Tuesday, January 26, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Rebuilding our schools

Support for the Feb. 9 millage vote in the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District is building, with early voting set to begin Tuesday.

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, the Jacksonville City Council, the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, the North Pulaski Board of Realtors and the Jacksonville Sertoma Club have endorsed the tax increase that should help raise about $80 million to build a new high school and millions more for repairs to aging campuses.

Surprisingly, there seems to be little opposition. Residents will recall anti-tax advocates in 2014 defeated a countywide effort to raise property taxes to benefit Pulaski Technical College.

This time it’s different because Jacksonville residents of all political stripes know that their hometown cannot compete in the 21st Century without attractive schools that educate students.

Property values will go up many times more than the 7.6 millage increase sought by the new school district. If the 7.6-mill increase is approved, owners of $100,000 homes can expect to pay about $150 more a year.

After many years of neglect by the Pulaski County Special School District, Jacksonville residents voted overwhelmingly in 2014 to break away from PCSSD. Now residents will have to pay more to protect their property values, quality of life and the future of thousands of youngsters.

Otherwise, urban blight will accelerate, driving down property values and, perhaps the most troubling, Jacksonville students will continue to be unprepared for the job market or college.

Jacksonville residents no longer want to hear commanders at Little Rock Air Force Base tell their airmen to move to Cabot because Jacksonville schools are in terrible shape. For a community of military retirees, that’s been a difficult assessment to accept, but obvious for all to see.

The Little Rock chamber’s endorsement of the proposed millage increase cited the importance of LRAFB to central Arkansas’ economy and said military members’ families deserve quality schools. Jacksonville students deserve the same quality of schools as those in Cabot, Beebe and elsewhere. The Lighthouse Charter Academies in Jacksonville and the air base have shown the way.

Mayor Gary Fletcher said last week, when the city council voted unanimously in support of the millage increase, “Patrons of North Pulaski and Jacksonville overwhelmingly supported the creation of our new district, and they will be called upon once again to finish that job on Feb. 9 with a millage vote to fund projects that will equip our children and teachers with what they’ll need to perform at even higher levels than the surrounding districts.”

Laura Walker, spokeswoman for Education Corps, the group spearheading the drive to pass the tax increase, said, “Our new learning environments will serve as an extension of the traditional classroom that combine functionality, durability, safety and beauty to create inspirational places for our children to learn.”

Walker is also director of the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club and knows many of the children who are being cheated out of a good education because PCSSD turned its back on them years ago.

Vote yes starting on Tuesday.