Tuesday, June 06, 2017

TOP STORY >> School district hoping voters approve plans

Leader senior staff writer

If patrons of the Pulaski County School District vote for an extension of the current debt-service millage next Tuesday, they will wake up the next day with the same tax bill — 40.7 mills — but with $66.5 million for a new Sylvan Hills High School and other improvements, Linda George, one of the get-out-the-vote organizers, said.

The difference is that the debt-service tax will be collected for 30 more years instead of for 13 more years.

Early voting started Tuesday (when 162 votes were cast) at two sites — from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. through Friday at the Jack Evans Senior Center in Sherwood and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through Monday at the Pulaski County Regional Building at Markham and Broadway in Little Rock.

Polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday for 62 precincts at 33 locations, according to information on the votepulaski.net website.

Elections to fund construction bond issues have proven difficult to pass in recent years, but “I’m very optimistic,” said George, a former PCSSD teacher and principal.

She said supporters have met with teachers at the Pulaski County schools and had parent meetings and the atmosphere has been supportive.

“Nobody’s asking ‘what about me,’ Sylvan Hills is that crowded. When they look at numbers — this school was built for 850, but last year nearly 1,400 kids (registered for high school),” George said.

She said patrons throughout the district might wake up on Tuesday and decide to go to the pool, while Sherwood-area residents might decide to go to the pool, but go vote first.

George said Sherwood’s population grew 41 percent between 2000 and 2014.

“When you expand the high school, you help a growing city accommodate what’s coming,” she said.

Some of that was annexation of the Gravel Ridge area, but there have been several housing developments built with six more going in.

Although not mentioned specifically on the ballot, most of that money would be used to expand the Sylvan Hills High School. Currently the ninth graders are diverted to a “freshman campus” at the old Northwood Middle School.

The district may use the surplus revenues produced each year by the debt service millage for other school purposes.

A similar debt-service millage extension election for Little Rock School District in May lost with about 65 percent against, 35 percent for.

That’s a district that was taken over by the state, which dismissed the school board and fired a popular superintendent.

Opponents there charged the new tax would have been taxation without representation.

This is not the case in PCSSD, which was taken over by the state in 2011 but has emerged from fiscal distress and has an elected school board again.

In May 2015, a PCSSD millage increase vote to fund construction lost approximately 3-1. That would have increased the district millage from 40.7 mills to 46.3 mills.

In the fledgling Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District in February 2016, amidst the excitement of patrons who voted by more than 90 percent to have their own school district, a millage increase to fund a building program was in doubt until the final precincts were counted. That increase was approved 55 percent to 45 percent.

George noted that PCSSD couldn’t finance a bond election, but that individuals, banks and businesses contributed not only in the Sherwood area, but in Little Rock and North Little Rock.

“Having good schools in Sherwood affects all of central Arkansas,” she said.