Public meetings held to discuss BIC millage proposal

Tuesday, January 12, 2016
BIC Superintendent Gaylon Taylor presided at public meetings held in Monette and Leachville.

The Buffalo Island Central school district held public meetings Jan. 5 in Monette and Jan. 7 in Leachville for final discussions before the Jan. 12 millage vote for new construction.

Superintendent Gaylon Taylor gave a slide show presentation with patrons at both gatherings. The presentation covered information and questions surrounding the vote. Taylor also shared new information and answered questions asked since the December meeting.

Mayor Eddie Dunigan, Black Oak, spoke in the beginning of the Jan. 5 meeting stating should students be redirected to attend other school districts, the millage for those districts will become the responsibility of the reassigned BIC taxpayers. During the Jan. 7 meeting, Taylor shared the current millage totals in neighboring Manila and Riverside school districts and emphasized those are likely to increase to accommodate student growth.

Questions concerning renovation versus new construction were met with concerns for space necessary to provide required areas for state mandated courses such as elementary art, physical education and music.

New buildings would allow for safe rooms or reinforced hallways. Taylor shared that BIC is currently the only district within a 75 mile radius without safe rooms or hallways. New construction will also allow for the addition of new equipment in the future.

Taylor touched on concerns of negative affects of continuing to use the aging buildings in the BIC district. Space, safety, teacher recruitment as well as difficulty in retaining teachers, the lack of technological and educational advancement as well as families choosing to move into the district were among the concerns listed.

Taylor and others also emphasized this may be the last chance in a long while to receive this much funding to aid in the construction, stating the older buildings will only get older and there is no guarantee of when this opportunity will be available again.

At the Jan. 7 meeting principal, Dr. Kima Stewart, shared what she learned during an "eye opening" experience of visiting schools in Marked Tree. Stewart shared examples of how far behind BIC is concerning things such as student furniture, technology, learning aids and safety.

Questions concerning the student safety were addressed during both meetings. Both schools will have safe areas designated for students to relocate in the event of an emergency. The area underneath bleachers in the Mustang Athletic Center will be evaluated and may serve as the safety location at the Monette campus. Safe rooms/halls will be included in the construction plans for the Leachville campus.

The current ballot is in request for an addition of 7 new mills and an extension for existing debt from the year 2027 to the year 2046. Should the ballot pass, the additional 7 mills will raise the current millage from 33 to 40 mills.

Taylor clarified that should the millage pass the assignment of funds cannot be changed from what is stated on the ballot. The millage is expected to generate $8,845,000 toward the new constructions and 58 percent of the construction total will be funded by the $11 million available from the state.

Taylor informed patrons that fees for the work presented by architects will need to be paid following the vote. Should the millage pass the 58 percent offered by the state will include those charges. Should the millage fail the district will be responsible for payment in full.

State funding is based on a projection of enrollment prepared by the state. The projection is then used to determine the state's regulations concerning square footage and funding for new buildings.

Taylor shared slides addressing student population, sighting that numbers given in recent statements about decline in enrollment held incorrect information. The incorrect statement was enrollment during 2012 was 879 and 2015 was 774. The slide showed the fluctuation in student count over the last 10 years showing the highest student count as 823 during the 2007/2008 School year and the lowest at 773 in 2015/2016. Taylor shared the number of students graduating in senior classes and a new freshman classes should be kept in mind as cause for numbers to vary from year to year.

Several slides were shown listing incorrect facts that have been shared within the community, the majority of which were in the form of fliers or ads in local newspapers, along with corrections as noted by the district.

*Incorrect: Safety will be an additional expense. Correct: City bus routes will be utilized to get students to school. Additional route drivers will be added but a cost savings will be found in reduction of teacher travel.

*Incorrect: the district is asking for 15 new mills. Correct: the district is asking for 7 new mills.

*Incorrect: real estate taxes will rise by 21 percent. Correct: the increase will be 17.5 percent.

Superintendent Taylor presented positive mayoral endorsement from all three area mayors including Mayor Chub Qualls, Monette; Mayor Ralph Wells, Leachville; and Mayor Eddie Dunigan, Black Oak.

Those in attendance also viewed clips from the public meeting held Dec. 1 during which guest speaker Jerry Granderson of the Arkansas Department of Education Facilities and Transportation shared information concerning the state's role in the construction and funding. A recording of the meeting is also available on the BIC school district website.

John Mixon, architect, was present both nights to share the newest plans for both the high school and elementary buildings created to accommodate changes made in the most recent proposal. Harvey Little, architect, joined Mixon in Leachville to answer questions during the Jan. 7 meeting and shared examples of how updated buildings can be cost efficient as well as safer and durable. Little shared that although the schools look acceptable they are outdated and may not withstand emergencies.

Taylor addressed concerns of his, demanding signs on resident's property be removed and explained that it was a misunderstanding and false.

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