North Little Rock Schools Fall Far Short In State Grant Request

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 7 views 

The North Little Rock School District was awarded $5.1 million in state Partnership Program grants and is first in line to receive another $19.5 million that is expected to be available.

That $24.6 million is less than what the district was hoping to receive from the Commission for Arkansas Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation, which awarded grants to districts across the state Wednesday. The resolution that accompanied North Little Rock’s project applications estimated the state would provide $81.8 million.

Districts across the state applied for the grants, which are awarded through a competitive process. The Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation, which oversees the process, takes into account a district’s wealth index, expected growth and the condition of its facilities.

The commission divided $130.7 million – all that was available – for 263 projects across the state. The largest grant was for $15.4 million for a high school in Bentonville. Melbourne received $5.3 million for a new school for students in kindergarten through the sixth grade. Another 118 projects were rejected.

Fifty-seven percent of North Little Rock School District voters last year approved a 7.4 mill increase in property taxes to fund a $266 million building plan that will restructure the district from 21 to 13 campuses. During the campaign, supporters said the state would fund up to one quarter of the cost, or $66.6 million. This was prior to the district applying for the grants.

Funding to help build four new North Little Rock schools was approved, as were seven projects designed to make schools “warm, safe and dry.”

The Legislature in 2007 provided $456 million for school facilities through the Partnership Program, and with additional funds added yearly the state has provided $722 million for about 2,000 projects across the state.

Reserves have steadily dwindled so that they will be exhausted by the $130.7 million grants, though more money is added yearly. Another $20 million in state general improvement funds is expected to be added after July 1, and North Little Rock is first in line to receive $19.5 million. Of that, $18.9 million would fund a new North Little Rock High School West campus.

Another $65 million is expected to be added to the fund next year. Between the two years, the Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation expects to fund $212.3 million for school facilities this two-year biennium.

Districts can appeal their awards, but according to Dr. Charles Stein, the division’s director, that rarely happens.