Officials answer questions regarding Bryant millage

By: 
Sarah Perry
Staff Writer

Editor's Note: Readers are encouraged to submit letters to the editor both in favor of and against the proposed millage vote. Letters can be submitted via email to Josh Briggs at jbriggs@bentoncourier.com.

After two failed attempts, Bryant School District officials are once again going to voters in March in hopes of increasing the district’s millage rate.
The Bryant district currently has the lowest millage rate in the county with 37.2 mills.
District officials are requesting an increase of 3.6 mills, which would increase the millage rate of 40.8 mills. If the increase is approved, the rate still will be lower than most of the other school districts in the county.
At that time, Bauxite would be the only district will a lower
millage rate.
For a family with a home valued at $150,000, the millage increase will raise the family’s tax bill by $108 a year, said Dr. Tom Kimbrell, superintendent.
Because schools does not receive any money from a local sales tax, a millage increase is the only option, he added.
“Schools don’t have that opportunity. These are strictly for the abilities of city and counties. Schools can impose a sales tax and we don’t get any money for the sales tax,” he said.
Many people in the community have questions about this proposed increase.

Why is the increase needed?

The first question is why should residents vote for the millage increase. There are two main reasons the district needs the additional money: lack of space and flat salaries, Kimbrell said.
Currently only two elementary schools in the district are at capacity, but Kimbrell describes the elementary schools as “tremendously full and there is also a problem with overcrowding at Bryant High School.
Salaries for the district’s teachers have not increased in the last two years because the district was saving money to build updated facilities. Currently a teacher who starts working in Bauxite will make more than a teacher starting at Bryant, Kimbrell said.
According to the district’s current plan, with the help of money generated from the millage increase, two elementary schools, a new junior high school, a new physical education facility, an updated high school cafeteria will be constructed and the maintenance and transportation facility will be relocated.
The district has also implemented a three-year plan for teachers and staff.
Other projects include a canopy at Bethel Middle School, an expansion of the playground at Hurricane Creek Elementary, elimination of the Salem wastewater treatment plant, updated flooring in physical education facilities at Collegeville Elementary School, Davis Elementary School and Springhill Elementary School, updates to Hornet Stadium, expansion of the instructional program, acquisition of properties for future growth and increasing maintenance and operational budgets.
To pay for all of these projects, for the past two years officials have drastically cut the district’s budget and the state has agreed to partner with the district to fund $36 million for the various projects.
Even though the district was able to save a large amount of money during the last two years, this is not a long-term solution, Kimbrell said.
“We’re growing too fast to do that,” he said.
When designing these new buildings, district officials are planning new construction.
“We need to use every dollar as efficiently as possible, so we want to build buildings that are functional, efficient and still look good but not now be those buildings that are going to win architectural awards because of their exterior attraction,” Kimbrell said.
Because of the projected growth within the district, many of the facilities that officials plan to build will be large including a new cafeteria at Bryant School. Currently to feed all of the students at the school, staff must serve food during five lunch periods that begin at 10:47 a.m. and end at 1:29 p.m.
“The cafeteria that we plan to build is the minimum square footage that the state will allow us to build based upon the student population that we have to feed,” he said. “They tell you how many square feet you have to build for the dining hall.”
There are also personal reasons for voting in favor of the increase, Kimbrell said.
“I’m a parent in this school district. My vote means what is best for my kid and what I want out of this for my child, who is only going to be here for the next two years.
“I want the best teachers,” he said. “As a staff member … I’m voting for these students… as just a patron, it’s my school, it’s my community. Selfishly, it’s my property values. I have the same concerns every property owner in this community has. I don’t want my property value to come down.”

How is this election different?

The last proposed millage increase failed by only eight votes.
“When we lost by eight votes, that was one of the most depressing points of my life,” Kimbrell said.
After that election, district officials went back to the drawing board. They kept most of their plan, but chose to make some revisions. Instead of attempting to renovate Bryant Middle School into a junior high, the district plans to build a new junior school off the main campus.
Officials hope that this plan will help with traffic congestion and better suit the students within the district.
By changing the district’s plan, officials were also able to double the amount of money they will be receiving from the state.
Since the district is receiving more state aid and has a larger building fund, officials were able to ask for a small millage increase as compared to prior elections, Kimbrell said.
If the millage increase is approved in March, another increase will not be needed for 10 years, Kimbrell said.

What happens if it fails again?

If the millage is not approved by voters again, the district will have to return most of the money received from the state. Because of the aging building and lack of space, the state could also designate that the district is in “facilities distress.”
“Local control of the budget could be lost as the Arkansas Facilities Division would require the school district to stop all spending on programs not part of the state minimum requirements,” Kimbrell said.
These non-mandatory programs include ACT prep, career education programs beyond the three that are required, advance placement courses beyond the four that are required, school resource officers, technology, learning specialists, nurses beyond state standards, out-of-state travel, the Parent Center, student trips, staff travel, athletics, robotics, marching band, clubs and organizations.
The district would also not be able increase salaries for teachers and staff.
“This would result in difficulty recruiting and retaining the best teachers and staff,” Kimbrell said.

Who can vote and where?

Eligible voters are those living in the Bryant School District, which can include individuals living in Alexander, portions of Benton, Salem community, Mabelvale, Shannon Hills, Paron, portions of Bauxite and Avilla.
Early voting will take place from March 7 through March 13 at the Vote Here Center in Benton and Grace Church of Bryant.
The Vote Here Center will be open each day from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Grace Church of Bryant will be open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on March 7 through March 10.
On March 14, election day, sites across the district will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Voters can cast their ballots at any of the polling sites including: Woodland Hills Water Department, Vimy Ridge Baptist Church, Grace Church of Bryant, First Southern Baptist Church, Central Arkansas Church of Christ, Avilla Community Center, Salem United Methodist Church, Centerpoint Church, Sardis United Methodist Church and the Paron Cafetorium.
More information is available at the district website. A formula is available for residents to determine how this millage increase will personally affect their taxes.

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