On Monday (April 23), Dr. Terry Morawski, chief operations officer for Fort Smith Public Schools, unveiled an implementation plan for the upcoming $120.822 million, 5.558-mill millage increase in the event voters approve it on May 22. The main focus: transparency.
Morawski’s plan calls for a multi-faceted communication strategy that would include regular Board meeting updates, a dedicated website, social media updates, photos and videos of projects in motion, and campus/community presentations.
The website will be designed to include project timelines, financial updates, all presentations, and bidding information/updates, and it will be handled “100% in-house,” according to Zena Featherston Marshall, the district’s executive director of communication and community partnerships.
Should the millage proposal pass, the district also would create a millage advisory committee consisting of 24 members nominated by the School Board or submitted through the district website. The committee could include members of the community, students, and FSPS staff – likely a mixture, if it follows the Vision 2023 strategic planning committee that helped develop the millage proposal.
The advisory committee’s charge would be to provide transparency and enhance public confidence in use of the millage funds. The committee would meet on a quarterly basis or more often if requested.
Committee members would review status reports and progress of all 2018 millage projects, verifying project scope is consistent with what voters approve. Other duties would include tracking budgets, encumbrances, expenditures, and estimated costs for projects; review and provide feedback on millage-related communications; conduct on-site reviews of millage projects, as requested; and report to the Board on committee findings and recommendations.
School Board member Jeannie Cole said she liked the idea of so much transparency, but asked the district to “be cognizant of safety issues so that we don’t put so much out there that someone gets it into their mind, that they understand the floor plan so well, that they can go in and reek havoc.” Cole said it was important for “parents to feel like their children are secure.” Fellow Board member Greg Magness said what he liked about the plan was that “We’re telling them where the money is going to be spent. It’s not just a vague idea.”
Magness added that the implementation was a way to “hold the district’s feet to the fire — not that they weren’t going to follow through anyway — but it gives some assurance to folks out there that ‘Here’s what we need the money for, and this is what we’re going to spend it on.’”
If voters approve, the new millage will move to 42.058 from 36.5, the proceeds of which would go toward the funding of district-wide construction and renovation projects, including $35 million in security upgrades. Additionally, there would be an $825,000 annual technology expense.
The effect to the average homeowner would be $9.26 per month per $100,000 in real estate value. This would affect “frozen assessment” properties as well. Voter registration is underway with early voting running from May 7-21.