BIC holds public meeting
Thursday, Dec. 19, Buffalo Island Central School District, held the first of two public meetings to discuss possible construction.
BIC superintendent Gaylon Taylor welcomed patrons to the BIC West Elementary cafeteria Thursday night where he made a two hour presentation outlining the district's needs. Taylor said any new construction would require a millage increase, but with both the West and East elementary buildings being 50 plus years old, the junior high being 34 years old and the high school being 29 plus years old the district is in dire need of new facilities.
"Nothing, nothing, nothing has been decided by me or the school board," Taylor said. "Our goal is to provide you with information, have you think about it and then come back to me or one of the board members and tell us what you think. There are no wrong opinions. We are not here to say we need x number of mills or we want to build a school between Leachville and Monette. That is not the case, we just want you to look at the information, think about it, ask questions and give us your feedback. We have some very difficult decisions ahead of us and we will not make everybody happy, but as long as our students are the center of our decision making we can't go wrong."
At the beginning of the school year faculty and staff were asked what are the district's weakness and strengths. Faculty on both campuses felt solidarity was a weakness. Taylor explained that with four buildings on two campuses many felt they were all going in their own direction and the two campuses instead of acting as a cohesive school are two separate schools.
"We believe we have a campus that feels like second class citizens, like they don't belong," Taylor said of the Leachville campus. "How do we fix that? Our elementarys have to be together. It would be a cost savings and we could better align our curriculum."
Right now the BIC district is paying utilities, maintenance, personnel and travel expenses for two elementary schools. Taylor said preK-8 grade building or grades preK-12 would bring the two campuses together and be a cost savings.
On the list of weakness was also technology. Taylor explained that with the age of the facilities new technology is not supported. He said the district is 10 years behind in technology. There will need to be more staff training in that area.
A major concern is lack of students. BIC has seen a slight decline over the last five years in student population mostly at the high school level. Taylor explained that today only 25-30 percent of the high school seniors are going to go to college but the district does not have the space to provide vocational training to those that don't go to college. He also pointed out only a handful of those going to college come back and those that don't go to college stay and don't get training beyond high school.
"We are going to have to be creative enough to find ways to provide opportunities for those kids but we don't have the facilities," Taylor said. "Old buildings is one of the weaknesses our staff saw. The average age of our buildings is 44 years old. We have not built a building other than the music room for educational purposes in 29 years."
Lack of vocational training, inconsistent curriculum and limit opportunities for students were all on the list of weaknesses. The solutions from the BIC staff standpoint were buildings for prek-8 or prek-12 being together, more money, area vocational center, more planned collaboration and land development to provide more housing opportunities.
"I truly believe that the new Highway 18 bypass is going to have a big impact on both Leachville and Monette," Taylor said. "Lake City did the right thing by building their new high school on the highway. No one will see our school unless they come directly here. We are going to have to be visionary in the decisions we make for our future generations. This not about athletics. This is about academics and providing the very best for our students."
Taylor pointed out there are more students that get scholarships in music and art than sports and having a fine arts facility would allow those students a home of their own. He said right now the district's fine arts teachers are holding class wherever they can find space. Taylor went on to say even if a new school is built on the highway the MAC athletic building would still be used.
Strengths mentioned were small staff, strong leadership, community support, family atmosphere, good discipline, small classes, parental support, pride and tradition and a reputation for strong academics. Taylor then talked about how to make the district's visions a reality. The first way is with new buildings, restructuring the district's educational philosophy, realign the curriculum, increase local revenue and provide the latest in technology.
"If you don't go forward with technology every year you go backward three years," Taylor said. "So why do we need a new building? We have not built a building for educational purposes since our consolidation in 1984. Our neighbors to the east and west have added new facilities and have experienced growth. We have had five families this year alone that work for the steel mills that don't want to live in Blytheville or Jonesboro but have moved to Manila or Lake City because they could find housing. We want to show people we can provide the best education possible and a nice place to live."
