School officials answer voters
“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.
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.