Arkadelphia News

Arkadelphia school board to wait on funding of new high school

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

The Arkadelphia Board of Education discusses funding options to erect a new high school campus. | The Arkadelphian/Joel Phelps

Thanks, but no thanks was the message the Arkadelphia Board of Education sent Tuesday to a funding partnership from the state to build a new high school.

At least for now.

Arkadelphia Public Schools was approved for nearly $17 million in state money during the latest cycle of partnership funding; the district would have been responsible for paying the roughly $21 million difference to erect a new campus, which was estimated to cost between $38-$40 million. The district will apply again soon and will learn how much the state will match during the next funding cycle in two years.

The board discussed, but made no decision on, options on how to fund the future Arkadelphia High School campus. Jason Holsclaw, senior vice president of Stephens, Inc., presented the school board with a financial analysis: had the board opted for the partnership funding, it could have either extended the current millage rate voters approved in 2015 by 13 years (it sunsets in 2047) or increased the rate.

Although district officials touted its financial good-standing of late, a major deciding factor in the school board’s unanimous decision to rescind the offer was the financial unknowns associated with the newly enacted LEARNS Act.

Board president Blake Bell spoke at large about the options presented. While he said the district is in a “very good place financially”, he also warned against jeopardizing the finances.

Board member Matt Johnson cautioned the board to “slow down and see what’s coming” for the district financially, adding that replacing the 50-year-old AHS campus “can wait” another 10 years.

Waiting two years could be a beneficial move for the district — it was when the state offered a similar package to build Peake Elementary School, as the state’s portion increased between funding cycles, board member Gina White noted. White added she is “terrified” of the pending impact the LEARNS Act may have on the school district’s budget, and urged fellow board members to set their sights on the completion of Peake’s new campus. A vote to rescind the offer was approved at the motion of Johnson and a second from Kenneth Harris.

In other business, the school board:
• Heard an instruction report from Superintendent Nikki Thomas

• Accepted the transfer of eight students into the district and seven out. Most of the students who transferred into the district left Gurdon Public Schools, and most transferring out left for Ouachita Public Schools; most of the transferring students were siblings

• Heard Bell say the Central Primary School building is still on the market but can’t by law be sold for less than 90-95% of its appraised value. Its fair market value is listed in a report as $550,000-$650,000.

• Heard an update on the latest parental security/mentoring program, Goza’s Guardians.

• Learned the district is four school bus drivers short of a full fleet. Jimmy King, director of support services, said he’s eliminated and combined several routes in the four years he’s been an administrator. King said Arkadelphia Public Schools is no different than school districts nationwide suffering a shortage of bus drivers, despite recent efforts to incentivize the positions.

• Heard Thomas report enrollment, as of Tuesday, was 1,863 — a number that will likely fluctuate the first couple of weeks of school. She noted the figure is up from last year but anticipates it will level out to about the same as or higher than last year’s enrollment.

Personnel report

Following a 20-minute executive session, the board reconvened in public and approved the following personnel recommendations:

Amber Burton, 4th grade teacher, Peake
De’Shae Craig, school counselor, Perritt
Angelmaa Wempe, distance learning lab facilitator, AHS
Kaitlyn Robbins, Title 1 paraprofessional, Peake

Aubrey Morris, 4th grade teacher, Peake
Zannielle Talley, school counselor, Perritt

Intent to retire
Junius Williams, bus driver

Temporary MOUs
Linda Field, bus monitor
Glenn Hill, bus monitor
Madison Martin, bus monitor