Big do­na­tions fu­eled dis­trict mill­age ef­fort

Bentonville bid raised $62,549

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

Do­na­tions to­tal­ing more than $60,000 fu­eled the suc­cess­ful cam­paign for the Bentonville School Dis­trict’s mill­age in­crease in May.

Vote Yes for Schools 2017 raised $62,549, about 80 per­cent of which came from six donors. The cam­paign com­mit­tee spent $58,845, ac­cord­ing to its last fi­nance re­port filed June 14.

Jim Wal­ton of Bentonville gave $10,000, as did Flintco and Ara­mark, two com­pa­nies that do busi­ness or have done busi­ness with the dis­trict. Flintco is a con­struc­tion com­pany that built West High School. Ara­mark just en­tered the fifth year of a five-year con­tract as the dis­trict’s food ser­vice provider.

Hight Jackson As­so­ciates, an ar­chi­tec­tural firm based in Rogers, and Milestone Con­struc­tion Co. of Spring­dale both con­trib­uted $7,500. Cross­land Con­struc­tion Co., based in Colum­bus, Kan., and Nab­holz Con­struc­tion Co., based in Con­way, both gave $5,000.

Life­touch Na­tional School Stu­dios, a pho­tog­ra­phy firm based in Eden Prairie, Minn., do­nated $3,000.

Most do­na­tions from in­di­vid­u­als came from peo­ple as­so­ci­ated ei­ther with the dis­trict or city of Bentonville, cam­paign fi­nance re­ports show. Su­per­in­ten­dent

Deb­bie Jones gave $500. Board mem­ber Eric White, who led the cam­paign, also gave $500.

Board mem­bers Matt Burgess gave $300 and Re­becca Pow­ers and Brent Leas each con­trib­uted $100. Mayor Bob McCaslin and Al­der­men Oc­tavio Sanchez and Chris Sooter gave $100 each.

Bentonville’s re­quest of a 1.9-mill tax in­crease passed May 9 with 2,847 (65 per­cent) vot­ing in fa­vor to 1,518 (35 per­cent) vot­ing against it, ac­cord­ing to cer­ti­fied re­sults from the Ben­ton County Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. Money raised from the ex­tra mill­age will be used to build four schools over the next five years.

The in­crease pushes Bentonville’s mill­age rate to 48.5, ty­ing it with North Lit­tle Rock for the sec­ond-high­est rate in the state. It will add $38 to res­i­dents’ prop­erty taxes for ev­ery $100,000 of their home’s value start­ing next year.

Vote Yes for Schools 2017 started this year with about $900 left over from the 2013 cam­paign to build the dis­trict’s sec­ond high school, ac­cord­ing to Dana Davis, pres­i­dent of the Greater Bentonville Cham­ber of Com­merce and a cam­paign com­mit­tee mem­ber.

“I think what we found is this com­mu­nity strongly sup­ports this school sys­tem and they want to make sure it re­mains a top school dis­trict, not only within the state but through­out the coun­try,” Davis said.

Davis also was in­volved in the 2013 cam­paign. This year’s cam­paign prob­a­bly made more use of so­cial me­dia than the last one did, he said.

“But I think the strat­egy to get the mes­sage out was to use mul­ti­ple ways to get that mes­sage out,” he said.

The com­mit­tee’s largest ex­pense was a $20,000 fee for con­sult­ing ser­vices paid to Mark Henry of the Henry Law Firm in Fayet­teville.

Much of the rest — about $24,253 — went to­ward ad­ver­tis­ing: $6,889 for tele­vi­sion, $6,065 on mail­ers and mail­ing costs, $4,280 for ra­dio, $2,005 for news­pa­pers, $2,000 for bill­boards, $1,687 on signs and $1,327 for Face­book ad­ver­tise­ments. An­other $4,359 went to­ward a web­site and logo de­sign and op­er­at­ing a web­site, ac­cord­ing to fi­nance re­ports.

Henry helped the Rogers School Dis­trict with its mill­age elec­tion as well, also held May 9. Henry re­ceived $2,500 from the Rogers cam­paign.

Rogers’ re­quest of a 3.5-mill tax in­crease passed with 1,728 (58 per­cent) vot­ing for it and 1,242 (42 per­cent) vot­ing against it. The in­crease will go to­ward con­struc­tion of two el­e­men­tary schools and im­prove­ments to ex­ist­ing schools.

No cam­paign fi­nance re­ports from Fu­ture of Rogers Schools, the com­mit­tee that cam­paigned for the mill­age in­crease, had been posted on the Arkansas Ethics Com­mis­sion’s web­site as of Mon­day. The group’s fi­nal re­port was due to the com­mis­sion June 8, or 30 days af­ter the elec­tion. The com­mis­sion nor­mally posts fi­nance re­ports to its web­site within a day or two af­ter the com­mis­sion re­ceives them, di­rec­tor Gra­ham Sloan said.

Mitch Lock­hart, a Rogers School Board mem­ber who was in charge of the cam­paign, did not re­turn a phone call Mon­day seek­ing com­ment.

Henry at­trib­uted both dis­tricts’ vic­to­ries to the strong lead­er­ship of both school boards and their su­per­in­ten­dents. His main role as con­sul­tant, he said, was to help cam­paign com­mit­tees con­vey a mes­sage con­sis­tent with their dis­trict’s need.

The Bentonville group un­der­stood it had not been long since the dis­trict’s pre­vi­ous mill­age re­quest, “so they had to clearly pitch and ed­u­cate the pub­lic about the ur­gent need,” Henry said.

Henry, a lawyer who spe­cial­izes in in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty cases, has been in­volved in nu­mer­ous ju­di­cial cam­paigns. He helped with the Bentonville dis­trict’s 2013 mill­age cam­paign, for which he also re­ceived $20,000. Dis­tricts need to em­pha­size their money man­age­ment skills when pro­mot­ing mill­age in­creases, he said.

“I be­lieve it’s im­por­tant to say, hey, this is your money, we will use it wisely, and this is ex­actly what it’s for,” Henry said. “And to be clear with the num­bers and be ready to an­swer any ques­tions.”

“It’s just a recog­ni­tion we live in a time where peo­ple are re­ally hurt­ing fi­nan­cially, but their long-term in­ter­est is to have a solid school sys­tem. I be­lieve both Bentonville and Rogers un­der­stand that mes­sage of fis­cal con­ser­vatism.”

The Pea Ridge School Dis­trict asked its res­i­dents for a 5.1-mill tax in­crease on May 9. Vot­ers re­jected the re­quest by a count of 494 (54 per­cent) to 421 (46 per­cent). There was no ef­fort to raise money for the cam­paign, Su­per­in­ten­dent Rick Neal said.

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