Year in Review: ES School Board
The Eureka Springs School Board has had an interesting year in terms of board members and staff.
School board shuffle
In April the board chose to retain Curtis Turner as superintendent, who took over when Wayne Carr resigned at the end of 2011. Because of prior experience as a superintendent and with the State Education Department, Turner was hailed as the best choice to lead the district through two major issues it was facing: a lawsuit and school construction.
The year proceeded with an upheaval from the prior September's election of three new board members: Charles Templeton, Sam Kirk and Al Larson. Templeton became president and Kirk secretary.
In August, board member Tom Winters resigned after serving on the Technology Committee and bringing his expertise to the question of a new telephone system that would link all three schools. Winters cited family reasons for leaving, but Templeton acknowledged the tensions and differences of opinion the two had experienced when he called Winters his "counterpoint."
The board replaced him with Peggy Kjelgaard.
Although Templeton was reelected chairman in October, a month he later resigned from the board, citing a "perceived conflict of interest" over his wife being the publisher of a free weekly newspaper in town while he sat on the board, and then his desire to help her with that project.
The board replaced Templeton with Chris McClung, who had prior board experience, serving from 1990 to 2002, and elected Al Larson as its new chairman.
Following is a recap of the two major issues faced by the school board this year.
School millage lawsuit
A lawsuit filed by the Eureka Springs and Fountain Lake school districts in 2011 against the Arkansas Department of Education over whether school districts should get to keep all school taxes collected in their school districts has continued to play out this year with rulings, appeals and cross-appeals.
ADE demanded Eureka Springs hand over $824,000 in millage revenues for redistribution to poorer school districts that could not generate the minimum foundation funding for each of their students. When the district failed to do so and failed to change its budget to reflect the amount in dispute, ADE refused to approve the budget and withheld $88,000 in categorial funding for the 2010-11 school year.
After rulings and appeals, the case went to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in November in the school districts' favor by a slim margin of 4-3. In December the school districts filed a brief tackling the state's view that educational funding should be equitable for each student in the state. It maintained that funding has never been equitable because of the federal categorial funding given to "socioeconomically disadvantaged districts."
In the latest action, ADE filed an appeal on Dec. 17, asking the Supreme Court to rehear the case. The ADE is asking the court to rule on whether it has to continue to provide equal foundation funding to all schools in the state.
Gov. Mike Beebe has also filed a "friend of the court" brief, saying that the intent of Amendment 74, which he sponsored in 1995, was to establish a statewide property tax as a new revenue source to fund education.
The school districts can respond to the appeal by Dec. 26.
The 4-3 majority court justices will remain in place beginning next year and are unlikely to change their minds when they consider whether to rehear the case. But even if they do, State Rep. Bryan King said he believes the matter will end up before the state legislature next year.
New high school
Ironically, the end of 2012 sees the completion of the new Eureka Springs High School, which the district has funded entirely from a special millage increase without any help from the state because the district is considered a "wealthy" district tax-wise, even though more than three fourths of its students are on the federal Free and Reduced Lunch program.
The $11.7 million high school has been under construction for 14 months and is being completed off Lake Lucerne Road, behind the existing elementary and middle schools, making a complete campus for the school district.
The new school, at 80,000 square feet, boasts 12-14 regular classrooms, features a completely updated, cutting-edge media center, EAST lab (set up for robotics and GPS surveying, among other projects); chemistry and biology labs; a full stage in the auditorium that can seat 346 people; a large music room with practice rooms; a business lab; indoor/outdoor cafeteria dining; a new gym that can seat 1,200 people, making the high school capable of hosting district athletic tournaments that could bring in tourism dollars; two green rooms for TV projects; an in-progress Life Skills building next door; totally wireless communication; extensive parking; and atop else, room to expand.
The school features a safety entrance that monitors visitors and the ability to be environmentally controlled from the superintendent's cell phone on snow days. The lower level can act as a storm shelter as well.
All materials can be recycled in 50 years, say the architects; nothing is toxic.
Students in the EAST lab are working on a master landscaping project which will include plans for an outdoor amphitheater.
The new high school is on target to open Jan. 2. An open house will be given for students, staff and parents, with another one scheduled later for the general public. Supt. Curtis Turner said he will be excited to see students' faces on that first day when they arrive at their new high school.
Although the project has had its detractors who have asked why an expensive building should be built for so few students, a Citizen editorial published in November gives some insight on this. It can be found at http://www.lovelycitizen.com/story/1916041.html.