School of­fi­cials an­swer vot­ers

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - FRONT PAGE - AN­NETTE BEARD abeard@nwadg.com

“The fu­ture is bright in Pea Ridge,” school su­per­in­ten­dent Rick Neal said, as he greeted the au­di­ence at last week’s School In­vest­ment In­for­ma­tional meet­ing.

Neal, as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent Keith Martin and board mem­bers John Dye and Jeff Neil an­swered ques­tions from vot­ers af­ter Kelsey Smith pre­sented graphs and charts ex­plain­ing the need for the re­quested 3.9 ad­di­tional mills.

“The peo­ple are a part of this com­mu­nity — they’re the rea­son it’s thriv­ing,” Neal said. “A qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion cre­ates a qual­ity com­mu­nity.”

Last fall, the School Board re­quested an in­crease of 5.1 mills and vot­ers re­jected the re­quest.

“The board got to­gether; we re­ally lis­tened,” Neal said. “We feel like we didn’t do a good job.”

He said one com­plaint dur­ing the last mill­age elec­tion was about in­creased traf­fic at West Pick­ens and Hay­den roads and the pro­posed con­struc­tion of a high school on Hay­den Road. Now, the school has the pos­si­bil­ity of trad­ing land with RLP Con­struc­tion — 20 acres on Hazel­ton

for the ball fields on It’ll Do Road.

“Noth­ing will hap­pen if this doesn’t pass,” Neal ex­plained. “We have the op­por­tu­nity to build for 48 cents on the dol­lar one more time.”

“The cost of con­struc­tion goes up ev­ery year,” he said.

There is $10.6 mil­lion in school part­ner­ship funds avail­able from the State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion to pay for the new high school on Hazel­ton Road if vot­ers ap­prove the 3.9 mill­age in­crease. The state has a list of re­quire­ments of what must be in­cluded in a new high school and school of­fi­cials said they’re work­ing cre­atively to meet those re­quire­ments and the needs of the com­mu­nity.

A 2,000-seat ca­pac­ity multi-func­tional event cen­ter is planned as part of the new high school.

The cur­rent high school, built in 1999, had 281 stu­dents in it the first year. This year, there are 680 stu­dents there in ninth through 12th grade. If the mill­age re­quest is ap­proved, school of­fi­cials pro­pose re­con­fig­ur­ing the grades in the cur­rent build­ings and hous­ing 10th through 12th grade at the new high school.

The Pri­mary School, which has a ca­pac­ity for 750 stu­dents, would con­tinue to house kinder­garten through third grade. The In­ter­me­di­ate School would house third and fourth grades; the Mid­dle School would house fifth and sixth grade; and the cur­rent high school would be­come the ju­nior high hous­ing seventh through ninth grades.

“We have to be real creative in how you spend the money and use space,” Neal said. “We’re try­ing to be very, very good stew­ards of the money. If we don’t build it, you’re never go­ing to see that op­por­tu­nity come back again … it’s a long shot of the district be­ing able to in­ter­nally fi­nance some­thing of that mag­ni­tude.”

“We stretch the dol­lar as much as we po­ten­tially can,” he said.

One voter asked about the 15 acres pur­chased by the district last year.

“The 15 acres doesn’t give enough room to build a high school; we need a min­i­mum of 20,” Jeff Neil, School Board mem­ber, said.

The part­ner­ship funds are one thing that al­lows the district to build for half the cost, School Board mem­ber John Dye ex­plained.

“That money’s not sit­ting there for­ever,” Dye said. “It re­ally is eye open­ing when we see dis­tricts in less for­tu­nate sit­u­a­tions than we are. We ap­plied for the funds early and were in a proac­tive sit­u­a­tion. If you could see other dis­tricts, some are re­ally hurt­ing, strug­gling.”

“Al­most ev­ery project we’ve got was built with part­ner­ship money,” Keith Martin, as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent, said. “We’ve done a great job as a com­mu­nity max­i­miz­ing the part­ner­ship money.”

Todd Ludtke, an area res­i­dent, said: “One of the main rea­sons I like to live here, is be­cause it is a bed­room com­mu­nity.”

Other ques­tions and an­swers in­cluded:

Q: Would the new high school have room to ex­pand?

A: Yes, that’s the beauty of what we did at the Pri­mary, pro­vid­ing wings on which to add on, Neal.

Q: What about in­creased traf­fic on Charles Street?

A: Right now there are 490 cars a day on Charles Street; we added a three-way stop and will eval­u­ate, Nathan See, city Street Depart­ment su­per­in­ten­dent, said.

Q: Why isn’t it just prop­erty own­ers vot­ing?

A: Prop­erty in­cludes real es­tate and per­sonal prop­erty; state law says any reg­is­tered voter liv­ing in the district may vote, Neil said.

Q: What caused the schools to get so over­crowded?

A: Peo­ple like you and me mov­ing here, Neil said.

Q: Doesn’t it have to do with kids com­ing here who don’t live here?

A: State law re­quires us to ac­cept stu­dents un­less that grade is full, Neil said.

Q: What about ex­emp­tions for senior ci­ti­zens?

A: Pos­si­ble ex­emp­tions for prop­erty val­ues to not in­crease, Neil said.

Q: Do we have to reg­is­ter again, like last time?

A: Once you’re reg­is­tered to vote, you don’t have to reg­is­ter again, Neil said.

Q: Can more than one per­son in house­hold vote?

A: All reg­is­tered vot­ers can vote, Neil.

Q: What’s the time line? A: If it passes, six to seven months of plan­ning, then ap­proval of Arkansas Fa­cil­i­ties Di­vi­sion, pos­si­ble Au­gust 2018 to start con­struc­tion, Neal said.

Q: What are we do­ing to at­tract in­dus­try?

A: That’s not within the purview of the School District, Neal said.

Q: What’s the es­ti­mated cost?

A: The 3.9 mills should bring in $9.6 mil­lion and to­tal con­struc­tion cost should be $20.3 mil­lion, Keith Martin said.

TIMES pho­to­graph by An­nette Beard

Stephanie Ko­touc was one of sev­eral district res­i­dents to ask ques­tions at last week’s School District In­vest­ment In­for­ma­tional meet­ing at­tended by more than 100 peo­ple.

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