No Taxation Without Representation group forms for Little Rock school tax vote UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

No Taxation Without Representation group forms for Little Rock school tax vote UPDATE

Posted By on Wed, Mar 29, 2017 at 8:20 AM

click to enlarge FACEBOOK PAGE: New group is fighting tax measure for Little Rock School District.
  • FACEBOOK PAGE: New group is fighting tax measure for Little Rock School District.

A group has formed to oppose a May 9 special election on extending 12.4 Little Rock School District tax mills for 14 years at a cost in added taxes of a half-billion dollars or more.

The group plans a campaign event at 4:45 p.m. Thursday at Cloverdale Middle School.

Their release:

No Taxation Without Representation is a grassroots campaign that opposes the Little Rock School District debt extension on the grounds that we have no accountability systems in place and the district cannot afford to blindly hand millions of dollars over to Commissioner Johnny Key to do as he pleases.

On Tuesday, May 9th, voters will decide whether or not to extend 12.4 mills in property tax for an additional 14 years, from the current end date of 2033 to 2047. This extension of debt will raise about $160 million [in a planned initial bond issue], which, according to the LRSD, will be used for capital improvement (building and grounds) ventures.

With the LRSD still under state control, Commissioner Key has the final say on how the money will be spent. Though Superintendent Poore promises these funds will be used toward needed infrastructure improvements, words are cheap and we cannot trust that these proposed improvements will be approved by Key or come to fruition. Moreover, the LRSD was taken over for academic distress – the district should be prioritizing evidence-based interventions to lift student achievement in our schools, not building shiny new buildings that are proven to impact achievement by only a few percentage points.

“State control has made our district even more unstable and has divided our community,” says Donna Massey of the No Taxation Without Representation campaign. “We have no trust in Johnny Key or Mr. Poore. They are closing our schools and now asking us to give them millions more to build a new school. It makes no sense. I have been a strong supporter of every millage until now, but it would be dangerous to support a massive increase in funds like this until we have elected representation by people who want what’s best for our district and children.”

Commissioner Key and Superintendent Poore are moving full steam ahead with their intent to close four LRSD schools in response to the loss of desegregation funding. Why do they want to increase our debt if the district is already in such a budget crisis? Extended debt coupled with the imminent growth of charter schools is a perfect recipe for the district to fall into fiscal distress, which would delay our right to locally elected representation. Since the passage of Senate Bill 308, the LRSD could be forced by the state to hand over buildings to charters after spending millions to restore and revitalize them.

Commissioner Key and Superintendent Poore have asked for trust when they have actively cultivated mistrust and acted in bad faith against public school students, teachers, and supporters. “Because nothing has been done equitably for all children of the LRSD regarding funding, facilities, programming, or other resources, I cannot trust that any funding allocated or acquired from a millage will be for all of the children of the LRSD,” says Evelyn James, an LRSD teacher and parent.

The vote May 9 is for a refinancing of bonds supported by 12.4 mills dedicated to construction. That millage currently produces about $40 million a year. The vote will extend that millage for 14 years, or a cumulative $560 million. Actually, it will be a commitment to much more in taxes because property values tend to rise about 2 percent a year on average, so at the end of the reauthorization the amount could be producing more than $50 million a year. The rise in taxation goes to operations. The so-called construction millage is currently producing about $26 million a year in excess of needs for bond repayment that goes to district operation.

The school district, taken over by the state two years ago because of low test scores at a handful of the district's 48 schools (three currently), has no school board. By law, Johnny Key is the functioning school board and he controls Michael Poore's decision. Key hired Poore after firing Baker Kurrus for Kurrus' opposition to galloping expansion of charter schools in Little Rock. Key continues to support that expansion and has been instrument in legislation this session that either provided advantages to charter schools (the building acquisition bill he supported) or legislation to apply the same rules to charters as to public schools (Key opposed all those bills.) Key won't talk to the public about any of this. The lack of trust he new group cites is well-deserved.

I expect the Little Rock business interests that supported the drive for state takeover of the Little Rock district soon will announce formation of a group to endorse the 14 additional years of property tax collections. They will do so without assurances from Key that the schools built and improved won't be turned over some day to a privately run charter school with no accountability.

NOTE: A failure to approve the bond refinance in the May 9 election will NOT bring a reduction in tax income to district. It will only delay the ability to sell new bonds. In fact, a defeat will mean the district can capture more of the excess millage revenue over debt repayment obligations than it would if new bonds were sold.

Also TONIGHT:

A town hall is set by Save Our Schools Campaign for the Little Rock district at 6 p.m. at the Billy Mitchell Boys Club at 3107 W. Capitol Avenue.  A panel will talk about current events in the district and take questions.  Speakers are Sen.  Joyce Elliot, former School Board member Dr. Jim Ross, Rev. Ryan D. Davis, Dr. Ginny Blankenship, Marion Humphrey Jr., and Teddi Johnson

UPDATE: By noontime, the Chamber of Commerce-backed pro-tax group emerged with a news release from their customary PR agency. Rebuild Our Schools Now is the brand name. Gary Smith, a chamber executive who's long been active in school affairs. The group has a Facebook page. Their news release said it would be the first major capital improvement campaign in 17 years.

“It has been too long since any major capital improvements have been done in our schools,” said Gary Smith, Chairman of the committee. “By extending the debt on our bond, we will be able to improve every school in Little Rock and build a much needed new high school in Southwest Little Rock and implement a major revitalization of an aging McClellan High School. All this can be completed without a new tax. Bottom line our kids deserve better. With a vote FOR on May 9th, this will happen,” continued Smith.
click to enlarge unnamed.png

Smith said he and retired library director Boby Roberts had given $1,000 each so far to the campaign.

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