Bentonville Approves $74M For High School; 4 Schools Placed On Probation

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The Bentonville School Board gave the school district approval to seek $74 million in bond money to pay for a second high school Monday night (June 17), while administrators explained why four Bentonville schools are now on probation.

The School Board unanimously approved applying for $74.7 million in bond money through the Arkansas Department of Education to construct a second high school. The application is expected to be reviewed in July.

"The state gives authority for us to sell the bonds, bond holders then purchase those bonds and we repay them from the seeking fund or the millage that we collect from the voters," said Sterling Ming, executive director of finance for the school district.

Voters will decide in the September ballot if to approve the bonds and the 2.9 millage increase to fund the second high school. The millage would pay for the bonds.

"Once the state board approves it and the voters approve it in September, it's usually about a four to six week turn around that you can sell the bonds," Ming said.

Also on Monday, administrators acknowledged four district schools being placed on probation by the Arkansas Department of Education for enrolling too many children in some of the classrooms, Ley said.

Superintendent Michael Poore said, "That's our mistake and now we have to take corrective action and we have to inform our public that we made this mistake."

State education codes require secondary-level schools to have no more than 28 students in each classroom. Bentonville High School, Old High Middle School, Ruth Hale Barker Middle School and Bright Field Middle School each had more than 28 students in some of their music and arts class, catching the attention of state education officials, Ley said.

"Our principals definitely know that this is the number that they need to be at, the second thing is we've change it so that even in our own system now that number would be called out," Poore said.

Ley said the school district has not changed the number of students allowed into those classes in the last four or five years, and administrators mistakenly thought they were allowed to put extra students in those classes. Ley calls the situation a misunderstanding and said administrators are fixing the problem.

The schools were placed on probation, which acts as a warning. If the class sizes do not shrink in the coming years, the schools could face forced changes in curriculum and administration leadership.

The Bentonville School District could get up to $15.4 million dollars to build a second high school, that’s if voters in the district approve a millage increase on the September ballot.

The state money will come through the Arkansas Department of Education’s Academic Facilities Partnership Program.

Superintendent Michael Poore said a new school is needed because of overcrowding at Bentonville High School.

“That money will actually be scaled back just a little bit because the size of our project is going to be scaled back. Initially we submitted 2,500 students now we are going to submit 2,250 but the money is there that’s the best part,” said Poore.

The school board had to make cuts to lower the cost of the school.

“We cut out all the other fluff that was in it. We took out HVAC improvements, we took out the technology improvements, and we took out the huge athletic facilities. We took a lot of things out to get this more palatable for the community to say ‘that’s a number that I can afford to support,” said School Board President, Travis Riggs. “When you throw in top all of those cuts an extra $15 million you’re getting from the state it just compounds the effect and we’re able to bring it in at a much lower cost and like I said we are hearing potentially we might get this below 2.9 mills.”

The school district could receive a refund from the state on the construction for about $12 million, said Mary Ley, communication director for Bentonville Public Schools.

The school district must break ground on a second high school by October 2014.