Changes in fa­cil­i­ties fund­ing re­quested

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - RACHEL HERZOG

Gov. Asa Hutchin­son told an ad­vi­sory group Tues­day that the state can no longer main­tain its cur­rent level of fund­ing for public school fa­cil­i­ties and asked it to rec­om­mend changes.

“We’ve been go­ing down a path in terms of fa­cil­ity fund­ing that needs to be ad­justed,” Hutchin­son said to the Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee on Public School Aca­demic Fa­cil­i­ties, which met Tues­day.

Since 2006, about $ 3.2 bil­lion has been put to­ward aca­demic space in the state’s tra­di­tional

public school dis­tricts, with $1.1 bil­lion of that from the state. This is the re­sult of a state Supreme Court de­ci­sion, Lake View School Dis­trict No. 25 v. Huck­abee, that de­clared Arkansas’ sys­tem of fund­ing public schools in­equitable, in­ad­e­quate and un­con­sti­tu­tional. The de­ci­sion re­sulted in leg­is­la­tion that cre­ated a part­ner­ship fund­ing agree­ment for fa­cil­i­ties be­tween the school dis­tricts and the state.

But things have changed since 2006, and the av­er­age of about $100 mil­lion put to­ward school build­ings each year is un­sus­tain­able, Hutchin­son said.

“You’ve got to think about how do peo­ple learn to­day dif­fer­ently, and how should fa­cil­i­ties be ad­justed to be more ef­fi­cient in light of how peo­ple learn,” he said. “We can’t sus­tain that ev­ery year af­ter we meet the needs of our state when­ever you take $100 mil­lion of growth money, of new money, and say it’s go­ing in fa­cil­i­ties.”

Brad Mont­gomery, Arkansas Di­vi­sion of Public School Aca­demic Fa­cil­i­ties di­rec­tor, said he has heard the gover­nor rec­om­mend re­struc­tur­ing public school fund­ing since Jan­uary. Though the state’s public schools have come a long way since the Lake View de­ci­sion, Mont­gomery said, some schools still have a ways to go.

“We’ll have to roll up our sleeves and try our best,” he said.

The $ 3.2 bil­lion funded 2,453 projects through­out the state, Mont­gomery said. These in­cluded fix­ing heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing sys­tems, fire alarms, elec­tric­ity, plumb­ing and struc­tural is­sues, as well as build­ing new schools to ac­com­mo­date growth and to re­place out­dated fa­cil­i­ties.

Mont­gomery es­pe­cially re­mem­bered vis­it­ing a new el­e­men­tary school in the Cen­ter­point School Dis­trict in Amity, about an hour and a half south­west of Lit­tle Rock.

“That com­mu­nity is so proud of the el­e­men­tary fa­cil­ity that was built,” he said. “It’s just amaz­ing what a new school build­ing can do for a com­mu­nity. As much as we can, we need to con­tinue that through­out the state.”

In 2006, Mont­gomery said, two pro­grams were al­ready in place be­cause of a 2004 as­sess­ment: an im­me­di­ate re­pair pro­gram for all schools statewide that pro­vided $28 mil­lion and a tran­si­tion pro­gram to ren­o­vate school fa­cil­i­ties for other pur­poses that pro­vided $86 mil­lion.

Now, he said, school dis­tricts in the north­west part of the state are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the most growth, while schools in the south and east need the most main­te­nance work.

Two com­mit­tee mem­bers, Lak­enya Ri­ley and John Hoy, also raised con­cern for schools in the Delta re­gion dur­ing the meet­ing. Ri­ley is a mem­ber of the Strong-Hut­tig School Board and Hoy is the He­lena-West He­lena School Dis­trict su­per­in­ten­dent.

Hoy said that be­cause the state pro­vides school fund­ing based on each school’s wealth in­dex, which takes into ac­count the amount of money al­lot­ted per stu­dent, schools with de­clin­ing en­roll­ment might not re­ceive the state fund­ing they need.

“Our wealth in­dex went up be­cause we lost en­roll­ment, but our stu­dents’ needs didn’t go down,” Hoy said.

Mont­gomery said the com­mit­tee will re­view the part­ner­ship pro­gram as well as the statewide as­sess­ment, wealth in­dex, rank­ing process and rules that deal with fa­cil­ity fund­ing, then de­velop a re­port to pre­sent to the state ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches by July 31, 2018.

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