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story.lead_photo.caption Bentonville School District administration building.

BENTONVILLE -- The School District plans to spend $173.4 million this school year, a 1.8 percent increase from last year's operating budget.

The School Board unanimously approved the budget for the 2018-19 school year at its meeting Monday.

Softball field project

The Bentonville School Board on Monday approved spending up to $311,640 to replace the synthetic turf at Bentonville High School’s softball field. The district has hired GeoSurfaces Global Synthetics Environmental to do the job. The project is expected to start next month and be completed in January.

Source: Staff report

The budget for the year appears to show expenditures exceeding revenue by more than $7 million, but that's because a strange year in the habits of taxpayers skewed the numbers, according to finance director Janet Schwanhausser.

An unusually high amount of this year's property-tax revenue came in before July 1, the start of the current fiscal year. That revenue was recorded as part of last fiscal year's budget, not this year's.

This year, 56 percent of tax receipts arrived before July 1; typically only about 47 percent comes by that time. Nobody is certain what caused this year's variation, but the difference meant about $8 million was received in fiscal year 2018 that was expected in fiscal year 2019, Schwanhausser said.

The projected operating fund balance as of the end of next June is $26.5 million, whereas it started the fiscal year at $31 million. That apparent loss is the result of a board decision last month.

The board decided to keep $5.5 million of bond proceeds in its building fund to prepare for the possible loss of facilities partnership funding from the state. That money originally was intended to reimburse the operating fund this year for land purchases made in 2017, according to Schwanhausser.

Construction costs are growing more rapidly than the 3.5 percent annual increase administrators projected two years ago when they put together a long-term facility plan, Schwanhausser said.

At the same time, the state is weighing a proposal to change the formula that affects how much state money school districts receive to build facilities. The change, if adopted, is viewed as benefiting small districts with declining enrollments. It could cost Bentonville millions of dollars in state aid for construction.

"And so, we are going to continue to educate our legislators on the need in rapidly growing districts," Schwanhausser said. "We hope we'll be able to look forward to additional facilities partnership funding in the future."

If not, however, the district is keeping the $5.5 million in its building fund for future building costs.

"So do we have less funds now? No. We have the same, they're just reported in a different place," Schwanhausser said.

The board on Monday also began discussing names for the 12th elementary school, which is being built on West Pleasant Grove Road in Rogers and is scheduled to open in August 2019. Each board member had a chance to bring forward a recommendation, as did the administration.

Joe Quinn recommended naming it Capt. John Sidney McCain Elementary School in honor of the longtime U.S. senator and prisoner of war who died last month.

"I know we try to stay away from politics here, but I think there is so much to his life above and beyond politics," Quinn said.

The name would serve as a kind of history lesson for students who attend the school, "as opposed to a generic name based on the countryside around where the school is located," Quinn said.

Matt Burgess recommended naming the school after Hattie Caraway, who in 1932 became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. Caraway represented Arkansas in the Senate for 13 years. No other school in Arkansas is named after Caraway, Burgess said.

Willie Cowgur asked the board to consider naming the school after Countess Hodges, a Bentonville teacher and school administrator from 1976 to 2010.

Travis Riggs suggested Evening Star Elementary School, a nod to a school that once stood across the street from where elementary No. 12 is under construction, before the area was incorporated into the Bentonville School District.

Superintendent Debbie Jones, on behalf of the administration, submitted University Park as a possible name. It's the same name of a Maryland school that was attended by Zoe Falkenberg, who along with her sister and parents died when terrorists crashed their plane into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, Jones said. Zoe was 8 at the time of her death.

The board also reviewed a list of names suggested by the public. The board plans to narrow its choices to three at its next meeting on Oct. 1 and make a final decision at the following meeting on Oct. 22.

NW News on 09/11/2018

Print Headline: Bentonville School Board approves 2018-19 budget

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