anything over the amount the state would pay for site preparation.