The North Little Rock school board agreed on June 21 to a preliminary layout and design for new elementary schools and chose not to restore some incentives eliminated to help pay for new construction.
Bill Gray, architect with Taggert Foster Currence Gray architectural firm, presented the preliminary design, which includes discovery areas for students and greater interior visibility for different functional areas in each school.
He said the long-range plan calls for the outside brickwork and other exterior features of each school to be matched to the look of other buildings that surround it so the building integrates well into each neighborhood’s outward appearance.
In the first phase of its five-year, about $260 million building program, the district will construct new elementary schools at Lakewood, Boone Park, Amboy and Meadow Park. A fifth elementary at Glenview will go up in the second phase.
Voters in February approved a 7.4-mill increase in property taxes to help fund the overall construction program, which seeks to build new schools and additions while also reducing the number of campuses from 21 to 13.
Part of the financing plan calls for the district to find savings in its budget.
To that end, the board in a 6-1 vote approved a motion to reject a proposal to reinstate an attendance incentive plan it recently had eliminated to produce a savings of between $220,000-$260,000 annually. Darrell Montgomery, school board member representing Zone 2, voted no.
Superintendent Ken Kirspel said Monday that for each $100,000 in savings the district can obtain up to $1.4 million in bond financing.
The proposal came from the Personnel Policy Committee, and several members of the board asked the committee to resubmit it at the board’s August meeting, along with an estimate of what the cost of reinstatement might be.
Teacher Majoice Thomas, who serves on the committee, presented the panel’s report.
The board also agreed to appoint First Security Beardsley Public Finance to act as fiscal agent for the district in the bond issuance for the new construction.
It also gave its approval to a plan presented by Scott Beardsley, senior vice president of the firm, to issue up to $10 million in bonds, should it need them in order to pay for the cost of early design work, surveying and site preparation.
He said, "It’s giving yourselves permission to borrow that amount and repay it in the future, paying yourselves back."
A reserve fund also is being established to make sure bond payments can be made in the future, should tax revenues fall or interest rates change, Beardsley said.
"I keep hearing that this [design] process is not open," board member J.T. Zakrzewski said earlier in the meeting during a discussion with Gray. "I want to get that out there [that it’s inclusive]."
Shara Brazear, communications specialist for the district, said every effort is being made to reach out to groups like the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce as well as stakeholders in the public at large.
Kirspel said Monday that site teams for each new elementary school, including teachers, staff, principals and others, will start meeting in August to work out details and provide input for final designs. Hopefully, they will be able to conclude their work by November or December so bidding can begin by some time in February, he said.
In other business, the board unanimously approved:
• A fiscal distress improvement report that showed school finances are healthy;
• Several small changes to personnel policy for the new contract year;
• A resolution that allows the Pulaski County Election Commission not open polling places in school board zones where single candidates are running unopposed.
After the meeting, Kirspel said all of about nine elementary school teachers who were notified that their contracts would not be renewed as a part of a reduction in force have since been rehired for the fall. The rehiring includes Lydia Dial, whose husband spoke at a special board meeting earlier this month to object to the nonrenewals.
State law requires school districts to give teachers notification of nonrenewal by May 1, but districts often don’t know what teacher turnover will be like until well into the summer break, Kirspel said Monday. He said he had some confidence this spring that Dial and the others would be back in the new school year but no certainty of it until he had a more exact estimate of how many teachers would be leaving the district’s employ voluntarily.
"It’s always concerning for that staff member, but we can’t promise anything because it might not happen," he said.