Fort Smith School Board sets May 22 election date, saves money on debt refinancing

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 370 views 

Fort Smith Public School (FSPS) board elections are getting a date change for the foreseeable future, moving from the current September calendar date to the spring preferential primary season in even-numbered years (and the corresponding date in odd).

Under Act 910 of 2017 in the 91st General Assembly, school districts were charged with approving special elections for either the primary or general election seasons. At the FSPS School Board’s Aug. 14 meeting, it was decided to set the vote for the primary against resistance from Board member Wade Gilkey. Gilkey said the Board had intentionally set school board elections for dates other than the general election season because of a desire to suppress voter turnout.

Fellow board member Jeannie Cole and outgoing School Board President Dr. Deanie Mehl disagreed. Mehl said that while she agreed turnout would be lower if the elections were not held in November, there was no intent to suppress voter turnout. Cole said voters should not “vote for school board elections the way I vote for county coroner.”

Cole acknowledged that on such offices she was an “uninformed voter” because she did not have a firm grasp on the demands of the position. School board elections should involve informed voters, she argued. Gilkey’s argument failed to convince, losing a 6-1 vote and setting the next school board election for May 22, 2018.

Also Monday, the Board authorized administration to negotiate and award a contract to international architectural firm Corgan and Fort Smith-based Childers Architects for facilities assessments as part of the district’s strategic planning initiatives.

While the term “millage increase” was not uttered at Monday’s meeting, the facilities assessment will factor in to a future vote — just not in 2017. Corgan and Childers expect to deliver a draft of recommendations to the district in November with a final draft expected sometime in December or in January 2018.

Corgan has nine offices nationwide and more than 60 years experience designing educational facilities with 5.3 million square feet of facility assessment experience over the last 12 months alone. Childers has been in business for 30 years and has past experience with the district. Among its current projects, it provided conceptual designs for the Phil White redevelopment on the 900 block of Garrison Avenue.

In other business, the Board approved a recommendation for bond refunding on $9.165 million, taking advantage of a reduction in interest rates that will save the district $778,751 — $723,135 of which will be realized by 2019. On Aug. 14, the district received qualified bids from six investment firms in connection with the bond issue. Raymond James & Associates, Inc., won with an interest rate of 2.749449%.

Finally, the Board voted on final approval of the city of Fort Smith’s $300,000 bid to handle the district’s sanitation services.

The school board will next meet in committee on Sept. 11 with a regular meeting scheduled for Sept. 25. Both meetings are open to the public.

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