Big donations fueled district millage effort
Bentonville bid raised $62,549
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.