Tuesday, May 05, 2015

EDITORIAL >> PCSSD needs a millage hike

This much is certain. We should always vote. We should always vote in our own best interest, though sometimes we are confused or misled.

If you live in either the Pulaski County Special School District or the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District—it is in your best interest to support the 5.6-mill property tax increase to replace or extensively remodel every school left in the in PCSSD after the departure of the new district.

The special election is next Tuesday. Early voting began yesterday and ends Friday at the Jack Evans Senior Center in Sherwood, the Jess Odom Community Center in Maumelle, the Roosevelt Thompson Library off Chenal Parkway and the County Regional Building at Markham and Broadway in Little Rock

If you live within the boundaries of the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, you can’t vote, won’t have to pay an increased tax and won’t receive proceeds from the increase for your schools.

Nonetheless, you will benefit. PCSSD is still not unitary—desegregated—in five areas. Those are facilities adequacy, school discipline, staffing, student achievement and monitoring. And if PCSSD is not unitary, by definition and court order, neither is JNP.

It’s often assumed that the facilities piece of the puzzle is the most difficult. And until the schools are unitary, the federal courts will scrutinize every substantial move made by either district.

For instance, the court had to sign off on this millage election. And by court order, neither Sherwood, Maumelle nor any other area of PCSSD can stand up its own school district until PCSSD is unitary.

The millage increase would cost $112 a year on a $100,000 home and raise $221 million over 30 years to pay for construction while still leaving PCSSD with the lowest millage of any of the county’s three districts.

If the millage increase fails, major facilities improvements will be limited to building a new school to replace Mills High School and to remodel Mills as a middle school for students who would otherwise attend Fuller. Fuller would then be demolished.

Here’s what parents and students get if the PCSSD millage passes:

A large addition to Sylvan Hills High School will make it basically a new school. It will include new classroom space, a new gymnasium and a new approach to, essentially, create a whole new high school. The existing auditorium could be repurposed into a seminar room.

Sylvan Hills Middle School, although recently built, still needs restrooms at the practice and play fields. Sherwood Elementary will get a gym, a cafeteria and new parking.

Sylvan Hills Elementary is slated for additional classrooms, air conditioning in the gym and paved parking. Cato Elementary, with open-space classrooms, could be moved in about three years to the building that currently houses Northwood Middle School, Scott said.

A new Mills High School will be built for about $52 million, with the current high school remodeled and converted to a middle school. Fuller, the existing middle school, would be then demolished.

The Pulaski County district would build the proposed new elementary school to replace Scott and serve a large attendance zone. Harris and College Station elementaries would be extensively remodeled, including new additions.

Landmark and Daisy Bates elementary schools would be gussied up and would each get a gymnasium/multipurpose room.

The district will build a new Robinson High School, converting the current high school to the middle school and demolishing the current middle school. Robinson Elementary School, also an open-space facility, will be demolished and replaced.

Chenal Elementary needs increased parking, and both Baker and Lawson elementaries need gymnasiums and facility improvements. Maumelle High School, the most recently built school in the district, still needs a track, visitors’ bleachers, restrooms, lights on the softball and baseball fields and the conversion of practice fields into game fields, according to Scott.

Maumelle Middle School, also a recent construction, needs restrooms at the athletic fields and air conditioning in the gym. Crystal Hill and Oak Grove elementary schools need gyms and general improvements. Pine Forest, which has a gym, still needs general facility improvements.

If the millage fails, Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District will likely have enough money to implement its own facilities building plan, especially if it approves a millage increase of its own down the road. Residents have always been willing to tax themselves here if they can see benefits for the children.

JNP will qualify for substantial school facilities partnership money, the Defense Department seems on the verge of agreeing to pay 80 percent of the costs of replacing Arnold Drive Elementary and providing as much as 300 acres for that school and a new high school. That’s progress.