If Bald Knob School District voters approve a millage increase and extension Tuesday, a new elementary school and relocating interior power lines underground will provide a lot of features “to increase the safety and security of students and staff,” according to Superintendent Melissa Gipson.
Early voting has been taking place this week at the White County Clerk’s Office on an extension of the existing 13.5 debt service mills for 23 additional years, increasing debt service mills by 5.75 mills and refinancing four existing bond issues.
If passed, the total millage rate in the district will be 44.25. The Bald Knob School District said it would be levied at the end of 2022 and collected in 2023. The combined millage for debt service is expected to generate $19.3 million in project funds.
A final day of early voting will be held Monday from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at 315 N. Spruce St. On election day Tuesday, voters can cast their ballots from 7:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. at Central Baptist Church in Bald Knob, Russell United Methodist Church and at Velvet Ridge Church of Christ.
“H.L. Lubker Elementary was built and added on to over a span of 70 years. with the main elementary building built in 1976,” Gipson said concerning why the millage is needed. “It is approaching 50 years of age. Most major systems in the elementary building, with the exception of the roof and some HVAC heating and cooling systems, have been verified as needing replacement by the Arkansas Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation [Division].”
According to Gipson, the division evaluated three elementary buildings: main “H,” special education and the old kindergarten. She said each of these was given a Facilities Condition Index (FCI) rating. H was given 0.789, special education got a 0.858 and the old kindergarten received a 0.925. “This means the cost of renovating these buildings is 78.9 percent, 85.8 percent and 92.5 percent of the cost to rebuild respectively,” said
Gipson said public school districts may qualify for state partnership funding through the division, but “the threshold for partnership project approval for building replacement is an FCI score of 0.65.”
She said there are approximately 440 students enrolled in the elementary, grades kindergarten-fifth, and the new building would allow all five K-5 classrooms and most activity classes like art, music, Gifted and Talente] and library to be “under one roof.”
Gipson said an enclosed corridor also would provide access from the new school to the existing elementary cafeteria, exterior access point to the main elementary would be reduced from 13 to 5 and fire-related solid-core doors and a sprinkler system would be added, as would a security entrance and access control for interior and exterior doors and video surveillance cameras.
There also would be improved traffic flow with an automated parent pickup system and a car stack space off city streets, she said.
In addition to those things and relocating the interior power lines undergrounds, Gipson said the election measures would allow for certain features “to increase the academic learning and success of our students and staff.” She mentioned there would be increased square footage in classrooms, infrastructure to support 21st century learning technologies, such as Smart boards, Chromebooks, projectors and Elmos (a camera mounted on a stand and attached to a digital projector), indoor meeting space for “grade-level meetings and staff presentations and collaborative space for students.
School Board member Laura Mayfield said many have asked why the board decided to proceed with a special millage election when times are tough.
“We, as a board, had the best intentions in mind when we decided to have a millage election to fund a new elementary school and to relocate the power lines underground,” Mayfield said. “We understand that any millage increase is a big ask of our community but we wanted to act now while we have $6 million in state partnership funding to help us fund both projects. If our district does not take advantage of funds now, there is no guarantee we will be funded in the future.”
She said when the board decided to proceed, “kids were at the forefront of our minds. We put the kids first and wanted to provide a much-needed safer and technologically advanced elementary for them to learn, grow and be proud to attend. We are fortunate in Bald Knob to have a relatively new high school and middle school. A new elementary that meets modern-day standards will complete our K-12 campus for generations to come.”
Community Engagement Committee member Owen Roberts taught in the Bald Knob School District for 31 years and said that “in all those years, the district asked for very few millage increases.”
“One year, the superintendent, H.L. Lubker, called all certified staff to a meeting and asked to promote a proposed millage increase within our community,” Roberts said. “A teacher who was nearing retirement but was in his first year at Bald Knob asked Mr. Lubker if there was much chance of local voters passing the millage. Mr. Lubker said something to the effect he believed it would pass by as much as an 80 to 90 percent margin.
“The man remarked where he recently worked, they often asked for millage increases, but the chances of passing were 50-50. He asked Mr. Lubker why voters were so supportive at Bald Knob. Mr. Lubker told the man that at Bald Knob we never ask for things that we simply wanted. He said we only ask for things that we really need.”
Roberts said he believes that still holds true today, even if the request is being made during record-high inflation. “The district has planned ahead, asked for and been approved for nearly $6 million in state partnership funding. There are no guarantees for this extra money in future attempts to fund these projects.”
Another Community Engagement Committee member, Dennis Pearrow, said he grew up in Bald Knob and attended public schools there from K-12th grade, graduating in 1997. “I have entered a new season in my life where I will have grandchildren attending Bald Knob Public Schools. I, for one, am willing to invest in their futures in hopes they will be provided with the most up-to-date, safest education available.”
Pearrow said he is the father of three graduating students of Bald Knob High School and is excited to invest into “our kids, our community and our future.”
Bald Knob Councilwoman Tammy Glaze, a parent and teacher in the school district, said that “Voting to pass the upcoming millage ... is one way of improving the largest employer in Bald Knob. It benefits the town as well as its people, especially the children and the children to come.”
Glaze said “the children deserve a facility where technology is ubiquitous for instruction, security and administration. Today’s learning is more collaborative, team-based and now more than ever, dependent on technology. Having a modernized building can accommodate teaching, increase teacher motivation and student achievement. This millage is not just asking to build a building…it’s building the future of learning.”
Lynn Garner is in his 10th year with the district and said he has been privileged to hold several titles during those years, including high school teacher, assistant football coach, head track coach, head football coach, athletic/activities director, assistant elementary principal and now principal of H.L. Lubker Elementary School.
Garner said when he was coaching and taking his team to other districts for away games, he remembers athletes asking, “Coach, why don’t we have nice things that other schools have?”
“I believed then and now that our students from the day care until they graduate deserve the best that we can provide,” he said. “This is my fourth year working in the elementary building and we have a serious need for a new facility. School buildings that were built in the 1970s and 1980s were not built for the needs of today’s students.”
In addition to safety and technology concerns, Garner said the current classrooms have a tendency to flood during storms, leaving standing water in the building. “As the principal, it is my duty to advocate for the students of this great district. The elementary students in Bald Knob deserve facilities that will keep them safe, enrich their education and instill pride in their school.”
Garner said from a community member standpoint, he believes the building has served its purpose.
“Some of the wings were built in the 1960s, with the oldest rooms having been built in 1947,” he said. “I would rather see my tax dollars go toward an updated, state-of-the-art facility rather than repeatedly repairing facilities that will inevitably need additional repairs. Continuing to put our money into a building that cannot meet the needs of our students and will undoubtedly require replacement soon is not a good use of taxpayer money.”
Garner said his kids attend the elementary school and he wants them to have access to the “safest, most enriching environment as possible.”
A member of the Bald Knob High School Class of 2005, Garner said his was the second class to graduate from the new high school and he thanks all who supported the millage as it positively impacted his education and made him feel a sense of pride for the school.
“I remember thinking we had the nicest school in the area,” he said. “It is now my generation’s turn to support the current and future students of Bald Knob by voting yes.”