Pulaski County voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a property tax extension to fund a major expansion of Sylvan Hills High School in Sherwood.
With 100 percent of precincts counted, the measure passed with 2,628 votes, or 66 percent, in favor and 1,337 against.
At a watch party in Sherwood, Linda George, co-chairman of a committee that worked to pass the millage extension, announced passage of the measure at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“It’s done,” she said into a microphone, smiling. “Sixty-six percent!”
The measure extends 15 mills of the district’s 40-mill tax rate for another 13 years. The 15 mills otherwise would have sunset in 2035 but now will sunset in 2048.
The extension, which had no organized opposition, will allow the district to fund a $66 million expansion of the high school and meet other critical needs.
The original school, built in the 1960s, was designed to accommodate 850 students. After sending 9th grade students to another campus to relieve overcrowding, officials say the Sylvan Hills campus is still bursting at the seams with over 1100 students in grades 10 through 12.
Such overcrowding places a strain on virtually all resources school officials can bring to bear and requires close management to keep things running, according to PCSSD Superintendent Dr. Jerry Guess.
“We’re using every space we have. We’ve got old storage rooms we’ve converted to classrooms, we’ve got portable classrooms that were already there and we’ve had to bring in more to meet the need for classroom space,” he said.
The school cafeteria was built to accommodate just 300 students per lunch shift and requires creativity to ensure that no students miss lunch, said Terry Allen, Sylvan Hills High School principal. He said some teachers have requested prep periods during the lunchtime periods to alleviate the strain.
“The teachers volunteer to tutor kids, and other students do volunteer tutoring, which allows students to take their lunch to the classroom to eat. Legally, we can accommodate 300 kids per lunch shift, so at nearly 1500 students, you can see we are still well over capacity,” Allen said.
In addition to the cafeteria, the school auditorium will not hold more than one grade level at a time, and the school has just one science lab for the entire campus, a situation Guess said cannot continue if the district is to offer a quality education to the high school students at Sylvan Hills.
“Sylvan Hills has experienced tremendous growth in the past few years, and enrollment has been growing by over 150 students a year,” said Guess. “In fact, our incoming ninth-grade class outnumbers our graduating class by over 100 students. We’ve got to have some room.”
Guess said that despite the age of the current high school, the building is in good condition, so rather than start from scratch, a better option is to expand onto the existing building. Plans are to build a new cafeteria, new auditorium, new gymnasium, and to add nine new science labs to the one the school now has. Existing classroom space is to be upgraded and renovated and new classroom space added.