Voters approved two of the three millage-increase requests in school districts in the River Valley & Ozark Edition coverage area during Tuesday’s school elections.
Danville patrons passed the request soundly; Heber Springs squeaked by with a 20-vote margin; and Dover will have to regroup after patrons defeated the proposed increase.
Dover Superintendent Jerry Owens said Wednesday that he is disappointed that the millage proposal didn’t pass, and he plans to regroup and tweak the proposal.
“It was defeated pretty soundly,” Owens said.
According to unofficial results, the vote was 824 against and 394 for the 5.5-mill property tax increase for the middle school renovation project.
He’s not sure why the proposal was rejected.
“I think it’s premature to say,” Owens said Wednesday.
“I think what we’ll try to do is gather some feedback from our patrons … because they all said there was a need for everything we had.”
The proposal would have funded an approximately $13 million project to add 28 classrooms to the lower elementary school and renovate 10 classrooms. Owens said the plan was to connect the lower middle school, built in 1978, to the fine-arts building and cafeteria to prevent students from having to cross school roads.
The proposal also would have funded a PE/field-house facility attached to the new classrooms, as well as a safe room.
He said the economy could have played a role in the defeat.
“We knew it would be close — 5.5 is a lot of mills,” Owens said, “and maybe with the economy the way it is right now, … that’s one possibility.
“We’ll regroup. As a matter of fact, I’m going to get with our financial advisers this morning and get with the state department again, and we feel like there are more options.”
Owens said the district still has $4.6 million available from the state to utilize for the middle school project, “if we’re able to come back and reorganize this thing in some form or fashion. It’s still going to revolve around the middle school classrooms and so forth, because obviously, that’s always your first priority, to educate. It’s a minor setback, but we’ve got a great community.”
He said the proposal will be tweaked, and there is the possibility of a special election next year.
In Danville, school district patrons approved the proposed millage increase.
According to complete, but unofficial, results, the vote was 293 for the millage increase and 107 against.
“We’re ecstatic,” Superintendent Gregg Grant said Wednesday morning following Tuesday night’s results.
Grant, in his first superintendency, said the vote was better than he expected. “In this day and age and the economy, when you’re asking your patrons to pay a little bit more, … we were hoping for 50 percent plus 1,” he said.
He planned to spend Wednesday and Thursday making phone calls to financial advisers, advertising for a construction manager.
Grant said once construction starts, the project should take about 18 months.
He said he hopes an architect will be chosen, as well as a construction manager, at the October board meeting.
Had the 3.5-millage increase been defeated, “we would have still put a roof on the elementary building; that was something we had to do,” he said. “The other things — we wouldn’t have had a safe room for our community, our school,” he said.
Although Grant said the district didn’t hold a lot of public meetings, “we put out a lot of factual material, what we were going to do, what it was going to cost our patrons,” he said.
“It would take our millage from 31. 5 to 34.5. That’s still going to be the lowest in the county and lower than the state average,” Grant said.
School district patrons will pay an additional $70 a year in property taxes on a $100,000 home.
Heber Springs Superintendent Russell Hester said his headache on Wednesday was not nearly as big as the one he had Tuesday.
Tuesday night’s election was a nail-biter, with the proposal for a 3.4-mill property-tax increase passing by just 20 votes, 591 to 571.
“We felt pretty confident because I don’t think anybody ever organized a
campaign that was negative, that was outright against it,” Hester said.
“Everybody had to weigh their own personal commitments about the amount of money,” he said. “I don’t think anybody questioned the commitment for the kids; it was could they afford it?”
The increase will mean an extra $68 a year in property taxes on a home assessed at $100,000.
“We have a really, really good school board that I think our community supports 100 percent; we just haven’t had anything negative that goes on. We just wish we had a little bit more money in the bank and better facilities.
“Those things will take care of themselves in the next couple of years,” Hester said.
The property-tax increase will fund $12 million in improvements, including a performing-arts complex, the No. 1 priority, Hester said.
It would include a 1,000-seat auditorium.
The band building is crowded, and instruments are stored in various locations, he said. Also, choir and drama students will utilize the building.
Security measures also are part of the proposal, Hester said, including rearranging entrances to the school, and expanding the cafeteria.
He said the cafeteria was built to hold about 200 students comfortably, but enrollment is 525 students in grades nine through 12.
Also needed is an occupational- and physical-therapy building. Those programs are now housed in a portable trailer.
The superintendent said he planned to sit down with Crews & Associates of Little Rock “and make sure we have everything organized to go for a bond sale. Our opinion is, the sooner you can get to the front of the line selling bonds, the better it is.”
He said the first step will be to get with the financial advisers to get the paperwork completed, look at interest rates and sell the bonds.
“The next step is to give the architect an OK to start bearing down on their drawings and their plans,” he said.
The 1,000-seat auditorium, “from the time you turn dirt to the time you finish,” will take about 1 1/2 years, Hester said.
Plans have to be approved by the Arkansas Department of Education, and bids must be obtained.
“It’d be nice if we could start late summer, early fall,” he said.
Hester said he thinks the auditorium will be a great addition to the community.
“Our community is such a growing and good community, the auditorium, we feel, is really going to benefit our town because there’s nowhere to bring in entertainers and gather.
“It’s not the Heber Springs School District building — because the people pay for it and help us build it, so we’re going to try to be good neighbors [and share it],” he said. “We want them to feel like they have some input in that and that they have some ownership in that.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.