The Citizens Against Taxation Without Representation organization on Friday delivered to the Pulaski County Courthouse a petition signed by 320 people conveying their opposition to the Little Rock School District's plan to pay for school construction and improvements with second-lien bonds.
"While a new high school is desirable, its construction should not jeopardize necessary programs," former Pulaski County Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey said on the courthouse steps. He made the comments in advance of about 25 members of the No Taxation group submitting the petition to the Pulaski County clerk's office.
Humphrey advocated for a "pay-as-you-go" system for financing school construction instead of second-lien bonds, which would increase the district's current annual debt obligations for the next 16 years without requiring a public vote of approval.
"Pay-as-you-go is preferable for [the Little Rock School District] given the uncertainty of the future level of state funding," he said, "because the Arkansas Board of Education continues to approve the expansion of charter schools, where increased student enrollment reduces the amount the state grants [to the district]."
Little Rock Superintendent Mike Poore said later Friday that he had received a copy of the petition and would review it. He said he anticipates the district will proceed with its application to the Arkansas Board of Education in August for approval to sell the bonds to investors.
The district is proposing to issue the second-lien bonds that do not require approval by voters as an alternative to an earlier plan to extend the levy of 12.4 tax mills by 14 years to raise construction funds. Voters rejected the tax extension plan at a May 9 special election.
As for what happens with the petition in opposition to the bonds, Pulaski County Attorney Adam Fogleman said Friday it would be up to the school district to request from the Pulaski County clerk's office "anything filed in the matter."
Fogleman cited as guidance the language from the minutes of a June 21, 1982 state Board of Education meeting.
The Education Board at that meeting unanimously approved a resolution calling for the published notice of a potential second-lien bond issue by a school district and a 14-day waiting period for any petitions of opposition.
The Education Board and the Department of Education staff had at the time, as noted in the minutes, observed a growing reliance by school districts on second-lien bond issues, which do not require voter approval.
The procedure established in the Education Board's resolution was a means of giving the public formal notice of a district's intent to issue second-lien bonds and "their purpose and the source of funds for repayment."
Second-lien bonds are repaid using the surplus revenue from property tax levies approved by voters for earlier, different bond issues.
The resolution in the minutes states that "The district shall ... furnish a Statement of the County Clerk certifying that no petitions have been filed objecting to the proposed sale of bonds in said County Court within 14 days."
The actual resolution did not address how many signatures on a petition would be necessary to stop a second-lien bond issue.
The minutes, however, showed that there was board discussion about requiring a number equal to 20 percent of the number of voters in the last general election or in the last school election. Education Department staff were reported in the minutes as saying that the 20 percent figure should be used as an indication of opposition "and that a further study might be in order."
Lori Freno, an attorney for the state Education Department, has said that a petition will not create an automatic bar to a bond issue.
Jim Ross, a former Little Rock School Board member and part of the No Taxation group, said Friday that the petition in opposition to the Little Rock plan to raise $92,055,000 with the second-lien bonds means the district won't get a "no-petition certificate" from the Pulaski County clerk's office to give to the state Education Board.
"Beyond that, there are no rules," Ross said. "This is being made up by the Arkansas Department of Education as they go along."
Humphrey on Friday called it a "major source of concern for us" that state Education Commissioner Johnny Key and Poore have not developed and presented a long-term financial plan for the district. He said a 10-year plan for financing the district's operation would be useful.
He also called for the return of the state-controlled district to the governance of a locally elected school board.
Anika Whitfield, a member of the No Taxation group, said the state education leaders have done little in the past to communicate with district patrons.
"We're hoping that they will hear from us this time ... that we do not want to be ignored. We do not want to be betrayed," she said.
State Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, who is also active in the No Taxation group, called Key's recent approval of the Little Rock district's application to issue the second-lien bonds "a process problem."
Key acts in place of a school board in the state-controlled district.
"There would be no school board in this state that would meet in the evening on a Friday... without talking to the people about what is in progress here. That does not happen in a real democracy, which we do not have anymore," Elliott said.
Metro on 07/08/2017
Print Headline: Group asks LR district to drop plan for bonds