Partnership funding topic of BIC meeting

Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Jerry Granderson with Arkansas Department of Education Facilities and Transportation and BIC Superintendent Gaylon Taylor

Buffalo Island Central School District held a public meeting Dec. 1 at the Mustang Athletic Center in Monette to present information concerning the special election to be held Jan. 12, 2016. Patrons will vote on a proposed 7.0 millage increase and an extension of existing debt millage. The millage increase is necessary for the school district to raise funding for the district's share of new construction of BIC facilities on east and west campuses.

Approximately 75 people attended the meeting during which Jerry Granderson, interim director of the Arkansas Department of Education Facilities and Transportation, answered questions and presented information. He spoke on the partnership funding available for a new junior and senior high school building to be built in Monette and a new elementary school to be built in Leachville.

Granderson gave the same presentation he used in Manila's public meeting before they passed their millage increase for a new high school. He explained he would like to see BIC do the same, however, the decision to construct new facilities will come from the patrons and not the Department of Education. Granderson said the division was developed to help provide the best schools built to current standards, and studies have found that students learn better when they are in a better environment.

Granderson talked about the timeline involved to receive the partnership funding from the state. He emphasized time constraints pertaining to a four year limit from time of application to time of completion. Since the initial request in 2014 two proposed millages have failed making the Jan. 12 vote the third attempt.

There is no limit on the number of millage proposals, however, should the third millage fail, time may become a problem. By law, should a fourth millage proposal come to vote, another election cannot be held in the same calendar year. If deadlines are not met state funding will be rescinded.

"After four years, if you haven't tried to utilize the money, the state will take it and let someone else have it that does have need and is willing to do what it takes to get it," Granderson said.

Granderson stated should the district fail to meet the deadlines and have to reapply it will be harder to receive funding later. He explained that project approval for limited funding is expected to increase, as well as what would happen if the district applies in the future.

"There's going to be more and more competition for that money. That's a fact. I'm not trying to scare you into doing something. We're approaching the point where the legislature is not going to provide enough money for all of the space projects we need."

Granderson went on to discuss state budget and spending as well as changes in legislature that may lead to changes in decision making in the future.

"They may have a different mindset about wanting to spend money - if and how much they are going to spend on what," Granderson said.

Granderson addressed a question about availability of the partnership money from the state. One billion dollars has been given to schools through the partnership since 2006. BIC has only received $93,341 in the past. Now the district has been approved for over $11 million with this partnership program. The millage must pass in order for the district to meet their portion of the project. Granderson guaranteed that the money is available if the district passes the millage and meets all deadlines.

"The money is there but it will go away at the end of four years if it is not utilized."

The partnership funding will help pay the cost of a project estimated up to $21,545,825 to be shared with the district paying 48 pecent. At the most, the remaining 52 percent paid by the state will be $11,110,439.

The state funding only covers academic space. Administrative, athletic and maintenance space are not included in the funding. The state has agreed to fund 123,119 square feet of construction at a cost of up to $175 per square foot based on regulated calculations.

Granderson clarified if the district's share of costs exceed what is expected the state will not pay more. If the total cost of construction is lower than expected the state funding will be cut back in proportion to the 48/52 split.

Superintedent Gaylon Taylor estimates the district can afford no more than $143 per square foot. Taylor calculated this will lower the district's portion to $8.845 million and would be generated by the 7 mills. The state's percentage would total approximately 9.1 million. If bids on construction are higher than the $143 limit the district will find ways to reduce the cost. Superintendent Taylor gave assurance the district would not go forward with any construction costing more than the district can afford.

When asked if remodeling was an option Granderson answered questions about the processes and requirements for state funding of renovations.

Granderson said that if classrooms in a building under renovation do not meet current state standards for space, corrections must be included in the remodel. Superintendent Taylor said many classrooms may be too small to meet state requirements. Remodeling to state standards would mean fewer classrooms. One patron cited a shortage in homerooms. Teachers currently share classrooms, and the amount of time needed for preparation and the disruption of moving was a concern.

Granderson told the group the current partnership funding approved would not be applicable and the district would have to reapply to remodel. Granderson gave a brief description of the timeline and process necessary in funding for renovations. If the district were approved it could take up to five years to receive the money. Granderson noted even if money is still available, renovation is not considered the highest priority.

Before opening the floor for questions Granderson said, "This is what we're talking about. It's not about me, it's not about you, it's not about the money. It's for the kids. Your kids. Your grandkids. Future kids coming here. They deserve a good environment to work in as well as the beginning of a good education."

Following the presentation Marshal Hughes, of First Security Beardsley Public Finance, and Superintendent Taylor covered details pertaining to the proposed millage. Taylor informed those in attendance that an estimated 217 out of 240 school districts in Arkansas pay higher millage than BIC.

Architect John Mixon gave a presentation sharing new possibilities for layouts and campus placements in order to keep the cost to the estimated $143 per square foot.

Taylor addressed recent reports of enrollment and an expectation for growth in student population. Since 2002 BIC averaged 803 students a year with a current enrollment of 773. Taylor expects a positive change in enrollment in connection to the new steel mill in Osceola and plans to present more information at a future date.

Superintendent Taylor shared his response to questions on district spending and raises in teacher salary. Taylor gave an example of the estimated budget collected from local taxes and the state based on student population. Of that budget 65 percent is spent in teachers salary and benefits along with other employee benefits. The remaining 35 percent is spent on all other expenses including utilities, technology and daily operation. Reducing the amount spent toward utilities and repairs made to current structures would increase the amount available to spend on teachers salaries or other areas.

"The school district is not wasting your money," Taylor said. "There's just not a lot of money there. At the same time, an investment in our kids is an investment in this community and an investment in our future."

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