Watson Chapel School Board to discuss millage vote

The Watson Chapel School District Board of Directors will hold its monthly meeting 7 p.m. Monday night in the Edgewood Elementary School cafeteria, 4100 W. 32nd Ave.

District superintendent Danny Hazelwood said Friday afternoon that the venue change for the meeting will allow the district to more adequately explain why the existing Edgewood building needs to be replaced and why district leaders believe the way to accomplish the project is the passage of a 2.3-mil increase to the existing 31.8 millage rate — a decision that will go to the voters in a May 14 special election.

“We want to bring attention to the need for the new building and explain how the requested millage increase must be approved by the voters for this to happen,” Hazelwood said.

Hazelwood said in February that the only viable option to prevent a state takeover of the district is the construction of a new kindergarten-first grade building to replace the current Edgewood Elementary campus.

“The existing millage rate of 31.8 is less than every district around us,” Hazelwood said in a Feb. 11 interview. “If the increase is passed, the new rate at 34.1 mills will still be the lowest rate in the area. The entire project is estimated at $10 million with the state committing $6 million of that amount, which is 76 percent of the construction cost and 60 percent of the total project cost.”

Hazelwood said the building itself will cost $8 million to construct while the additional $2 million will go to the purchase of land to build on and equipment to furnish the school with.

“In my opinion we are at a crossroads related to the age of our facilities and the future of this district,” Hazelwood said. “The first step is the construction of a new K-1 building to replace the existing Edgewood Elementary campus. The existing building is 52 years old. The state has already told us that the building needs to be replaced. The cost of maintaining a facility this old continues to rise.”

Hazelwood said the existing floor plan at Edgewood is outdated from a safety standpoint because each individual classroom opens to the outside.

“In this day and age it is simply not safe for children to be that exposed,” Hazelwood said. “We need a school that keeps all classroom doors centered on an inside corridor.

“In short, we are under a state mandate to get something done, so we’ve got to do something,” Hazelwood said in a Feb. 11 interview. “If we don’t, the state will look even more at creating a unified Jefferson County school district. [Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Tom] Kimbrell has been talking about this. I think we only have one choice and that is the construction of a new K-1 building.”

Hazelwood said the new building as envisioned will meet and exceed the requirements of the State Board of Education.

“It will become a model to our district,” Hazelwood said Feb. 11. “I have assembled a qualified team of people to assist us in this task.”

Hazelwood said hard lessons were learned in the district’s unsuccessful bid to increase the millage rate by five mills last year.

“The 2.3-mill increase is less than half of what we asked before,” Hazelwood said. “In addition, there will be no leap-frogging of classes from one building to another as we had planned last year when we hoped to build a new fifth- and sixth-grade building. We will just be moving two classes into a new building.”

Hazelwood said part of the district’s strategy to get the millage increase passed is making sure that the plan is communicated clearly to the public.