Voters living within the boundaries of the Watson Chapel School District will be asked to consider a 5 mills increase to the current district millage of 31.8 in a special school election April 10.
District Superintendent Danny Hazelwood said that the district’s careful stewardship of its finances over the years has created an unexpected set of problems.
“This is actually our first millage campaign since 1974,” Hazelwood said. “We have been managing our money well and in doing so have kind of gotten behind. The state requires us to keep up our buildings and we have taken such good care of them that they are beginning to near the end of their service life.”
In a presentation to the school board at its December regular meeting, Hazelwood made his case for a millage increase.
“Our newest building is the high school and it is 34 years old,” Hazelwood said. “The junior high is 66 years old, L.L. Owen and Edgewood are about 50 years old and Coleman is 48 years old. We have done a good job of taking care of these buildings and I am proud of the pride that the custodial staff takes in maintaining them. Even though we have been taking good care of our existing buildings, there does come a time when new buildings are needed.”
Hazelwood said that passage of the millage increase will still give the Watson Chapel district the lowest rate in Jefferson County at 36.8.
Millage rates at the other three county school districts include 40.8 in Dollarway, 39.2 in White Hall and 41.7 in Pine Bluff, according to data provided by the Arkansas Department of Education.
Millage funds uses
Hazelwood said that the 5 mills will be divided into 2.3 mills for debt service and 2.7 mills for maintenance and operations.
“The 2.3 mills will take care of our facility needs,” Hazelwood said. “The state will provide us with three quarters of what we need to build a new middle school and the funds from the millage increase will allow us to provide the matching 25 percent. These funds will also be used to purchase land for the new middle school. This will also allow us to fund other projects over the next five to seven years. These include the replacement of a couple of HVAC units on two of our campuses and roof replacements on a couple of buildings.”
“We are also hoping to expand our media center to better prepare our students for the standardized tests,” Hazelwood said. “These tests are going to be given online only soon and right now the largest area we have for that is a classroom with 30 computers. If you are trying to administer an end-of-course exam for something like Algebra that’s well over 100 kids, so we need to add more capacity.”
“The 2.7 mills will allow us to provide our teachers and those who we are trying to recruit with competitive salary and benefits packages that will allow us to make sure we are able to hire a good staff that we can keep,” Hazelwood said. “We will also use these funds to update the technology at our high school and junior high school campuses. We want to have as good a teaching staff as there is with the best facilities. We want to be the most attractive school district in Jefferson County.”
Hazelwood presented the school board with a 10 year Facilities Master Plan during its January regular monthly meeting that laid out projects that would benefit from the millage increase.
The projects include roof improvements and a heating and cooling system renovation at Coleman Elementary School; roof improvements and a heating and cooling system renovation at L.L. Owen Elementary School; a new pressbox and a new physical education multi-purpose building at Watson Chapel High School; and a new roof at Watson Chapel Junior High School.
The master plan also listed several recently completed projects including the resurfacing of the track, improvements to the roof, and a new heating and cooling system at the high school; and the installation of a district-wide surveillance system.
New middle school
Hazelwood said that site selection for a new middle school has been put on hold until results of the millage election are known.
During the December board meeting Hazelwood explained how the decision to build a new middle school was made.
“The thinking that went into the decision to build a new middle school took into account the fact that the state has not been spending money for new buildings in districts that were either losing students or just holding their own,” Hazelwood said in December. “So we decided to plan on building the least expensive type of school building, which is a middle school.”
The school is planned to encompass the fifth and sixth grades.
The Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners has set Tuesday, April 10, as the date of the Watson Chapel School District #24 special school election.
The Election Commission has established a special precinct for the millage vote which incorporates all of the Watson Chapel School District, with the sole polling site at Goodfaith-Carr United Methodist Church located at 3703 Ryburn Road.
The election day polling site will open at 7:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.
Early voting will be held at the office of the County Clerk at the Jefferson County Courthouse April 3-6 and April 9, during normal business hours of 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Absentee ballots may be obtained from the County Clerk’s office during normal business hours of 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Absentee ballot applications can be dowloaded from the Arkansas Secretary of State’s website at www.sos.arkansas.gov or by requesting an absentee ballot application from the Office of the County Clerk at (870) 541-5322.
Early voting and absentee ballots will be counted in the Election Commission Office April 10 at approximately 5 p.m.
The Arkansas Assessment Coordination Department provides an example of how much each one-mill increase will cost an average taxpayer in taxes.
“To calculate the tax, take the house value you have chosen, $75,000 for example, and multiply this value by 20%, which is the assessment level. In this case it would be $15,000. Multiply the $15,000 times one mill or .001, which is $15. So, it can be stated that a one mill increase on a $75,000 home will cost the taxpayer an additional $15 a year in taxes.”