If the measure passes, it could generate millions for facility upgrades.
Today is the final day of early voting in a Little Rock School District millage extension election. Voters are being asked to refund bonds from 2015 and to extend existing debt service mills by 19 years. If the millage extension is approved, officials project it will generate up to $300 million in construction funds over three years.
A yes vote will not increase taxes, but it will allow the district to use the generated funds to update its many facilities, LRSD board president Vicki Hatter said.
“Voting for the millage, it is an investment right in our students, right in infrastructure, and then it helps stabilize our district,” Hatter said.
Several of the LRSD’s schools are more than 65 years old and in need of improvements. Funding generated by an extension of the debt service millage would support projects such as upgrading security cameras and LED lighting, as well as replacing roofs, floors, windows and HVAC systems.
Officials would also construct two new schools — a high school and a K-8 school. The latter would replace McClellan High School, which Hatter said is “in bad shape” and would be torn down as part of the millage-supported projects. The school discontinued traditional high school operations at the end of the 2019-20 school year, with students reassigned to the new Little Rock Southwest High School for 2020-21, according to the district’s website.
“Having a sustainable, viable, high-performing district that is invested in capital improvement or infrastructure is vital,” Hatter said. “Making sure that we are able to invest in our facilities to where children feel happy and warm walking into the building is very, very important.”
While part of Hatter’s investment in the district stems from being the mother of two teens attending high school, she said the election can impact people who don’t have students attending LRSD schools. The district’s deteriorating buildings can negatively impact property values, for example, but if projects like the construction of the new schools get the green light, they could help generate new job opportunities.
While there is no formally organized opposition to the measure, politicians such as Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Democratic Senator Joyce Elliott have spoken in favor of voting yes.
“If there is a single school in LRSD any one of us would not be proud to send our own children or loved ones to, satisfaction will continue to be reserved for the privileged,” Elliott said in a social media post Sunday. “Being lucky by neighborhood or ability to make sure some kids get into ‘the right’ school, regardless of where they live, while others don’t will never be right.”
Hatter is hopeful voters will approve a millage service extension even though they rejected it in 2017 and 2020. Hatter, Sen. Elliott and others were opposed to the millage extension at that time because LRSD was still under state control. Arkansas dissolved the school board when it took over the district in 2015.
“Back then it was because we didn’t have a democratically elected school board which meant we didn’t have accountability,” she said.
A new school board was elected in December 2020 and the state completely relinquished its control in July 2021. With Hatter at the helm, the board now has more local control to invest in capital improvements like upgrading facilities as a way to support the district’s children.
“We have a duty to address the whole child and this is just one of many ways we can do that,” Hatter said.
Today is the final day of early voting before election day on Nov. 2. Polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. tomorrow. More information about the ballot and polling locations is available on the Pulaski County Election Commission’s website.
Details about the proposed projects that would be funded by an extension of the millage can be found on LRSD’s website.