Superintendent: Millage bump needed to handle Greenwood student growth

story by Ryan Saylor

Voters in the Greenwood School District will go to the polls on Sept. 16 to decide whether to increase the district's millage rate by 1.9 mils and generate an estimated $590,000 more in annual district revenue.

The money would be used to alleviate capacity issues by constructing a freshman center and realigning other grades in the district, Superintendent John Ciesla said.

The district's millage rate is 38.7 mils. Should voters approve a bump to 40.6 mils, the owner of a home valued at $100,000 could see their personal property taxes increase by $38 per year, according to figures provided by the Sebastian County Collector's Office. A $150,000 home could see an increase of $57 per year.

Ciesla said construction of a freshman center adjacent to the district's high school would add 23 classrooms to a district that saw 568 more students this year than in the 2001-2002 school year.

"It would include 23 rooms — 15 regular classrooms and seven labs for classes including science, large groups, computer labs, etc.," he said. "It would be about 53,000 square feet. One of our biggest concerns as a district is growth."

The new freshman center, with a price tag estimated to be between $10 million and $12 million, would remove freshman from Greenwood Junior High and allow the district to move fifth graders from the district's two elementary schools to a new fifth and sixth grade middle school, shifting seventh graders to a new seventh and eighth grade junior high.

The configuration of the sophomore through senior high school would remain the same, though the high school's amenities would be used by the freshman center, Ciesla said, indicating that the cafeteria, performing arts center and other facilities would be used by all four grades and would save the district money by not constructing those as part of the new campus.

Of the millions needed for the project, the state has already committed $2.3 million to the project through matching funds, Ciesla said, due to overcrowding issues in the district.

He said while there is a cost benefit for the freshman center and a space benefit for the other grades should the millage pass, there is also an issue of introducing students to high school and helping those students find success.

"Obviously you get more space, but that ninth grade year is such a transition. … Everything is starting to count as far as credits and we cut down on those transitions of students moving campuses. We have those classes just down the hall and there's an easier, smoother transition to the high school experience."

The building, which will be built by Beshears Construction should the millage pass, will have a capacity of 360-400 students. Greenwood Schools has 3,720 students from pre-K through high school at five different campuses.

As for how long the freshman center could meet the needs of the district, Ciesla said it is hard to predict because of growth happening at the north end of the district's boundaries in Fort Smith.

"With Chaffee Crossing and I-49, those are becoming a reality with growth. It is our hope that this will meet our needs for some time. But a number is hard to predict,” he said.

Should the millage pass, Ciesla said he hoped to break ground on the new freshman center by the start of 2015 with occupancy by the fall of 2016. And should the millage increase not pass, Ciesla said there is not a plan B at this time.

"We haven't decided that. We are full. It's a difficult situation. Both of our elementary schools have zero additional space. I feel like it is very important that this pass."

Early voting will begin Sept. 9 and run through Sept. 15. The special election will be held Sept. 16.

Voters in March 2010 rejected – 58% against to 42% for – a 2.8 mil increase that would have funded a third elementary building estimated then to cost $14.2 million.