Highland School District sets special election in hope of increasing millage

By: Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor

The Highland School Board voted at a Dec. 1 special called meeting to hold a special election on Feb. 14 . The District plans to again attempt to get an 8.9 mill increase passed by the voters to build a new high school and performing arts center. The millage failed during the Nov. 8 General Election by a 1357 to 2290 margin.
Highland Superintendent Jeremy Lewis “Obviously we feel like there is a need for a new facility and we feel like safety is a big issue. This is a decision for the next generation or next 30 years or so.”
Lewis “We had a special board meeting on Dec. 1 and the board went back over what happened during the November General Election and voted to come back to the public in February with a special election and ask for this measure again. We feel like there was a lot on the ballot in the General Election. I think considering this as a stand alone measure would be better.”
Kara McEntire said the district reviewed feedback from the General Election and said she felt they have addressed the concerns of the public. “I think we addressed them as we came up, for people to get a better understanding. We tried to get as many people as possible but there is always going to be groups who are misinformed. There is always misinformation out there.” She also encouraged the public to come to them with any questions.
Lewis explained that he wants to make sure everyone makes an informed vote and has the correct information. With information posted on their website and welcomes the public to contact himself, Kara McEntire of John Sinclair with any questions regarding the millage or what it may cost.
“I would just encourage everyone to ensure they have the right information and if they can’t find it, to contact one of us.”
“We think an upgrade to not just the facility itself but to the safety of the overall building to our students is a huge part of this,” Lewis explained. If the district can pass the additional 8.9 mills, the Highland School District will be awarded $6.3 million in partnership from the Commission for Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation for funding to help with building a new high school. In order for the district to receive the funds, they must be able to fund its portion. Highland School District has 1577 students and Lewis explained even if the 8.9 millage were to pass, they would still be below the average.
Prior to the election, the district hosted public meetings. Architectural renderings of the proposed new high school were on display. The district’s millage is currently 30 mills, the third lowest in the state. The state’s uniformed tax rate for school districts is 25 mills with the average across the state 38.93. In 2006, the voters of the district supported a millage increase to construct the A.L. Hutson Center from 28.3 to 30 mills.
The new school will include 38 classrooms ,including science labs, a vo-ag building to replace the current one that is crumbling and braced, a new cafeteria and kitchen, a 900 seat performing arts auditorium for plays and concerts and a library. The parking lot will prevent having to have another lot.
If the millage passes, the new high school will sit between the Hutson Center and Elementary School. The older buildings will be torn down. The state requires these be demolished. The CTE building will become the new Pre-K Center. The current band building will be a maintenance shop and the field house, built in 2012, will also remain.
The state explained to the district there is no option available to them to remodel the building like they have the elementary. The partnership funds can only be utilized for new construction. There are certain areas in the 60 year old building that cannot be repaired or replaced.
Most were concerned with the cost of the millage and a formula was provided at the first public meeting back in September.
In order to calculate the amount the millage will cost taxpayers were advised to multiply the appraised value of property by 20 percent and then by .089 per month. If the millage passes in February, the school moves into a bond sale. The new high school will take 8-10 months to design and 20-24 months to construct the building.
The $24.1 million new high school with performing arts center will be financed, conservatively speaking, at 4.5 percent interest on a 28 year term. Payments will be $1.5 to $1.6 million per year. Lewis explained at the earlier public meetings that the millage would only cover the cost of construction, but not maintenance. Demolition of the old building will also be included in estimated construction cost.
Early voting will begin on Feb. 6 at the Ash Flat courthouse.
There is also a legal in this week’s publication that explains the financial portion of the bonds and amount of the millage is projected to generate for the new school.
For more information or questions, also visit https://www.highlandrebels.org/o/district/page/millage-information-2023.

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