Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

TOP STORY >> PCSSD sees tax boost as way to fund two schools

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District will rely upon increased revenues from increased property assessments resulting in higher taxes to help pay off an $81 million second-lien construction bond if the state Board of Education authorizes the sale of that bond at its May meeting.

The PCSSD board made the decision in a special session Tuesday.

The bond is intended to pay for a new high school at Maumelle and a new Sylvan Hills middle school.

The state rejected an earlier repayment plan that would have required shrinking teacher’s pay and reducing the number of vice principals hired to help make the $5.5 million a year payments.

At the direction of the board, interim Superintendent Rob McGill, and acting chief financial officer Anita Farver and her staff pored over the district’s books looking for possible cuts both to pay off the bond and also to reduce the overall district budget.

The board interrupted the first day of its two-day financial workshop to discuss and vote on the revised bond application.

Jacksonville board member Bill Vasquez made the motion to approve and submit the application to the state, and Danny Gililland, Jacksonville’s other board member, seconded the motion.

Only board member Mildred Tatum voted against McGill’s new application, saying it required spending of all stimulus funds and other money without doing anything for the schools in her district.

Administrator Robert Clowers hand-delivered the new application to the state on Tuesday just minutes before the noon deadline required for the state board to consider it at the May meeting.

“We reviewed the district’s assessment history and determined that the property tax values have grown at an average rate of approximately 11 percent since 2004,” McGill said in his letter.

“The district’s 2008 assessed value increased by $206,111,504 over the 2007 assessment,” according to McGill. “This increase alone should produce approximately $3,541,678 in additional debt-service millage revenue beginning in the 2009/2010 school year.”

Stephens Inc. experts who have helped lead the district through the bond process have estimated the growth of revenues for increases in assessment even higher, according to Farver, but the district is using the lower numbers.

The estimated annual funds available for second-lien bond payments include revenues from the 2008 assessment growth, $3.5 million; operating revenues reallocated to the building fund, $2.8 million; and reduction in administrative expenses from eliminating three positions, $190,000.

Also, McGill told the board that he talked to architects Wittenberg Delony and Davidson and its construction manager Baldwin and Shell, telling them to make cuts until the Maumelle school costs no more than $55 million, excluding outdoor athletic facilities, and fewer furnishings for offices, labs and classrooms. They were also told to hold the cost on the Sylvan Hills middle school to $28 million.

The school at Maumelle had been estimated earlier this year at about $80 million.
“If we didn’t have the stimulus money, we’d be in trouble,” said McGill.

Stimulus money is planned to rebuild roofs at Crystal Hill and Clinton Elementary and remodel restrooms at several sites including Jacksonville Middle School.

Although Vasquez made the motion to approve the new bond application, he said the board is not looking down the line.

He said Jacksonville will lose 350 students to the new charter school next year and perhaps another 150 students who didn’t get in but whose parents have decided not to send them back. That’s about $300,000 a year that the state won’t pay PCSSD in minimum foundation aid.

He said the application also doesn’t take into account millions of dollars the district will lose when it’s released from the desegregation agreement and also when Jacksonville and north Pulaski County detach and form their own district.