Bryant Arkansas School District – 3/14/2017 Millage Election - Passed
by Charles Young

On Tuesday, March 14, 2017 residents of the Bryant School District voted to increase taxes. This page explains why I was against the millage increase.

If you live, work, or shop in the Bryant School District you should care about this because it will affect your property taxes or rent, and will increase the expenses of your utilities and the businesses where you work or shop. Even if you do not live in the Bryant School District, your school district is likely to ask for a bigger percentage of your money sometime in the future. The student population is growing, expenses are increasing, and the schools need more money. Even if you have already decided that you are for or against the tax increase, perhaps you are willing to consider that there are valid reasons for people to vote differently than you plan to vote.

If you disagree that the schools need more money, then this is not for you. The question for the rest of us is, with increasing revenue from an increasing population, increasing housing units and valuation, and increasing state matching funds tracking with higher student population; is that increasing revenue enough to meet the increasing expenses faced by the schools? If not, is the proposed tax increase the answer? Is it wise to take out a 30 year loan less than 10 years after previously taking out a loan that has not been paid in full? Is it wise to borrow money when the amount needed to pay back the loan will be more than twice the original amount borrowed? What happens 10 years from now when we are asked for another millage increase? Will we be paying triple or quadruple the amount of the new loan? Where does it end?

I do not know anyone who does not believe that education is very important, and that all children should have the opportunity to get a good education. However, before we vote for a millage increase, we should be certain that we will be getting our money's worth, and that we are not risking the future fiscal health of our schools. Before voting it would be good to consider all the issues and carefully balance the pros and cons rather than making a decision based solely on emotions.

What if the election fails?

I disagree with those who believe that teachers are overpaid. However, relatively low pay or lack of raises is only one reason that teachers leave the profession or retire early. Many do not like the ever increasing red tape, federally mandated common core curriculum, and blame-the-teachers attitude. Retired teachers are often asked if they miss teaching. Some of them will wisely reply that yes, and that is why they retired. We should let teachers adjust their approach to teaching for each class and individual students instead of mandating a one-size-fits all approach. So even more important than pay increases, is allowing teachers the freedom to teach by the methods that work for them and their students.

It seems that the school board has given up on building a new high school north of the interstate. Maybe the message was not that the public opposed a new high school campus, but rather that the rapidly rising income from present taxes should have been sufficient to pay it. Instead of building an extravagant new building at the present high school, perhaps the money should have been spent on a new high school campus.

Here are some facts and figures as I understand them. I encourage you to do your own research - don't take my word for it. Most of my information comes from the following sources:

The Bryant School district has an informative web page that presents their case for a tax increase. On Tuesday February 21 a pro-tax increase group along with members of the Bryant School District held a well-organized public meeting at Bishop Park. The Bryant Public Schools annual report, and Arkansas Department of Education reports.

The school district wants to raise $65 million. If the millage increases is approved, the existing debt of $11.5 million will be refinanced at a higher interest rate and rolled into the $65 million resulting in a $76.5 million 30 year debt. Last year debt service (interest) cost $3.4 million. The new interest rate will be higher, and the loan period will be longer. At the 2/21 meeting I heard that debt cost (interest) on the $65 million new debt will be $42 million. If that is correct only about a third of the money raised by the tax increase will actually benefit the schools – the rest will be spent on servicing the debt (interest). Are there other alternatives to such a long and expensive debt? The answer I heard at the 2/21 meeting was that in order to receive $36 million “Facilities Partnership Program” matching funds from the state, this was the amount needed. It seems to me that people seem to think of this as “free” money and worth paying $42 million in interest to get it. This seems to be just another step in the state taking over control of local schools.

The argument that state matching funds per student are not enough may have some validity, but the increasing property tax revenues from new expensive (well above the $150,000 average value of) houses being built should more than compensate for that.

If you live in the Bryant, AR School District, please vote. If you do not vote, you are allowing the majority to decide for you. The last millage election failed by just 8 votes. Your vote is important.

On election day I participated in a lively discussion of the issue, part of which you can read here.

© Copyright 2017 by Charles Young You have permission to copy and use all or any part of this page with the condition that you attribute Charles Young as the author. A link to this page would be appreciated.