Friday, February 12, 2016

EDITORIAL >> This week’s millage vote

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District millage increase passed with just a little over 600 votes — far from a landslide many predicted, but still at a comfortable margin of 55-45 percent. That’s considered a landslide in today’s political elections. A 65 percent plurality would be have been better — after all, residents voted 95 percent in favor of separating from the Pulaski County Special School District in 2014 — but the anti-tax sentiment out in Bayou Meto this week was huge.

The 7.6-millage increase lost 4-1 out in the country, where folks are not only anti-tax but many have given up on public schools and are home schooling their children. The millage was also defeated at McArthur Church, where nearby residents were vocal in their opposition.

The proposal barely carried by two dozen votes on election day, but early voting went 2-1 in favor of the millage proposal. The early voting reports came in first Tuesday night, which is always a good indicator of the outcome, but not this time.

Bayou Meto residents didn’t vote early in Jacksonville, but they turned out in overwhelming numbers to reject the increase, 441-117. It’s unfortunate, because the new millage increase will pay for a new high school that many of their children will attend someday.

The millage will also refurbish the district’s elementary schools and middle school and eventually replace all the elementary schools. So the $80 million that the new millage will generate will improve education all over the district. But if you don’t believe in state schools and think government cannot do anything right, you’re inclined to vote down anything that will cost more money.

So what would have been the alternative? Let the schools crumble, have the building inspectors condemn them as uninhabitable and let the state take over the new district and run them indefinitely?

The state Education Department is still in charge of the Pulaski County Special School District, which Jacksonville left in 2014.

The Little Rock School District is also under state supervision, as are a handful of other districts.

No, we cannot go back. Nobody likes tax increases, especially the elderly on fixed incomes. But $150 more in property taxes a year will boost the value of an average home $10,000-$20,000 and even more.

The supporters of the millage increase should pat themselves on the back. It’s never easy to get one passed. The Leader’s front page almost 30 years ago reported on a proposed millage increase in the Pulaski County Special School District. The measure failed.

The results this time show that residents want the new district to succeed. It will be a laboratory for the rest of the state and perhaps the whole nation, proving that a small district can do better than a big one.

The Jacksonville Education Corps, which pushed for the millage increase, issued a statement Tuesday, saying, “This commitment to investment is key to all of our future economic prosperity. Families will be attracted to our community because of our commitment to our new educational opportunities. We will finally keep our tax dollars invested within our community to provide our students with the 21st Century learning environments that they deserve.”

This is a week to celebrate. Let the construction begin, hire the best teachers and show those youngsters that we value all of them and will do everything to make sure they become successful adults and the pride of our community.

Thank you, voters, for believing in the new school district and its staff and especially our young people, who deserve nothing less than a first-class education.

Perhaps even the folks in Bayou Meto who rejected the increase, will come around in a couple of years and say, “You know what, this district is doing great, and we’re glad to show it our support.”

That is our hope: That everyone will rally around the new school district and help make education history happen.