School tax opponents demonstrate at district offices | Arkansas Blog

School tax opponents demonstrate at district offices


TAKING IT TO THE STREET: Opponents of Little Rock school tax proposal. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • TAKING IT TO THE STREET: Opponents of Little Rock school tax proposal.

Opponents of the extension of 12.4 mills in Little Rock School District property taxes demonstrated outside school offices today.

The thrust of their argument is that key construction can be done with existing cash flow without adding new debt service, an argument buttressed by former Superintendent Baker Kurrus' explanation of why he planned to oppose the millage.

Backers of the tax, which will add 14 years of payments totaling $600 to $900 million, say much of the work to be done by bonds were projects envisioned by Kurrus during his tenure, before being fired by state Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who controls the district in state receivership.  He has said he had a plan to pay for work with existing cash flow, budget cuts and state construction money, plus perhaps short-term borrowing, but not a new bond issue.

Kurrus has said it's unwise for a financially pinched district to borrow more money when the state support of charter school expansion in the district seems likely to continue to erode enrollment and state financial support. Supporters of the tax say improving facilities is vital to attracting students.

The new debt service alone will cost about $8 million a year in interest and related costs. Retired judge and Presbyterian pastor Marion Humphrey spoke against the tax. He noted that, by the time new bonds are paid off, the district will have to give priority to paying $290 million, counting interest, to repay bonds. The community, lacking a school board, has had no say in the tax proposal, has no school board and likely will suffer from continued charter school expansion, Humphrey's statement said. Every dollar spent on buildings will be matched by almost a dollar spent on interest. The district's amortization schedule shows payments of $154 million in interest and $201 million in principal.

Voters should not accept taxation without representation, Humphrey said.

The committee backing the tax extension will have a news conference at noon Tuesday at City Hall.

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