By Michelle Peterson, Chair of Citizens for Highland School District Accountability
On our General Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022, the Highland School District posted online on Highland Proud, “Today our community did not pass the ask [proposal] to build anew high school. We respect the outcome and will go back to the drawing board to create a plan that district voters feel in sync with. We will work to utilize the $6.3 million in state funding toward the intended project with a fresh perspective. As always, we value your feedback and support. We are always HIGH-LAND PROUD!!!
”How has the school district provided a “fresh perspective”? In only three weeks and two days,the school board voted unanimously to set a Special Election on February 7-14, 2023 to propose thesame overwhelmingly defeated (2to 1) millage tax increase. This proposal for an 8.9 mill increase of property taxes is 29.6 percent over the current 30 mills. Property reassessments will take place in Sharp County in 2023 and Fulton County in 2024. Because of recent substantial increases in home values, property taxes will raise consider-ably even without the 8.9 millage tax increase.
Where is this “fresh perspective” the school district promised on Nov. 8?This “fresh perspective” using a Special Election is an unfair maneuver and thus by its nature creates voter suppression. Many voters, who voted in the General Election, will not know a Special Election was set, especially after they rejected this proposal two to one––just three months earlier. Thus, citizens may be reluctant to vote again. February, a winter month, may create adverse road conditions inhibiting voters from getting to the polls. For these reasons, this Special Election will suppress voter turnout.
What’s the school district hoping for––that only those in favor of this millage will vote? In 2021, Arkansas legislators voted on a Bill to limit and con-strain these Special Elections because these elections suppress voter turnout. Unfortunately, the Bill failed by ONE; however, at the beginning of 2023, the Bill will be brought forth again.
How has the school district respected two thirds of the voters who opposed this same pro-posed millage tax increase in November 2022? The school district hasn’t.
How has the school district valued the community’s feed-back? Many valid questions were submitted to the school district and board members but responses to the questions weren’t given. How might the community work together to solve important issues with the high school building? The school district and the community should jointly develop multiple proposals with a cost-benefit analysis on building new versus renovation of the existing buildings with detailed architectural drawings, draft blueprints, etc.
Have multiple bid proposals been completed? Has a site characterization study been obtained such as characterization of the soils, hydrology studies, structural materials surveys, or studies for any existing impediments, such as main water and sewer lines? Until a clear examination of new versus renovation options are presented to the community, the school district risks creating further distrust between the taxpaying public and the school district. These issues can and should be resolved for the benefit of ALL: our students, our school district, our school board, and our community.