School board talks budget, ArDOT acquisitions

By Joel Phelps

The Arkadelphia Public School District ended its fiscal year with a surplus of funds, administrators told the Board of Education during its regular meeting Tuesday night. The district closed out its year with a balance of more than $7.8 million.

“This is going to give us a step up and help us get our buildings built, and to maybe get some much-needed equipment that we need in our district.”

Tammy Barger, APSD business manager

Business manager Tammy Barger told the seven-member panel that, in her 23 years of working in public schools, she was in “unchartered territory” with her findings, as districts typically balance their budgets while “trying to keep our heads above water.” The district was able to move $2.6 million from its general fund to its building fund. “All the time I’ve been here we’ve never been able to move that kind of money over,” Barger said. “This is phenomenal.” Barger explained that a $500,000 increase in local tax revenue, an “influx” in state and federal funds and fewer district expenditures were to thank for the figure.

“This is going to give us a step up and help us get our buildings built, and to maybe get some much needed equipment that we need in our district,” Barger said.

However, she did caution the board about a balloon payment that will be due in 10 years. The district refinanced bonds this year with a savings of about $400,000. “We need to be realistic,” she said. “We need to remember we can’t just go spend all this money, because we have a bond savings of about half a million dollars every year for the next 10 years, and we did this to set ourselves up so we can build some new buildings.”

Board members Blake Bell and Casey Motl commented on Barger’s report. 

“I think a lot of people don’t understand where this funding comes from,” Bell said. “It’s from within the community (with local tax payments). … If you don’t pay your taxes, our children suffer. Not just our roads and not just our things in the community.” Motl echoed Bell’s sentiment, adding: “This situation is also a credit to our budget managers across the district, from the central office all the way down.”

ArDOT Acquisitions

The board approved the acquisition of four tracts of district-owned land to the Arkansas Department of Transportation for the widening of Pine Street. In exchange for the right-of-ways, the district will be compensated $62,000.

Jimmy King, APSD director of support service, said the biggest part of land the district is giving up is at the Peake Elementary School building on Pine — making up more than half of the total funds the district will receive. The district is surrendering a portion of the parking lot, and King said the state’s DOT will replace the three driveways as well as parking lot improvements once highway construction is finished.

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A second parcel is at the northern portion of the Goza Middle School parking lot adjacent to Pine Street. King assured the board that the DOT would “come back and redo” that parking lot to add parking spaces that will be lost during the widening of the street.

The final two parcels affect the Central Primary School campus. With an improved intersection at 12th and Pine streets will come the removal of the old live oak tree at the southwestern corner of the playground. The other parcel is along the southern fence line of the playground. King said that fence is already in the state’s right-of-way, and noted the DOT will take down that fence but will not reimburse the district for replacing it.

The district had the option to contest the DOT’s offer, but that in turn would start the department’s process of condemnation of the aforementioned properties, with the district receiving no reimbursement. Board member Gina White asked whether other firms were sought to provide a higher appraisal. King said he hadn’t, but it was an avenue that could be explored.

Board member Kenneth Harris Jr. asked where the proceeds would go, and learned it would go to the general fund. Harris said he hoped the funds could be earmarked for improvements to the Alf’s building on Goza’s campus.

An audience member voiced concern about limits on hazardous material travel or zoning around school campuses, recounting a truck explosion south of Camden a couple years ago. The board remained silent on his comments.

Other business

The board entered into memorandums of understanding with OrthoArkansas for an athletic trainer to prevent sports injuries, and with Arch Ford to serve the district’s Alternative Learning Environment students. This will mark the second year the district will have OrthoArkansas, at a price of $25,000. The Arch Ford MOU comes at a price of $231,700.

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