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Regarding LRSD Millage Extension, Whose Pants Are On Fire?

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Monday, April 24, 2017

Some opponents of the proposed Little Rock School District millage extension are quick to call anyone who disagrees with them "liars" and positions counter to theirs "lies." Meanwhile, they say/write with a straight face...

  • LRSD has $26 Million in debt service surplus which could immediately be used for facilities.

It's true, LRSD has 12.4 of its 46.4 mills dedicated to debt service, ranking it 111th of the 236 public school districts in Arkansas. We agree: debt service mills should be used as voters intended.

However, for years prior to State intervention, locally elected boards chose to use 2/3 of those mills, not for facilities, but for operations. This is the last year LRSD will receive $37,347,429 from the State in desegregation funds. As a result, the district has had to cut this amount from its operating budget before the 2017-18 school year. Immediately using 12.4 debt service mills as voters intended will require an immediate additional cut of $26 Million in the operating budget. 100% of the district's administrative costs (vice principals, principals, central office) could be cut and still not reach the $26 Million. So, which teachers, staff would opponents propose be immediately terminated and schools closed to free these dollars to be used as originally intended?

The district had three years to trim $37 Million in operating expenses. Opponents are suggesting it cut an additional $26 Million before the next school year.

  • The new, refurbished buildings will be given to charter schools.

Never in Arkansas history has a school district building been given to a charter school. And no LRSD building has ever been sold by the district to a charter school. None. Zero. Ever.

eStem Public Charter Schools is building its own new buildings on the campus of UALR and on Shall Avenue in East Village. LISA Academy entered into a longterm lease for its new K-6 in Chenal. Little Rock Preparatory Academy is refurbishing the former Lutheran School on Markham. To which charters do opponents believe new and refurbished buildings will be given? Premier (Enrollment 109), SIA Tech (Enrollment 171), Covenant Keepers (Enrollment 180), Exalt (Enrollment 307), Rockbridge (Enrollment 151)?

Opponents are also fond of saying Act 542 will empower charters to "take" unused or underutilized buildings from the district.

False.

Charters already had first right of refusal for property districts no longer wanted. But, when some districts found out charters were interested, they pulled the buildings from the market and/or added restrictive covenants so that the buildings could never be used for a charter. Act 542 simply compels the districts to sell, at fair market value, any property they have no plans to use so it may continue to be used for the purpose it was intended - public education. Of the two closed LRSD schools, no charter schools (approved or applied) were interested in the buildings.

After passing its quarter billion dollar millage increase, the North Little Rock School District consolidated from 21 to 13 schools. None were bought by charters. Only one, Bellwood Elementary, was bought by a third party, then leased to a charter, Capital City Lighthouse Charter School. As a result, millions in capital investment were made in an impoverished neighborhood and the worst school building in NLRSD.

  • Refinancing, extending the millage will thrust the district into Fiscal Distress so the State may retain control.

LRSD is, by far, the richest district in the State of Arkansas. Its assessed valuation is $987,319,755 higher than second place Pulaski County Special School District. If the difference alone were its own district, it would be the ninth highest in the state.

If LRSD lost every student - 100% of enrollment - its property tax revenue alone would still be $158,381,815 and growing every year.

For context, total revenue (local, state, federal) for the Springdale School District for the same period (2015-16) was $184,682,040, just $26,300,225 more than LRSD's local revenue alone. And yet, Springdale (Enrollment 21,527) has just 1,232 fewer students than LRSD (Enrollment 22,759).

We agree, more cuts can/should be made in LRSD's operating budget, which will empower the district to pay off its refinanced, extended debt even sooner. But meanwhile, like a homeowner refinancing a mortgage, it must take advantage of lower interest rates to maximize taxpayers' dollars for the purpose for which they were intended - student facilities.

The bad thing about conspiracy theories regarding events which have already happened is that they can live forever. The good thing about conspiracy theories regarding events which have yet to come is that may be exposed as frauds when they never happen. Because that can't happen until after May 9th, we encourage all to not take the words of any messengers, but research the readily available facts for themselves.

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