Friday, February 17, 2017

TOP STORY >> PCSSD pushes bold Sylvan Hills campus

Leader senior staff writer

Sylvan Hills High School would get a new campus if voters in the Pulaski County Special School District extend the current millage rate for another 13 years in a special election May 9.

Under the proposal, the campus would be redrawn with an extensive new classroom and administration offices near the entry from Dee Jay Hudson Drive and would include a new auditorium, arena and multipurpose facility.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected a 5.6-mill property tax increase in November.

The school board Tuesday night voted unanimously to put the 14.8-mill debt service extension before those voters to raise $65 million to expand the existing Sylvan Hills High School in the face of rapidly increasing enrollment.

If voters approve the extension, the district will retire that bonded debt with annual payments of about $2.5 million over the next $30 years.

The district has built $100 million Maumelle Middle School/High School and is currently building new high schools or middle schools at Robinson in the west and Mills/Fuller in the southeast.

The language on the ballot will not tie it to any particular project, but it is clearly intended for Sylvan Hills expansion.

PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess showed the board his proposed budget, which must cut $20.7 million from last year’s $154.5 million budget because 2016-2017 is the last for the state to send the district desegregation funds. It will make one final payment for 2017-2018 stipulated for facilities building or improvement.

Guess said the district had been downsizing for several years to allow for the end of desegregation funds and also for Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District to claim about 25 percent of the students for its own district.

He said he still must find about $52,000 in cuts. Much of the savings has come from staff and payroll reduction over the years, since the state declared PCSSD to be in fiscal distress and took it over in 2011.

Among savings going forward, the district will significantly cut back on its much-lauded Scholars Program, which has apparently lost effectiveness over the past few years, according to Dr. Janice Walker.

Many parents and teachers came to support the existing Scholars Program, the block schedule that has supported it and transportation needed. Cutting the transportation alone would reduce the budget by about $400,000.

PCSSD’s 2017-18 budget is projected to be $123,166,515 with a legal-fund balance of $16,015,711, which is about 13 percent of the budget.

The declining legal-fund balance–that used to be called carryover–was high among the reasons PCSSD was declared to be in fiscal distress and taken over by the state. At that time it had a legal fund balance of about $4 million and was projected to be in the red the following year.

Proposed cuts from the 2016-17 budget include 49 central office staff and extra principal payment on bonds, $10.8 million; JNPSD’s share of desegregation revenue, $4.7 million; balance transfers to JNPSD, $2.9 million; Donaldson Scholars program, $3.33 million; magnet school tuition, $1 million; transportation charges, $831,000; defer new bus purchases, $1.2 million; ALC staffing, $637,706; cut instructional facilitators by half, $1 million; secondary school staff reduction, $800,000; redistribution in school improvement specialists, $305,500; reduction in support staff, $841,986; maintenance of effort, $300,000.

The debt payment would increase by $1.032 million.