Fort Smith School Board sets March 12 special meeting to consider millage increase

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 687 views 

The 57-member Citizens Committee responsible for millage recommendations on the Fort Smith Public School (FSPS) District’s five-year strategic plan presented its final report to the School Board on Monday (Feb. 26).

The final recommendations call for just over $120 million in priorities to be implemented by 2023. It would impact the average Fort Smith homeowner by $11.47 per month per $100,000 in real estate value.

The Board did not reach a final action at the meeting, instead setting a March 12 special meeting date to discuss their options ahead of a possible May 22 date to put the issue before voters. Per law, notice of a millage referendum must be published with 60 days notice, giving the Board a short window to work out the ballot question.

The Board primarily will be looking at the proposal as presented — a recommended 6.88 mill increase to 43.38 mills from the 36.5 rate that has remained unchanged since 1987 — as well as a second option that could lower the proposed increase to 5.588 mills. The lower option would be achieved by rolling proposed staff increases back into the budget cycle instead of funding them through the front end. It also would depend on a 4% interest rate compared to the 4.5% rate set into the committee’s proposal.

FSPS Chief Operations Officer Dr. Terry Morawski said the 0.5% wiggle room was on recommendation of the district’s banking partners and noted that the elimination of personnel requests could reduce the millage ask by around 0.58 mills.

Following are some of the other top items in the citizen’s proposal the board will review.

• $43.824 million (1.924 mills) expansion at Southside High School
• $34.696 million (1.523 mills) expansion at Northside High School
• $13.724 million (0.602 mills) for a new career and technology center
• $9.665 million (0.424 mills) for renovations at Darby Junior High School
• $8.545 million (0.375 mills) for renovations at Barling, Cook and Woods Elementary schools
• $5.5 million (0.241 mills) for safety, security and lighting system upgrades at several schools
• $1.821 million (0.08 mills) renovations at Morrison Elementary

While the school’s millage rate has not changed since 1987, revenue from the rate has risen. Millage revenue was $14.183 million in 1998, rose to $28.929 million in 2000, and reached $40.186 million in 2007. Millage revenue in 2017 was $52.917 million, down 1.35% compared to $53.645 million in 2016.

Student population (K-12) has risen from 13,637 in 2006 to 14,341 in 2016, a 5.16% gain.

The recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla., which claimed the lives of 17, was fresh on the minds of Board members Monday. Safety and security issues were cited as top priorities. A previous report from consulting firm Corgan Childers found several safety issues to exist at many campuses throughout the district with classrooms that open to exteriors, entryways that require further securement, and campus fencing/access that “needs to be addressed.”

The firm found the average original facility age (not including additions and renovations) to be “around 63 years.” Overall the schools averaged a “Fair” facility assessment rating (between 65%-79%) judged on a three-tiered scale of Poor, Fair, and Good.