Pea Ridge School District to make second try at millage

Posted: January 25, 2018 at 1:06 a.m.

Breanna Brungardt, a junior, takes notes on the white board Wednesday as students in the Marketing and Logistics pathway work on a project in their retail management class at Pea Ridge High School.

PEA RIDGE -- School District officials are making their case to the community for a new high school for the second time in less than a year.

Voters rejected a 5.1-mill tax increase in May by a vote of 494 (54 percent) to 421 (46 percent). The district at the time planned to build a new high school on Hayden Road, about a mile north of the current high school.

Money Matters

Here’s how much extra Pea Ridge School District property owners would pay if the 3.9-mill tax increase passes in the Feb. 13 election.

Appraised value of real estateCurrent annual cost (44.8 mills)Proposed annual cost (48.7 mills)*Difference per year

$100,000$896$974*$78

$150,000$1,344$1,461*$117

$200,000$1,792$1,948*$156

Source: Pea Ridge School District

Voting Places

The Pea Ridge millage election of Feb. 13 will take place at Baptist Church of Pea Ridge, 1650 Slack St. Early voting will be available weekdays Feb. 6-12 at the following Benton County clerk offices:

*215 E. Central Ave., Suite 217, Bentonville

*1428 W. Walnut St., Rogers

*707 S. Lincoln St., Siloam Springs

Source: Staff Report

A revamped proposal goes before voters Feb. 13. It requests 3.9 mills to build a high school on Hazelton Road, southwest of the current campus. Hazelton is a dirt road, but the city has promised to pave it, said Rick Neal, district superintendent.

Officials say the project, estimated to cost $20 million, is needed to alleviate overcrowding at the high school. It also will ease crowding in other schools because of the grade reconfigurations that would take place with a new building.

The state has pledged to pay 52 percent of the cost if voters agree to pay the remainder through this millage increase, though that pledge is good for a limited time. The district would have one more chance to pass the millage in 2019 to qualify for the state funding if next month's request fails.

"We have an opportunity to pay for 48 percent of this now or 100 percent later," Neal said.

Approving the tax increase would raise the district's millage rate from 44.8 to 48.7, which would make it the highest rate among the 15 school districts in Benton and Washington counties. Bentonville's rate of 48.5 is the highest in the two counties currently.

Each mill brings the district about $91,000. Neighboring districts Bentonville and Rogers both collect about $1.8 million per mill because of the businesses and industry within their borders.

The proposed location change was made to ease concerns about how a building on Hayden Road would affect traffic at the intersection of Pickens and Hayden roads. The proposed location also will allow for holding lanes for school-directed traffic, which officials say will help with the traffic issue.

"We feel like we've made some significant improvements to this plan," Neal said.

District officials say Pea Ridge High School is at capacity and the district's other buildings are approaching capacity.

Pea Ridge High School's enrollment has increased nearly 30 percent -- from 525 to 679 -- since 2013. The growth has forced the district to install a portable building on the school's campus this year. Two more portable buildings will be installed for the 2018-19 school year, Neal said.

District enrollment was 2,124 as of Oct. 1, an increase of about 25 percent from five years earlier. The proposed new building would expand the district's capacity to 3,200-3,500 students. It also would allow the district to reconfigure the structure of grade levels.

The high school would change from housing grades 9-12 to housing grades 10-12. The old high school would become a junior high school with grades 7-9. Pea Ridge Middle School would serve grades 5-6. Pea Ridge Intermediate School would become a building for grades 3-4. Pea Ridge Primary School would continue to serve grades K-2.

Rick Whitaker, a retired firefighter and Pea Ridge resident since 1971, voted against last year's millage proposal largely because of concerns about traffic. Whitaker, however, said he's satisfied with the latest plan and will vote for it.

"They seem to have their ducks in a row finally," he said.

Whitaker meets a group of about a dozen friends each morning for coffee. Most of them have said they'll vote for the millage as well.

"A lot of the questions several of us had last time have been answered. I think it will pass this time," he said.

Bob Cottingham, a City Council member, didn't vote for last year's millage request and said he's not yet been convinced to vote for this year's version. He's disappointed by what he called a lack of details in this year's plan, particularly as it pertains to the design of the new building.

"I can't say I'm 100 percent behind it because I don't really understand what we're going to be getting for that kind of a tax increase," Cottingham said.

The district has reduced the cost from 5.1 to 3.9 mills, but Cottingham said that's still going to be a burden on taxpayers, especially those who are on a fixed income.

"I'm not against growth, but we have to be able to afford it," he said.

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Kelsey Smith has served as campaign manager for this millage effort. Smith lives in Gentry but is a 2011 Pea Ridge High School graduate. She owns NWA Brand, a marketing agency.

"I was heavily involved in the community when I was attending the school and still return to speak at events and check in with the teachers that influenced my career," Smith wrote in an email.

Smith and her team have created the brand, informational brochures and campaign timeline. She's also served on the campaign committee, facilitated graphic design and identified key messaging, she wrote in her email.

Neal said he believes everyone involved in the campaign has done a better job of communicating with the community this time compared to last year.

"We're trying to be as transparent and give as much information as possible," he said.

NW News on 01/25/2018