DOVER — Superintendent Jerry Owens said he isn’t giving up on trying to get a millage increase passed for the Dover School District, despite a second defeat.
Owens said he will meet Tuesday with officials from the state Department of Education to talk about the next step.
A 3.5-mill increase was narrowly defeated in a Feb. 11 special election.
“It missed by 38 votes, I think. It was close. We were very disappointed,” Owens said.
The vote was 468 against and 430 for the millage increase.
A 5.5-mill increase failed in the annual September school election. Owens said the feedback was negative toward an athletic field house, so it was taken out of the plans.
“I won’t give up because we need this,” Owens said. “We wouldn’t have asked for this if we hadn’t needed it. Our old gym and old middle school are not in good shape, and [we need the increase] for the same reason we stated it before — the safety of our kids,” he said.
Children have to go outside to get to the cafeteria and the physical-education facility, which Owens said “just do not meet standards, and that’s because of the age of them.”
He compared the buildings to an old car that “you put money in, and it’s still an old car. They’re just worn out,” he said. “We’ve still got classrooms that are too small.”
The $10.65 million project calls for adding 26 classrooms to the lower middle school and renovating 10 existing rooms. The plans include a physical-education facility and a separate 3,500-square-foot safe room.
The millage would have been combined with a $4.6 million state partnership grant.
Owens said he has talked to several people who are disappointed that the millage failed.
“The biggest response that I’ve gotten — really the only response I’ve gotten — is, ‘Hey, we really thought it was going to pass, and we probably didn’t get out and work this thing as hard as we should have,’” he said. “That’s speculation. It’s certainly hard to put your finger on it.”
Owens also said the weather was poor during early voting, which may have prevented people from getting out.
The superintendent said he will meet Tuesday with Chuck Stein, director of the Arkansas Department of Education Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation.
Terry Granderson, assistant director of that division, will be involved, too.
“Basically, we talk about what their immediate needs are if they fail a millage, because basically they’ve expressed a need; they’ve told us, ‘We need this.’ We review their application, we agree they need it, … and we fund it,” he said.
However, it’s a Catch-22 because voters didn’t approve it, Granderson said.
“We talk about, ‘OK, if you can’t find a way to come up with the money and you’re going to have to stay in these existing buildings, what are you going to have to do to bring them up to a warm, safe and dry environment that’s acceptable to the code authority?’” Granderson said.
“We don’t have the code authority, but we have field inspectors, and we’ve taught them to use common sense, and if it doesn’t look safe or look right — the roof is leaking,” then the proper authorities are brought in, he said.
Part of a failed millage, Granderson said, is an explanation from the state about what could happen if corrections aren’t made.
He said an “extreme example” is that the superintendent and board could be removed, and the state would take over the district, but that has never happened.
Granderson said a district cannot have two millage elections in the same calendar year and must have them seven months apart.
“The earliest they can do it is January of next year,” he said.
“They failed their second one; we’re just going to meet with them and see what we can figure out,” Granderson said.
Owens said the district has 16 months from when the grant was awarded in May to use the $4.6 million state partnership funds.
“So that means November 2015, we need to have a contract in hand. That’s not going to happen, so the next step is, can we get an extension on that? Before we’re going to be able to get an extension, they’re going to want to know what’s going to be different this time before they allow us to have a third [election],” Owens said.
“We showed great progress with this, 38 votes.”
He said the district can ask for an extension of the deadline to use the state funds.
“They’re great to work with. They’re not out to get us; they’re out to help us,” Owens said of the education department.
“If we’re not able to [approve a millage], we’re going to have to meet the deficiencies, and they’re going to have to be met with operating funds,” Owens said.
“That means money for teachers’ salaries, computers, buses, other things we operate our school on, and that puts a long-term strain on the district,” he said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.