It would be best if voters in the Little Rock School District not learn first at the polling place of the ballot proposal for extending a school millage for 18 years to raise hundreds of millions of dollars.
You should know going in whether you're for that or against it, not that I'm certain by any means.
It's not a proposal of immediate taxpayer effect, and it's never a tax increase. It would extend the current millage levy from 2033 to 2051, and permit low-interest borrowing now against the longer-term cash flow of that extension.
The proposal was a late addition to the ballot, put there at the apparent personal direction of state education commissioner Johnny Key. He is a one-man Little Rock school board--the Little Rock school czar--while the state asserts control of the Little Rock schools, which is one of the problems.
He referred the issue because financial advisers said the time was right with interest rates so low that it's conceivable the district could take on new debt that would be cheaper than current debt, leaving more proceeds for capital improvements.
He also did so because the state, after all, is sort of relinquishing its hold to local control next year. But that the local control will be less than full, at least initially.
There are things the new school board to be elected in November can't do, and the state is reserving the right to call the whole thing off if the new board has its own idea. That's another of the problems.
Approval would let the school district get started now on ... something of which we can't be certain, since the local school board won't be in place until next year and, anyway, the state is still hovering with its hand on the plug ready for pulling.
Superintendent Michael Poore has laid out wise and appropriate proposed capital expenditures, including a new school for grades 1-8 at the McClellan High site, security improvements, HVAC upgrades and technology advancements. But he'll need the new board to sign off on that. And presumably we'll need Johnny Key to sign off if the local board changes anything that Poore had proposed.
Some are saying it's a pretty good rule of thumb that a proposal is a dud if both the conservative, pro-charter editorials of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the liberal blog posts of the Arkansas Times oppose this proposal--basically on the same core argument though from diametric positions. That core argument is that we can't know yet what we're getting for the money.
But I've talked with public-school supporters of pristine local-control bona fides who see space between that right and left.
They say the schools need the interest-rate advantage of the long-term revenue now no matter the outcome of board elections or conceivable fights with the state about what gets done with the money.
They say we can fight those policy fights if and when they arise, but that Little Rock patrons are hurting only their schools if they vote for a second time to reject a favorable financial climate so they can send another message for local control to spite Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Johnny Key.
So: Should we take this favorable financial opportunity to raise substantial long-term sums for our schools even with uncertainties, or should we wait and tie our money to clarity if and when the state lets Little Rock have its public schools back for real?
There is no right or wrong answer. Both sides of the question entail good thinking and good intention.
I'd say it's six of one and a half-dozen of the other, except, right now, at this moment, I'm thinking it's seven-to-five to wait to know a little about more for certain about who leads us and toward what end before we re-up for another 18 years.
The state is going to have to back away entirely at some point and give up its underlying purpose to destroy the Little Rock teacher union. Surely.
But the extension is the right thing at any time and the price is right at the moment.
I could go on like this, from one hand to the other, but you get the idea and it's in your hands now.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.