By Kara McEntire, Student Services Director, Testing Coordinator,Federal Programs Coordinator and Public Relations District Coordinator
The following questions have been directed to us recently; we are glad to answer these, and any other questions, in order to provide accurate information to our stakeholders-We want to emphasize, again, our intent for voters to have the correct information concerning the millage vote. We have spoken with many voters that have been misinformed concerning the facts of the upcoming millage election. It has never been, or ever will be, our in-tent to be divisive in the community. We understand that issues, such as a millage proposal, can be just that. We only ask that voters have the correct information when casting their vote. Lack of long-term planning It has been suggested that the district has a lack of long term planning, when in fact, facilities planning is required by Arkansas law. The Highland School District has a Facility Master Plan, and this plan is updated annually. Before the plan is submitted, it has to be approved by the school board, and each year there is also a community meeting in which the Facility Master Plan is presented to the public. A partnership application to build a new high school began in the fall of 2019, and the application was submitted to the Commission in March of 2020. The high school project was approved but unfunded by the Commission in July of2021,and finally funded in April of2022.Absence of competitive bids for the estimated $30 million building project The estimated cost is based on historical data from similar projects across the state, similar demo-graphics, similar designs and similar types of construction as provided by the Construction Manager. The Arkansas Department of Education Commission for Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation has a Program of Requirements on square footage for new construction. The District’s Construction Managers estimated the cost of the new high school off of the square footage in that Program of Requirements from the state. The POR and the square footage in that document is what we are operating on at this point. Projects are not put out for bid until the millage passes and we know we will be able to begin the project. The $300 per square foot is an estimate by the district’s construction managers and architect. If the millage were to pass, the construction managers would put the project out for bid, soliciting multiple bids from multiple con-tractors. After bids are received, the construction manager will go over the bids with the district and value engineer the project until a final bid summary is presented to the High-land School Board for approval. As we have stated, actual bids from contractors can not be obtained until we have architectural drawings of the proposed high school. These drawings are expensive. We will not have actual pricing until we can put the project out for bid, and we can not put the project out for bid unless we know the project will proceed with the passing of a millage. No plan to utilize excess revenue to pay off the debt There is a line on the proposed millage ballot that states, “The surplus revenues produced each year by the debt service mill-age may be used by the District for other school purposes.” We are often asked a couple of questions related to this. Why is this line included? How much surplus revenue is anticipated? This line is included on all ballots that are produced by the bond attorney and also appears on the sample election documents provided by the Arkansas Department of Education. The line summarizes a section of the Arkansas law(26-80-106) which states: “Because of consolidations of school districts and for other reasons, the debt service millage voted by a school district for the payment of its outstanding indebtedness frequently provided a substantial surplus over the amount of the annual principal and interest requirements. This surplus may be used by the district for the purpose of paying the principal and interest of subsequent indebtedness incurred by it and may be pledged for that purpose or any other school purpose, provided that the district is in compliance with the uniform rate of tax.” The line on the ballot is in place to provide clarity to voters for the law that is already in place. The second question is then how much surplus revenue is the District expecting or requesting. It is projected that the 8.9 pro-posed new debt mills will bring in approximately $1,600,000 per year in new revenue. Based on the bond size and projected interest rates, there is projected to be little to no surplus revenue from the 8.9 new mills. Some projected rates and payment amounts are below. Based on the projected revenue of$1,600,000 from the8.9 mills, if the rate on the proposed bond is-sue is 4.30% or lower, there may be a slight surplus revenue from the proposed 8.9 debt mills. If the bond rate is higher than 4.30%,there may be a slight deficit. Current projections are for the rate to be in the 4.25percent to 4.50 percent range. School board meeting protocols The Highland School District adopted the Arkansas School Board Association’s model policy in regard to allowing patrons of the district the opportunity to speak during open meeting sessions. The following board policy information is read before the opening of each meeting of the Board for patrons in attendance. Section 1.14 – Meeting Agenda reads: District patrons wishing to have an item placed on the Board meeting’s agenda must submit their request, in writing to the Superintendent, at least five (5) days prior to the meeting of the Board. The writ-ten request must be sufficiently descriptive to enable the Super-intendent and Board President to fully understand and evaluate its appropriateness to be an agenda item. Such requests may be accepted, rejected, or referred back to the individual for further clarification. The Superintendent shall notify the Board President of all written requests to be placed on the agents along with the Superintendent’s recommendation concerning the request. No item shall be placed on the agenda that would operate to prejudice the Board concerning a student or personnel matter that could come before the Board for disciplinary or employment considerations or that is in conflict with other District policy or law. Patrons whose writ-ten request to be placed on the meeting’s agenda has been accepted shall have no more than five minutes to present to the Board unless specifically granted additional time by a motion approved by the majority of the Board. The speaker shall limit his/her comments to the approved topic/issue or forfeit his/her right to address the Board. The members of the Board will listen to the patron’s presentation, but shall not respond to the presenter during the meeting in which the presentation is made, but may. The Board may choose to discuss the issue presented at a later meeting, but is under no obligation todo so. As a school district, we value our patrons and want to work with them to ensure the best possible future for our STUDENTS. We want nothing more than to secure this funding for the future of our community – our kids – they deserve the best and we want to give that to them. Early voting begins on Feb. 7 at the Sharp County Courthouse. If a voter lives in Fulton, County who pays taxes in the Highland School District, they may vote at the Sharp County Courthouse during early voting. All voters in both Sharp and Fulton county can vote at all regular voting centers on election day, Feb.14. Anyone living in Fulton County or Sharp County can also vote at any of the Sharp County voting centers or the one that will be open in Fulton County. The following locations will be open on election day. Ash Flat- Court-house, courtroom, Glencoe- Fire Station Cherokee Village-City Hall, Hardy, Civic Center Highland- Fire Department. Willi-ford- Newsong Baptist Church. The ballot is available online at arkansasvoterview.com.