"Plan B" is in the works for Vilonia School District after construction plans and a proposed millage were recently struck down by voters.
The 5.7 millage proposal increase would have gone toward Vilonia’s plan to carry out a three-phase project for an auditorium, a career and technical center and building renovations.
The total cost of the project was estimated at around $33 million.
Superintendent David Stephens said he didn’t have a strong feeling about it passing or failing either way, but was disappointed when he found out that it hadn’t passed.
"I guess my initial reaction was ‘OK, let’s move forward from here then,’" he said. "The community has responded and we’ll go with that."
The district held three meetings prior to the election and Stephens said most of the reactions that came directly to him regarding the possible project were positive, though he did know there were some negative reviews out there.
Personally, he said it was frustrating that it didn’t pass but isn’t disappointed in the residents who voted it down because they have the right to express their vote.
"I’m disappointed we’re not going to be able to do this for the school because I believe that this project we proposed was good for kids’s opportunities," Stephens said. "I also believe it would be good for this community."
As an educator and as superintendent, he said his job is to make sure the district is providing the best opportunities for students as possible.
"What we’re doing now is providing the best opportunities for kids that we can within the constraints we have to work with," Stephens said. "I want to expand those constraints so we have fewer constraints. This building project was not going to solve all our problems but it was going to open wide those constraints a little more so we could do more, so we could get better opportunities and more opportunities. That’s what this building project would’ve done."
Why the voters nixed the plan is a good question, he said, and one the district is trying to answer.
"It could be because they’re not in favor of any tax increase, and that’s good information to know moving forward, or that they might consider a lesser increase for a scaled down project, or they just didn’t like the components of the project," Stephens said. "There’s all kinds of dynamics out there. Our job as the school district is to keep looking at what would improve our schools, what would improve our facilities and then kind of get a feel from the community about what they would support."
That, he said, is exactly what he and his staff are about to start looking into.
"I want to make sure we’ve exhausted every possible scenario, every possible concern, every possible challenge so that when, if, we do go back to the voters again for another proposal we are in a state to be able to respond to every one of their questions in a meaningful way," Stephens said.
He said his main concern with the current shape of the district is the fact that Vilonia’s facilities aren’t on the same level as surrounding school districts and that might be a deterrent for families who are considering moving into the area.
"We will continue to run a strong instructional program and a strong academic program," Stephens said. "We will continue to look at what best meets the needs of our kids as far as our instructional program because that’s our overall mission. Our mission is isn’t about buildings. It’s about teaching kids and giving kids the best opportunity to graduate high school and be prepared [to earn] a livable wage."
He said the other side of that is if families are choosing to go elsewhere, it will hurt the district and the community, too.
While numbers were up slightly this year, Stephens said Vilonia’s enrollment has suffered the past two years.
"Our student enrollment is an indicator, I believe, of the health of the community and a community like ours where we don’t have a lot of business that draws people into the community the school is what, historically, has drawn people to this community. And when our enrollment is not growing at as fast a pace or declining, that is something we have to keep an eye on," he said.
Regardless of any decisions that are brought before the voters and ideas that are pitched, Stephens said they will continue.
"We’re going to keep having school," he said. "We’re going to keep doing everything we can with our limited resources to do what’s best for kids, but that’s what every school district does."