School Tax Tables

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 Continue reading

Three School Monte

Copyright 2008 Ben S. Pollock

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — With a maneuver some describe as canny, the Greenland School District annexed Fayetteville Public Schools, officials with both announced Wednesday morning.

The new body will be called the Greater Greenland School District and will use the facilities and personnel of both. Thus, three high schools will educate teens and entertain athletics-loving voters for at least the rest of the decade.

The Arkansas Department of Education had the Greenland district on its short list to be dissolved, with its 930 students to start attending schools in adjacent districts, of which Fayetteville’s is the largest. The state was to issue specifics later in July.

“Numbers, schmumbers,” said state Education Commissioner Ken James. “However you guys bring in the money and bring up the scores, we’re in business. I don’t want to know how.”

The state steps in when districts are unable to budget enough resources, particularly money, to properly educate students according to state and federal standards. Greenland’s troubles mainly are financial, yet its voters approving a property tax increase in June was found by the Education Department to be likely too little, too late. Neither was the agency impressed that the Greenland School Board fired Ronald Brawner as superintendent that same month.

Fayetteville Public Schools is fine financially — it desperately wants to build a new high school to replace its current one, which is merely overcrowded. The state has no plans to shut down this district, although the home of the flagship campus of the University of Arkansas is facing a bureaucrat shortage. Superintendent Bobby New is retiring in a year, and recruiting a replacement has stalled. Assistant Superintendent Randy Willison just resigned, to take the top job at nearby Prairie Grove. School Board member John Delap is resigning. Also, teachers are fleeing Fayetteville.

Greenland is a small district in otherwise fairly well-to-do Washington County (by Arkansas standards). The Fayetteville district has been seen as most likely to acquire most or all of its students. In a statement of solidarity with Greenland, its board resolved to oppose annexation. Critics said, however, that urban Fayetteville thinks it has enough problems without adding the commuter town’s to it, implying the lone high school renovation or relocation project.

Then a local patron of the community saw the annexation, actually a reverse-merger, would solve the high school issue. Continue reading

Hog in a Poke

Copyright 2008 Ben S. Pollock

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — “So Crystal, you were there in Morrilton this morning?

“Looking for a good price on Petit Jean ham, but all I could find were University of Arkansas trustees. Saw them going for the poke as well as the pig.”

“That may have been the sale of the century,” I said, “the 21st century, and we have 92 years to go.”

The famous Fayetteville philanthropist Crystal Britches flew her helicopter to the west-central Arkansas town where UA System trustees were holding a regularly scheduled meeting, to which this week was added the Fayetteville School District’s offer of its high school for $59 million. The forecast threatened storms so she wore her eponymous rain gear, but over khaki shorts and a BBBBQ T-shirt due to the June heat.

Today, the UA System countered at $50 million. In a season of budget crunches, this is a lot of money, but UA-Fayetteville suggested paying for the 56-year-old building sitting on 40 acres with student fees.

And also by leasing the property back to the district.

Crystal Britches, unlike most of the area’s other royalty, is honest about the price her infrequent but sizable donations carry: her opinion. The more famous ones — your Waltons, Hunts, Walkers, Blairs — have the organizations figure out what’s in their best interest, perhaps reserving a seat on the board, being on the quick-dial of the executive director, and naming privileges — but Britches drops her name from the deal in exchange for outspokenness. Nonprofits have to be pretty desperate Continue reading

Schools Daze

Copyright 2008 Ben S. Pollock

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — Fayetteville philanthropist Crystal Britches didn’t understand. Not my newspaper nor the other one nor any TV station quoted her remarks at a public hearing held a month ago by the Future of Fayetteville High School Select Committee II. Maybe she showed up at the wrong meeting — was it the Future of Fayetteville High School Select Committee I? Maybe the Deselected Committee, or the alumni’s Fayetteville High School Any Old Goat Committee, but that one is up to CXXXIV.

The school’s current building, adjacent to the University of Arkansas, is overcrowded with some 1,900 students. Crystal, and perhaps other people, thought the solution was obvious, build a second high school. North Little Rock, population 58,896 (U.S. Census, 2006) has two, and for 40 years so has Fort Smith, 83,461. If you’re wondering, Rogers has 52,181 people and Bentonville 32,049.

“Rival Springdale just added a second high school,” Crystal reminded me. She waited a month before contacting Brick, hoping her speech would by now have shown up on the cable local channel. “Springdale’s population is 63,082. The Rogers and Bentonville school districts have been reported to be studying the construction of second secondary schools. These three communities are not talking about any apparent loss of academic quality or sport conference rank, from halving the student body. And you know how rivalrous they are.”

“Fayetteville, though no precise poll has been conducted, is said to want only one high school, a mega one,” I told her. She knew this of course. It’s reported over and over again; any Internet news search using “Fayetteville AR high school” will give you lots of copy. Only a reporter for a non-local weekly has asked the two-campus question. Crystal and I sat on a bench at the downtown Square. It was a Tuesday, and the Farmers Market had few booths and few customers, because of the earliness of the season (few crops yet ripe) and all the rain. Ms. Britches had walked here, and due to the threatening weather wore the clear-plastic rain gear that provides her name.

The one-school concept for the teenage children of Fayetteville’s 68,726 overall population has two sides. Incredibly, each includes some of the city’s and university’s best. Each has Web sites. The build-from-scratch group is Students First. The other wants to renovate and expand on or near the current campus, Build Smart.

“I must’ve been at the wrong sessions. They were old goats like me, and these two organizations’ members are mostly parent age. They can move and shake. Want to hear what I said?” Continue reading

High School Musical Chairs

Monday night, according to each of the area newspapers, the Fayetteville School Board met in workshop formation and apparently informally agreed with the recommendation of Superintendent Bobby New about the best solution for the ever-more-crowded Fayetteville High School. He favors building on to the current facility. He said a second option, building an entirely new and larger high school, was stalled because the most likely buyer of the current campus, the University of Arkansas, wasn’t ready to make an offer.

This debate has been continuing for months. Early on an Option C was considered, but no one brings it up any more, not administrators like New, not School Board members or municipal officials either and not columnists and editorialists.

Option C: Building a second high school while keeping this one. It’s not as if this is a revelation. Until recently, FHS had a sister, West Campus, Continue reading