Many residents in the Vilonia School District do not like new taxes. However, some say they will support the proposed one-mill increase due to predicted growth, overcrowding and a need for additional classroom space.
"No one likes new taxes — taxes period," said Amanda Enis, president of the Primary School’s PTO. "I certainly don’t. But at this point, I really believe this is the best option. We just don’t have too many options. I have three children in school, one in the fourth grade. Every year, I have seen an increase in students. Teachers, who had classrooms last year, are on traveling carts this year. We have wonderful teachers, a great school district and I believe, because of that, we will continue to grow. This is not a bad problem to have but it means we have to have additional classrooms. My vote will go for the millage increase."
Angela Bryant has a daughter at the Elementary School and one readying for school next year. She said she will also vote in favor of the millage increase. Overcrowding and shuffling of classrooms is on the list of her reasons. She said she also supports having safe rooms at the schools.
"We definitely have a need for more space at the Elementary. I see it every day," she said. "I also love the idea of safe rooms."
Volunteer Art Pischke, who is also a city alderman, is at the primary school most mornings, greeting parents and the students who are transported by vehicles. As well, he serves in other volunteer capacities at the school.
"I see the need for a new school," he said. "The Primary is a school that was built for 475 [students] or so and there’s more than 600 attending it. It is an overcrowded K-4. I will vote for the millage increase."
He anticipates additional growth will come with the families moving in to fill the houses being built inside the city limits. He said about 25 building permits have been issued for this year. Each of the houses, he predicts, will have children. He talked about the community being a "bedroom community" with families working in the larger cities as well as some being stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base.
"There will probably be more next year," he speculated. "We are a bedroom community. I just see us continuing to grow."
Mayor James Firestone stressed the importance for everyone to get out and vote regardless of their view.
"This election is so important to our school and our community," he said. On that note, he said, he will also cast his vote in favor of the millage increase.
"I support the millage increase and encourage everyone to get out and vote for it," he said. "We have the opportunity to take advantage of $9 million in state funds that will go toward construction of the new Intermediate School. This is a onetime shot, if voters don’t approve the millage increase, we will lose the state funding. Dr. (Frank) Mitchell and the Board (of Education) have done an excellent job planning this project. This is a small price to pay for a facility that means so much to the future of our kids and our community."
The one-mill increase would provide funding for an Intermediate School for grades 4-6, a safe room for the Junior High/Senior High and a safe roof for the Primary school. One mill is estimated to bring in $7 million in the district, costing taxpayers an increase of about $20 in taxes on a house with an assessed value of $100,000. The state will provide $9 million in funding for the project.
However, if the district does not obligate to the funds by Oct. 2013, they will go back into the pool of funds for all school districts resulting in a loss to the district. The district would not be eligible to apply again for a designated time period and there would be no assurance of being granted the funding again.
The proposed Intermediate school would serve students in grades 4-6, resulting in changes on all campuses. The Elementary as well as the Primary would serve kindergarten through third grade students. The Middle School would handle grades 7-8 and the High School would accommodate students in grades 9-12.
Most 9th and 10th classes would be taught on the present Junior High campus while most 11th and 12th grade students would be taught on the present VHS campus.
Twenty acres of land, located on S. Mt. Olive Rd., has been purchased at $12,000 per acre and will serve as the location of the Intermediate School.
The proposed safe room at the High School, currently under construction, will serve as a shelter for about 1,100 and also as a physical education facility for the High School. Before and after school, the shelter will be available to the community. The district’s share of the safe room will be $1.1 million. The Federal Energy Management Agency (FEMA) has provided a grant of $1 million.
The Primary shelter will serve about 700. It will also be utilized by the primary school’s Eagles’ Landing, before and after school program. When school is not in session, the shelter will be available as a community shelter. The district’s share of this safe room will be $175,000 with FEMA providing 75 percent of the cost or $525,000.
Although early voting has begun, the official Election Day is Sept. 18.