Rogers School Board mulling millage increase

Posted: February 17, 2017 at 1:04 a.m.

Megan Noriega teaches a history lesson Tuesday Jan. 17 2017 to her fourth grade students at Janie Darr Elementary in Rogers. The school is the newest in the Rogers school district and is in southwest Rogers, the fastest growing area of the district.
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Megan Noriega teaches a history lesson Tuesday Jan. 17 2017 to her fourth grade students at Janie Darr Elementary in Rogers. The school is the newest in the Rogers school district and is in southwest Rogers, the fastest growing area of the district.

ROGERS -- School Board members met for over an hour Thursday to continue pondering a millage election, but didn't reach a consensus on how much of a tax increase they should seek.

The board appears likely to request at least 2.9 additional mills, which officials said would pay for construction of two elementary schools, technological upgrades and various operational expenses across the School District.

Millage history

The last time the Rogers School District received a millage increase was in 2003, when voters approved 6 additional mills to bring the total rate to 39.5. Since then the rate has been rolled back 1.1 mills to 38.4.

Source: Staff report

The request could be as much as 4.2 mills if the board decides it also needs a fifth middle school.

No date has been set for the election yet, but discussion has focused mainly on May 9. If a May election is to happen, the board must commit to that by its next meeting Tuesday.

The Bentonville School District is already set to hold a millage election on May 9. Bentonville will request 1.9 mills for new schools and other needs.

On Thursday, Superintendent Marlin Berry provided the board a 22-page packet containing district enrollment numbers, financial figures and other information relevant to growth in Rogers and the surrounding region.

Rogers experienced an unexpected enrollment spike this school year, forcing the board to re-evaluate its facility plans. Enrollment at the elementary school level -- grades kindergarten through five -- has grown by 334 students since the start of the 2015-16 school year.

Growth is strongest in the southwest part of the district. The growth has been such that more than 110 children have been transferred out of the school for which they are zoned, Berry said.

"There is no guarantee right now that you get to go to that school down the street," he said.

There are 15 elementary classrooms available across the district, but 10 of the 15 elementary schools have no empty classrooms, according to district officials.

Whether the district needs another middle school was one of the primary discussion points Thursday.

Rogers has 3,455 students in its four middle schools. That's 900 fewer than the schools' combined ideal capacity and 2,000 fewer than capacity, according to the principals' calculations.

Board member Amy Horn said a big concern among her neighbors with elementary-age children is whether there will be enough room for them at their neighborhood middle school.

The owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $116 per year for a 2.9-mill increase or an additional $167 for a 4.2-mill increase.

"When you're looking long term, it's not really that much extra money" for the 4.2 mills, Horn said.

Jake Haak, the district's chief financial officer, projected the next two elementary schools would cost $35 million to build and a middle school would cost $24 million.

He warned while the district's expenses -- primarily salaries and benefits -- continue to increase, the state isn't reimbursing school districts at a comparable rate.

The amount of money the state gives districts each year on a per-student basis covers a variety of expenses, but doesn't include money for facilities, Haak said.

Berry, when asked if he had a recommendation on the millage request, said he was leaning toward the lower request of 2.9 mills and coming back to voters for a middle school whenever the need for one becomes more apparent.

The district's millage rate is 38.4, the second-lowest rate in Northwest Arkansas. The rate would remain in the lower half among the region's districts even if Rogers requests and receives 4.2 more mills.

Kristen Cobbs, board president, said after the meeting she hadn't decided what kind of millage request the district should pursue.

"I think what was important about tonight is that we all got really good information," Cobbs said. "We can go home and really think about it and come back to the table Tuesday and talk about what we've learned. Because you go into something like this study session and you have some preconceived notions, but then you hear some really good arguments. So I think we got really good information."

NW News on 02/17/2017