In the realm of public education, policy decisions are rarely simple. In fact, since joining the Little Rock School Board less than a year ago, I have been faced with some of the most difficult choices I could have imagined.
There is one issue, however, that is not just simple, it is a bona fide no-brainer: supporting an extension of the current LRSD millage so that the district can restructure its debt and generate approximately $300 million to improve school facilities without raising anyone's taxes.
Our school board, which now consists of nine elected representatives from all over the city, voted unanimously to place this issue on the ballot and approve a list of building and improvement projects that the millage extension will fund. Now it is up to you, the voters, to show up to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 2, and make it a reality. Here is what your vote will accomplish.
First, we will completely rebuild McClellan High School to create a stunning and long-overdue K-8 facility that will replace Cloverdale Middle School. We have a moral and legal obligation to focus on this project first, and since the architectural design and planning have already been completed, we are ready to break ground as soon as a successful millage extension provides funding.
The millage extension will also fund an assortment of much-needed and transformative improvements across the district, including a beautiful new performing arts center at Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School. Parkview is central Arkansas' premier performing arts school, and its students deserve to finally have a state-of-the-art facility to showcase their amazing talents.
Voting for the millage extension will also pay for a new auditorium and field house at Central High, as well as removal of the portable classrooms currently in use behind Central. Next, it would fund important upgrades to school roofs, playground equipment, lighting, flooring, and parking lots across the district. These maintenance projects may not sound exciting, but they are vital and necessary so that our students have warm, safe, and dry school buildings that they can be proud of.
Voting yes on Nov. 2 will also allow us to finally build a new zoned high school in west Little Rock that could serve up to 1,200 students. West Little Rock residents have pushed for such a school for more than a decade, and it makes sense for the district to meet this growing need in order to maintain healthy enrollment numbers across the city. West Little Rock is an area of rapid population growth where our elementary and middle schools are at capacity, but the district currently loses students at the high school level because we don't offer a traditional zoned high school with sports and extracurriculars that is conveniently located for those families.
The biggest thing that makes supporting this millage extension such an easy decision is the fact that it will not raise anyone's taxes. This is an extension of the current millage; we are simply asking voters to keep today's tax rate in place for a longer period of time. If approved, such an extension will allow us to restructure our debt in order to take advantage of favorable interest rates in the same way that so many homeowners are currently refinancing their mortgages.
It is simply a smart business decision that will generate significant money for the school district without raising taxes, but in order to do this, we need voters to go to the polls and give us permission.
In the past, there has been opposition to similar proposals for an LRSD millage extension because the district was under state control and lacked a locally elected school board. Now, not only do we have a strong and highly engaged school board, LRSD was fully released from "Level 5 Intensive Support" in July, and the state's "guardrails" were lifted after we demonstrated that the district is on the right track academically and financially.
Our school board has been in place less than a year, but in that time we have not only gotten the district out of state control, we have taken bold steps to keep our students and employees safe from covid-19 and have budgeted for a significant three-year pay raise for our teachers.
Moreover, due to the recent census and an obscure law governing school-board elections, it appears that all nine of the LRSD board members will be up for re-election in 2022, meaning that democracy will provide an important check on how the district is run and how the funds generated through a successful millage extension are spent.
The bottom line is that this vote is one of the very rare topics in public education that is truly simple. By voting yes, you can help generate a huge amount of money to improve our public schools without raising anyone's taxes. Please vote yes on Tuesday! Learn more at LRSDnext.org.
Ali Noland is an elected member of the Little Rock School Board representing Zone 5.