Rogers School Board mulls mill­age in­crease, elec­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DAVE PEROZEK

ROGERS — School Board mem­bers met for over an hour Thurs­day to con­tinue pon­der­ing a mill­age elec­tion, but didn’t reach a con­sen­sus on how much of a tax in­crease they should seek.

The board ap­pears likely to re­quest at least 2.9 ad­di­tional mills, which of­fi­cials said would pay for con­struc­tion of two ele­men­tary schools, tech­no­log­i­cal up­grades and var­i­ous op­er­a­tional ex­penses across the School Dis­trict.

The re­quest could be as much as 4.2 mills if the board de­cides it also needs a fifth mid­dle school.

No date has been set for the elec­tion yet, but dis­cus­sion has fo­cused mainly on May 9. If a May elec­tion is to hap­pen, the board must com­mit to that by its next meet­ing Tues­day.

The Ben­tonville School Dis­trict is al­ready set to hold a mill­age elec­tion on May 9. Ben­tonville will re­quest 1.9 mills for new schools and other needs.

On Thurs­day, Su­per­in­ten­dent Mar­lin Berry pro­vided the board a 22- page packet con­tain­ing dis­trict en­roll­ment num­bers, fi­nan­cial fig­ures and other in­for­ma­tion rel­e­vant to growth in Rogers and the sur­round­ing re­gion.

Rogers ex­pe­ri­enced an un­ex­pected en­roll­ment spike this school year, forc­ing the board to re-eval­u­ate its fa­cil­ity plans. En­roll­ment at the ele­men­tary school level — grades kinder­garten through five — has grown by 334 stu­dents since the start of the 2015-16 school year.

Growth is strong­est in the south­west part of the dis­trict. The growth has been such that more than 110 chil­dren have been trans­ferred out of the school for which they are zoned, Berry said.

“There is no guar­an­tee right now that you get to go to that school down the street,” he said.

There are 15 ele­men­tary class­rooms avail­able across the dis­trict, but 10 of the 15 ele­men­tary schools have no empty class­rooms, ac­cord­ing to dis­trict of­fi­cials.

Whether the dis­trict needs an­other mid­dle school was one of the pri­mary dis­cus­sion points Thurs­day.

Rogers has 3,455 stu­dents in its four mid­dle schools. That’s 900 fewer than the schools’ com­bined ideal ca­pac­ity and 2,000 fewer than ca­pac­ity, ac­cord­ing to the prin­ci­pals’ cal­cu­la­tions.

Board mem­ber Amy Horn said a big con­cern among her neigh­bors with ele­men­tary-age chil­dren is whether there will be enough room for them at their neigh­bor­hood mid­dle school.

The owner of a $200,000 home would pay an ad­di­tional $ 116 per year for a 2.9- mill in­crease or an ad­di­tional $ 167 for a 4.2- mill in­crease.

“When you’re look­ing long term, it’s not re­ally that much ex­tra money” for the 4.2 mills, Horn said.

Jake Haak, the dis­trict’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, pro­jected the next two ele­men­tary schools would cost $35 mil­lion to build and a mid­dle school would cost $24 mil­lion.

He warned while the dis­trict’s ex­penses — pri­mar­ily salaries and ben­e­fits — con­tinue to in­crease, the state isn’t re­im­burs­ing school dis­tricts at a com­pa­ra­ble rate.

The amount of money the state gives dis­tricts each year on a per-stu­dent ba­sis cov­ers a va­ri­ety of ex­penses, but doesn’t in­clude money for fa­cil­i­ties, Haak said.

Berry, when asked if he had a rec­om­men­da­tion on the mill­age re­quest, said he was lean­ing to­ward the lower re­quest of 2.9 mills and com­ing back to vot­ers for a mid­dle school when­ever the

need for one be­comes more ap­par­ent.

The dis­trict’s mill­age rate is 38.4, the sec­ond- low­est rate in North­west Ar­kan­sas. The rate would re­main in the lower half among the re­gion’s dis­tricts even if Rogers re­quests and re­ceives 4.2 more mills.

Kris­ten Cobbs, board pres­i­dent, said after the meet­ing she hadn’t de­cided what kind of mill­age re­quest the dis­trict should pur­sue.

“I think what was im­por­tant about tonight is that we all got re­ally good in­for­ma­tion,” Cobbs said. “We can go home and re­ally think about it and come back to the ta­ble Tues­day and talk about what we’ve learned. Be­cause you go into some­thing like this study ses­sion and you have some pre­con­ceived no­tions, but then you hear some re­ally good ar­gu­ments. So I think we got re­ally good in­for­ma­tion.”

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