No More Foolin’ for Schoolin’
Brick by current policy does not give political endorsements. Now that the Fayetteville School District’s high school plan is set for a public vote, in about 10 days, all I should do is create a nice neutral analysis. Yawn.
Better: Just lay out some facts, in a smirk-free zone.
The Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009, election — with absentee or early voting beginning Tuesday, Sept. 8 — is to choose up or down: To increase property taxes within the Fayetteville School District by 4.9 mills** to finance construction of a new high school on the site of the current Fayetteville High.
The above paragraph is stated in some form in every news article. (More information can be obtained by searching the Web sites of the two news-gathering organizations: nwanews.com and nwaonline.com.) What voters will see on the ballot, though, does not mention the high school.
Really. It is a summary of where the new tax money will go, in broad terms: You can link, but see it now:
School Millage: 47.8 Mill School Tax: The total rate proposed above includes the uniform rate of tax to be collected on all taxable property in the State and remitted to the State Treasurer pursuant to Amendment No. 74 to the Arkansas Constitution to be used solely for aintenance and operation of schools in the State. The total proposed school tax levy of 47.8 mills includes 25.0 mills specifically voted for general maintenance and operation, 17.9 mills voted for debt service previously voted as a continuing levy pledged for the retirement of existing bonded indebtedness, and 4.9 new debt service mills. The 4.9 new debt service mills plus the 17.9 existing debt service mills, which debt service mills will continue after the retirement of the bonds to which now pledged, will be a continuing debt service tax until the retirement of proposed bonds to be issued in the principal amount of up to $115,825,000 and which will mature over a period of up to 35 years and will be issued for the purpose of erecting and equipping school facilities, and making additions and improvements to existing facilities.The surplus revenues produced each year by debt service millage may be used by the District for other school purposes. The total proposed school tax levy of 47.8 mills represents a 4.9 mill increase over the current tax rate.”
School District officials and School Board members say, according to news reports, that estimates for the project range $110 million to $115 million. The high school would add ninth-graders. The maximum student population would be 3,000. [I’ve found nothing about parking for the increased number of teen drivers or improved street access to smooth traffic congestion.] Officials intend for the structure to be “green,” with LEED Silver certification, which at $350,000 of the $110 million is inexpensive. As the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported in June: “The new high school will be constructed on the existing 40-acre site adjacent to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, using five ‘small learning communities’ housed in separate buildings to make a large high school seem small.”
(The best summary so far comes from the article “School Could Be Costliest in State, Building Carries $110 Million tag,” in the June 29, 2009, Democrat-Gazette. Other facts are well-compiled in the Demzette’s July 10, 2009 editorial, “Questions to Answer, About the Most Expensive High School Ever.” If you don’t pay the online fee, you might have to hit a library to read back issues.)
The thing is, the bits about the ninth-graders moving up, the five-building cluster, the cost estimate etc., are nowhere on the ballot. You have to trust the hired administrators and elected School Board members to keep their word. Heck, they could change their mind and with the extra revenue, up and add a second high school, like any other growing city.
High schools projects in area cities (data gathered from various news articles in recent months):
- Fayetteville proposed: $110 million (low number, to be optimistic). Up to 3,000 students
- Rogers’ second school: Heritage High, $39 million, completed 2008.* Planned for up to 2,500 students
- Siloam Springs now is adding a second high school, for $53 million
- Springdale’s second school, Har-Ber High, $46 million, completed 2005. Planned for up to 2,500 students
- Bentonville voters in March 2008 rejected a millage increase for projects that included a second high school estimated at $100 million. The high school’s new building was completed in 2003 for $63 million, to hold up to 3,600 students. From the ADG’s June 29, 2009, article: “… no district [in Arkansas] has constructed a school that topped $100 million.”
*Rogers built a new Rogers High several years ago, moved all the teens there, and built Heritage High on the original property. Then students were divided between each, presumably geographically and roughly 50-50. Also, Springdale now is renovating and expanding its original high school, while classes are in session.
While Fayetteville is not growing as fast as its rival cities, it is getting bigger. If the millage increase passes and school officials do what they plan, how long before they come back and ask for money for a second high school, in a growing part of the city?
Population growth of area cities:
- City ————– 2000 —– 2008 —– % change
- Fayetteville —– 58,047 — 73,372 —- 26.4
- Rogers ———- 38,829 — 56,726 —- 46.1
- Springdale —— 45,798 — 68,180 —- 48.9
- Bentonville —— 19,730 — 35,536 —- 80.1
Proponents including some newspaper editorials say the community supports Fayetteville’s single senior high proposal because it comes from a consensus built on hearings, forums and other public discussion formats. This is a human impossibility. People who attended did not necessarily speak up, and attendees came on their own interest, not selected in a statistically neutral random process. The open debate process is valuable, and much can be gained from it, even planning school growth. But it cannot be called a mandate: It is not democratic, and it is not scientific. The best, the only, democratic voice in this proposal comes from the upcoming yes-or-no vote, even if interpreting the outcome later turns into Olympic-speed ping-pong.
Click here for the pro-proposal PDF sheet by proponents. Thoughtful opposing views can be found among letters to the editors of the newspapers.
In a ham-handed fashion appropriate for Razorback country, I have written several times about this:
These were posted long before the election was called so opinions might be found there. Comments on the big picture I just might be missing are welcome.
**What is a mill? “A mill is one-tenth of a cent, generating $1 of property taxes for every $1,000 of assessed value. A county in Arkansas assesses property at 20 percent of its appraised value, and the assessment is multiplied by the millage rate to determine the taxes owed.”