Taylor went on to explain how the district would be funded for a building project. The first step is to apply for partnership funding from the Arkansas Department of Education. Partnership funding has to be applied for three years in advance. If the BIC district does not apply by March 1, 2014, it will have to wait three years to apply again.
Taylor said the district will more than likely apply for a prek-12 project but that is for application purposes. The actual project could be a preK-8 building or other options. Once the application is made the district will be notified on May 1, 2015, whether or not the project is approved. If the project is approved the state will fund 56 percent of the project with the district having to provide the remainder. To do that there would have to be a millage increase. How many mills has not be determined. The district is asking for patron feedback before it decides how many mills to ask for and when.
Taylor said he wants to have a millage increase approved before the partnership funding is approved but would not ask voters to approve a millage without a clear plan of where and what kind of building project the money will be used for. If the district is turned down for partnership but a millage approved that money would be earmarked specifically for the building project and the district would reapply.
During the course of the meeting Taylor explained what a mill is, how much additional mills would cost property owners including farmland, how that millage is calculated and how much money each additional mill will generate for the district. The district's current millage of 33 mills is the lowest in Craighead County and 4.29 mills lower than the state average. The last time the BIC district asked for a millage increase was 11 years ago for the new gymnasium at the BIC west campus. At the current millage a home valued at $100,000 will pay $660 in school taxes. Each additional mill would be an additional $20, so a 9 mill increase would be $180 in additional cost.
"We are not saying we are going to ask for 9 mills," Taylor said. "That is just an example."
Construction options are two new elementary schools, one preK-6 building, a k-8 building either at East or West campus, a preK-8 building on a site located at the county line a half mile either side, a preK-12 building on a site located at the county line a half mile either side, or a preK-6 building on one campus and a 7-12 building on another campus.
"I don't think any option where we still have two elementary schools is an option because we will still have the problems we have now with aligning the curriculum and the schools feeling like two separate entities," Taylor said.
He also felt that would be the case if there was preK-6 in one location and grades 7-12 in another. Parents and teachers would still have to travel between the two towns. While that option would solve some of the problems it would not solve everything.
Taylor also discussed the benefits of a building project. He said with lack of space, old facilities such as 35 year old science labs, and outdated technology the BIC district is not currently providing its students with the very best. He also discussed the projected cost for each project before taking questions and comments from attendees.
"Thank you for this wonderful presentation," Bob Hurst, Monette City Council member, said. "We are in dire need of new facilities. A combined facility will eliminate parents having to go from one campus to another. It will be more cost effective with utilities and maintenance."
"I'm in full support of this," Marilyn Looney of Leachville said. "Because it is about academics not athletics. There are more children in art and music and they can take that with them the rest of their lives. For a majority of our students who play basketball once they graduate there is nothing after that. I'm a land owner and this will cost me plenty but our children are worth it."
Many echoed those remarks saying they were in full support of a combined school at the county line on the new Highway 18 but also said they felt bad for both towns that would be losing their schools.
"I appreciate what you have presented here tonight," Monette Mayor Chub Qualls said. "Shelia (Spurlock Mayor of Leachville) and I talk every day and I feel like I can speak for her when I say when a city loses a school it loses its identity. We see that happening in Caraway now. As mayors we don't want to lose our schools. We need to come together and discuss this. We don't want to lose our identities."
Taylor again said he felt the new highway bypassing both towns would jeopardize them more and have more of an impact on the economies of both towns than the school project. He also agreed it would take everyone working together to make a combined school project work. Others asked what would happen to the current school buildings. Taylor said some would be bulldozed while the high school and other facilities could possibly be used to bring a college like ANC in Blytheville to provide vocational training.
Taylor said the district will more than likely put a survey on its website, mail a survey and possibly send one home with students to get patrons' opinions as to what kind of facility and where they would like it located.
He encouraged patrons to contact him or board members with any comments or questions. Taylor also encouraged people to attend the second public meeting being held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at BIC East Elementary cafeteria in Leachville.
BIC Superintendent Gaylon Taylor discussed with public meeting attendees the district's need for new facilities and the need for a millage increase to support those projects. (Town Crier photo/Christie Zolman)