Future Fort Smith chair urges Fort Smith Board to support proposed school millage increase

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 847 views 

Future Fort Smith Committee chairman John Cooley urged the city’s Board of Directors on Tuesday (March 13) to consider “showing your support” for the proposed school millage increase set for vote on May 22.

Cooley’s comments came at the end of the committee’s third annual presentation to city directors on the comprehensive plan approved by the Board in December of 2014. Cooley admitted he didn’t like the idea of paying higher taxes, but said the proposed millage would “bring our millage similar to other school districts in the area.”

“It doesn’t make our millage the highest, but prevents it from being an outlier on the low end where we currently are,” Cooley said, adding that for the last 20 years, “we have had a millage rate that has caused us to fall behind and into the deferred maintenance approach” on district facilities, which have an average age of 63 years.

Cooley continued: “We must improve our school district to return to the high state rankings that we no longer enjoy, and I don’t see how we can accomplish this without the extra resources that the proposed millage would afford.”

To Cooley’s point about how the Fort Smith school district measures up compared to other area school districts, the current rate is 36.5 and only produces $1.449 million per mill in revenue. The state’s other major districts break down as follows:
• Pulaski County, $2.508 million per mill, rate: 40.7
• Rogers, $1.855 million per mill, rate: 41.9
• Bentonville, $1.853 million per mill, rate: 48.5
• Springdale, $1.551 million per mill, rate: 40.5
• Fayetteville, $1.495 million per mill, rate: 45.65

Talk Business & Politics spoke to four city directors about the recommendation after the meeting — Directors George Catsavis, Keith Lau, Mike Lorenz, Tracy Pennartz — but none were willing to speak to the issue, nor address the question of whether the Board would take up a formal resolution in support of the proposed millage.

The proposal that will go before voters in May asks for $120.822 million in financed projects, including $43.824 million for upgrades at Southside High School, $34.696 million for upgrades at Northside, and $35 million for updates to safety and security across all campuses. It also calls for $825,000 per year in ongoing costs that will support the district’s 1:1 student device technology program on a four-year replacement cycle.

Other recommendations of the Future Fort Smith Committee on Tuesday included urging city leaders to adopt a “comprehensive communication approach” including more frequent use of social media to keep the plan and its accomplishments in front of citizens; continued annual reporting from all departments of city government on which projects are addressing the comprehensive plan; and an overhaul of the Future Fort Smith website, which, Cooley noted, is already being looked at by the city’s IT department.

Also Tuesday, the Board voted unanimously to hire Creative Design Pools for the design and construction of the new splash pads at Tilles and Woodlawn parks. The Board authorized the contract in the amount of $388,107.

The city previously spent $11,893 with Raggio Excavating, Inc. on the fill and compaction of both sites, bringing total cost for the two projects to $400,000, which was funded from the department’s 1/8-cent sales tax for capital improvements.

The splash pads are wading pool conversions, and students from nearby schools decided on the conversion after the department allowed them to vote through a Dotmocracy process. Around 70% favored conversion.