Arkadelphia News

Declining enrollment at Gurdon prompts classroom shift, plans for millage election

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

Declining enrollment at Gurdon Public Schools has prompted its school board to take measures to shift student classrooms. The board is also planning to ask voters to decide on a millage increase this May that would generate $4 million for districtwide improvements, including raising teacher salaries.

Following a 50-minute presentation Tuesday from a financial services firm, the Gurdon Board of Education voted unanimously to move grades 2-4 from Gurdon Primary School to Cabe Middle School, and to move grades 7-8 from Cabe Middle School to Gurdon High School. In a separate move, the board decided to proceed with plans to ask voters for a 7-mil increase, to be decided in a May election. Additionally, the board voted in favor to task voters to extend its current debt repayment plan from 10 years to 35 years.

The school board meeting followed a PowerPoint presentation that showed the district has lost 100 students since 2018 — from 710 students in 2018 to 610 students in 2023 — resulting in more than $944,000 in lost funding. The shift of classrooms is planned to happen this summer. The move would also reduce 10 employees over the next two years through attrition, resulting in a savings of $500,000 per year.

That presentation also explained that the predicted $4 million from an increased millage would be used to raise teacher salaries, upgrade technology, fix the asphalt at both CMS and GHS, install fencing at the middle school, renovate the cafeteria, upgrade fire alarm and sprinkler systems, add ac in the gym, and safety and security measures at all campuses.

The current 36 mills for Gurdon homeowners and landowners brings in $2.44 million annually. The proposed increase would generate $2.91 million. 

The school district currently owes $5.3 million in debt.  Jason Holsclaw, senior vice president in public finance at Stephens Inc., explained that the district needs to extend their debt in order to have more operating funds. The 35-year repayment term would give the district until 2058 to pay off the restructured debt with an estimated 5% interest rate.

If the millage campaign is successful, Holsclaw said, the district would not need to propose another millage increase “until there’s another capital improvement project way down the road.” On the flip side, if the mileage fails, the district’s debt service mills would expire in 2032 when that debt is paid. Vining said this would immediately send the district in fiscal distress. “If this passes then the district can prosper for a long time regardless of enrollment,” he added. “This will allow the district to control their own destiny.”