by Max Brantley
No Taxation Without Representation is a grassroots campaign that opposes the Little Rock School District debt extension on the grounds that we have no accountability systems in place and the district cannot afford to blindly hand millions of dollars over to Commissioner Johnny Key to do as he pleases.
On Tuesday, May 9th, voters will decide whether or not to extend 12.4 mills in property tax for an additional 14 years, from the current end date of 2033 to 2047. This extension of debt will raise about $160 million [in a planned initial bond issue], which, according to the LRSD, will be used for capital improvement (building and grounds) ventures.
With the LRSD still under state control, Commissioner Key has the final say on how the money will be spent. Though Superintendent Poore promises these funds will be used toward needed infrastructure improvements, words are cheap and we cannot trust that these proposed improvements will be approved by Key or come to fruition. Moreover, the LRSD was taken over for academic distress – the district should be prioritizing evidence-based interventions to lift student achievement in our schools, not building shiny new buildings that are proven to impact achievement by only a few percentage points.
“State control has made our district even more unstable and has divided our community,” says Donna Massey of the No Taxation Without Representation campaign. “We have no trust in Johnny Key or Mr. Poore. They are closing our schools and now asking us to give them millions more to build a new school. It makes no sense. I have been a strong supporter of every millage until now, but it would be dangerous to support a massive increase in funds like this until we have elected representation by people who want what’s best for our district and children.”
Commissioner Key and Superintendent Poore are moving full steam ahead with their intent to close four LRSD schools in response to the loss of desegregation funding. Why do they want to increase our debt if the district is already in such a budget crisis? Extended debt coupled with the imminent growth of charter schools is a perfect recipe for the district to fall into fiscal distress, which would delay our right to locally elected representation. Since the passage of Senate Bill 308, the LRSD could be forced by the state to hand over buildings to charters after spending millions to restore and revitalize them.
Commissioner Key and Superintendent Poore have asked for trust when they have actively cultivated mistrust and acted in bad faith against public school students, teachers, and supporters. “Because nothing has been done equitably for all children of the LRSD regarding funding, facilities, programming, or other resources, I cannot trust that any funding allocated or acquired from a millage will be for all of the children of the LRSD,” says Evelyn James, an LRSD teacher and parent.
“It has been too long since any major capital improvements have been done in our schools,” said Gary Smith, Chairman of the committee. “By extending the debt on our bond, we will be able to improve every school in Little Rock and build a much needed new high school in Southwest Little Rock and implement a major revitalization of an aging McClellan High School. All this can be completed without a new tax. Bottom line our kids deserve better. With a vote FOR on May 9th, this will happen,” continued Smith.