School millage vote Tuesday

By Christina Verderosa

DeWitt Era-Enterprise of DeWitt, Arkansas

For the past six weeks, campaigners for the new middle school have been blanketing the district to try to get out the vote for a property tax millage increase. OnTuesday,they'll find out if they made their case successfully.

Voters throughout the DeWitt School District will decide if they want to increase the school millage rate from 34.5 mills to 38, in order to build a new middle school in DeWitt. If the project is approved this year, the district will receiveabout$3 millionfromfhe state to help defray the cost. If the increase is voted down, it is likely that the district will have to bear the entire cost in the future.

School officials and campaign organizers are using the state money as one of the major reasons to replace the current middle school, which was built in 1967, now. Diana Graves, who is chairing the committee to conduct the millage campaign, said increased taxes "are aconcern for everyone, including myself as a landowner. But consider how much we'd lose if we don't get state money."

She also pointed out that all taxpayers in the district will pay the same school millage rate, although city and county rates will differ depending on where they live.

Graves said people have asked her a number of questions about the millage, including whether it will decrease or eventually go away. "It's not going to lessen," she said.

DeWitt School superintendent Gary Wayman added that the concern about taxes is "understandable." But he added that, "In the state of Arkansas, there's no other way to do it [build a new school]."

The increase will mean a hom-eow ner whose property is assessed at $50,000 will pay about $30 more each year. However, with the homestead credit of $350 that is available for a taxpayer's primary residence, some taxpayers will see smaller increases or perhaps none at all. In addition, the assessed value of a home is frozen, when the owner reaches age 65.

School Board president Jon Fuhrman said, "For me, the small cost over and above on the property tax is not the issue." When the leaders of the DeWitt School district built Westside Elementary School and the other buildings, they took care of the district for about 60 years, Fuhrman said. "This is our chance to do something for the next 60 years."

Although there has been no organized opposition, the DeWitt Era-Enterprise has received several letters speaking out against the millage increase. In the Dec. 17 issue, Nona Condray said, "The School Board and school administrators should concentrate on helping the teachersjmprove the school academically and quit proposing foolish, wasteful and unnecessary building programs."

Organizers of the campai gn have been concentrating much of their effort on parents and teachers. Way man descri bed meeti ngs wi th all the teachers Monday.

"If you're an elementary school teacher, you should be for it, because you've seen what fthe new DeWitt Elementary School] has done. If you're a middle school teacher, you should be for it because you've tromped in the rain and the mud between buildings. If you're a high school teacher, you should be for it, because then the majority of the [federal] stimulus money will go to renovate the high school." The DeWitt School district is scheduled to receive $936,667 in federal stimulus money.

Supporters haveemphasized that the new building will be self-contained, unlike the current middle school, which is housed in several buildings. The only part of the old school that will be retained is the cafeteria.

Graves pointed out that in addition to students having to go outside in bad weather to change buildings, the current layout is also a problem for handicapped students. When the middle school was originally built, "We didn't have children with walkers there."

Graves said she has generally gotten good feedback about the choice of location, although some people have questioned why it was not built near the elementary and high schools.

School officials have said that in order to build near the other campuses, the district would have to buy land, instead of using land it already owns.

Fuhrman said he hopes there's a good turnout. "We want the people to decide." Graves said everyone has an interest in the outcome. "I don't have children or grandchildren," whoattend DeWittschools, she said. "But it's good for the community."

Early voting began Tuesday at the DeWitt Courthouse. Regular voting will be heldTuesday, January 12 at First Methodist Church in DeWitt, Gillett City Hall and Humphrey City Hall.

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