Eureka Springs school board weighs options

Friday, November 26, 2010 ~ Updated 12:08 PM

EUREKA SPRINGS -- The Eureka Springs School District may get some small relief in having to make its first $825,000 payment to the state in excess millage revenues, Superintendent Wayne Carr told the school board at a special meeting Tuesday.

Last Thursday the state Department of Education, backed up by an opinion from state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, informed Eureka Springs and three other school districts they were making too much money in basic state-required educational millage revenues and would have to give over the excess during this and subsequent fiscal years for redistribution to poorer school districts.

The state's formula decrees a minimum of 25 mills to generate a "foundation" amount of $6,023 per student. Districts that cannot generate this amount have the shortfall made up by the state.

Eureka's 25 mills generates $7,291 per student, and the state wants that excess to go to poorer districts in order to decrease making up the shortfall out of other tax revenues such as sales and income tax.

For Eureka, the excess means $825,000 per year. Eureka's reserves are at $1.5 million. Unless the school district can drastically cut its budget, such payments would bankrupt it in less than two years.

Tuesday State Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell issued a statement saying "It is the intent of the ADE to work with these four districts in an effort to recover these excess funds in accordance with the law and in a manner that will hopefully minimize the financial impact to the districts."

What that means, Carr said, is that Kimbrell offered the possibility of Eureka stretching out its first payment over five years. The amount due by June 15, 2011, would be $165,000.

"Spreading it out would help us to plan and not have to make cuts this year," he said.

But in years two through five, the district would have to fork over $990,000.

Carr acknowledged the district has no choice about paying this money. Local tax collections are wired to the state, which in turn wires back the county's, including the school district's share.

If Eureka were to refuse to pay it, the state would simply withhold it.

Board President Rusty Windle said that in a meeting with Kimbrell Friday, he asked whether the state's goal is equality of all school districts.

"He said yes. So then I asked if there is going to be a state salary schedule? He said, 'Well, no.' Then I asked if we go down to the $6,023 per student, are we going to get funding for buildings? He said, 'We're not dealing with that.'

"If they're talking equality of schools, that's a whole other set of issues that is going to come out of this, and the state doesn't want to look at that," Windle added.

Eureka has had a difficult time competing with other school districts for quality teachers because it cannot offer the salaries teachers in cities like Fayetteville or Bentonville make.

Board and community members discussed strategies for dealing with and possibly contesting the state's decision.

Windle made it clear the new high school will be built, but the plans may have to be modified.

"It's not that we don't build the building, but we might have to look at some of the things we wanted to do with the (half-million dollar federal) stimulus money. We might not be able to," he said.

Carr said he can use the stimulus money for maintenance and operations in order to avoid having to cut too many staff and programs this year.

He thought he might be able to cut $50,000 to $75,000 from the budget this year, but said he and the board would have to look at it.

In the meantime, Carr and board members are continuing to talk with state legislators, the other school districts affected, and attorneys.

It is possible, suggested some community members attending the meeting, that a referendum vote could be put to the people next year.

"Who wouldn't vote to keep their local taxes in their local district?" asked several.

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  • Our teacher salaries are comparable to similar sized districts.

    We can not compete with Fayetteville and Springdale. We are not even the size of their elementary schools. We are on par with salaries in our region. They are not even part of our region.

    The 25 mills was not to build a school. That came from the 30 plus mills we voted on. The new building was supposed to cut our costs. Less transportation, decreased utilities,etc,etc,etc.

    The stimulus money started out as almost 800,000. What happened to it?

    Every child in Arkansas deserves an education. The money goes into a pot and we each get back the same amount per student across the state. If and when Eureka Springs tanks. We will still get the same amount as anyone else in the state.

    Pay the money back. Do not waste our money on attorneys.

    Facility funding is different from operations funding for a reason. Does this article mean our operations 25 mills was being used to build a school in addition to our bond mils?

    School equality is a multi faceted system. Do not try to confuse it by putting operations in the same boat as facility.

    Perhaps we can sell the new Administration facility and move our District office into the new HS.

    -- Posted by Sanity Prevails on Sun, Nov 28, 2010, at 3:12 AM
  • Wow Sanity Prevails. Either your real name is Dr. Kimbrell or you are from somewhere else. Why should we give away OUR tax dollars? We are carrying OUR own weight. Why don't you ask all the other school districts to do that? Big football stadiums, auditoriums, gyms that would make a college team proud all over the state and you want Eureka's money! Really?! You try to make it sound like we are taking money away from other districts. B.S.! We should be able to keep all of OUR money here with OUR kids! See you next November.

    -- Posted by Eureka Dad on Mon, Nov 29, 2010, at 3:55 PM
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