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The Sun-Times - Heber Springs, AR
  • Heber Schools asking for millage increase

  • New performing arts complex will be one of the new buildings constructed if the millage passes
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  • The Heber Springs School District is outstanding in many ways; we have a great student body, a great faculty and staff, and we're located in an amazing place to live. Since 1993, our school district has grown from a student population of about 1300 to around 1800 today. Twenty years ago in 1993, the voters of Cleburne County voted for a millage increase for our schools, and while the school has not asked for a millage increase since 1993, there was a millage rollback in 1999 due to the reappraisal of property values in the county. And the school has operated on the 29.4 mills allotted to schools since that time, even though the school system has grown considerably since 1993, and appears to remain in a growth pattern. Because of our growth and the needs explained below, the Heber Springs Schools and Board of Education, are asking for a millage increase this September.
     
    The school has prioritized a list for the district.
     
    1.) Performing arts complex complete with a band room and 1000-seat auditorium
    2.) Increased security measures for the district
    3.) Expansion of the high school cafeteria
    4.) Occupational and Physical Therapy building
    5.) Repairs and/or renovations of existing buildings
     
    In preparation for asking for this millage increase, the school has partnered with an architect firm that has come to our campus, met with teachers, and studied the property and existing buildings. They have tentative design plans for each of our prioritized needs.
     
    1.) The proposed performing arts complex is an exciting addition to the school and community. Since the conversion of the Gem Theatre to a movie theatre, the town really has had no venue for any performances requiring a stage. The auditorium, which is slated to accommodate 1000 guests would fill this great void in our community by providing a stage for band performances, play productions by the drama department, guest performances, special assemblies for the students, and any number of activities for the community.
     
    The award-winning band program has long since outgrown its present space in more ways than one. Each fall, our band gathers their marching instruments from various places because there simply isn't enough storage in the band room for the very large marching instruments used, not to mention the racks of marching uniforms. But the more important space that has been outgrown is the band room itself. At present, students are seated wall-to-wall both side-to-side and front-to-back, and when you put that many students into a space that is too small there is simply not enough cubic feet to accommodate the sound produced. Like many other schools in our 4A classification, the proposed design of our performing arts complex has the band room, drama department, and auditorium with the stage all under one roof! That means no more dragging the heavy timpani kettledrums and big chimes along with all the other things needed for a concert up and down the hill to the gym.
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    The drama department has been really limited in what they could do, but with the stage in the auditorium, students performing on a stage with actual wings and a backstage; lighting and sound system; and an all-important curtain.
     
    2.) In light of all the school violence that our country has witnessed over the past few years, we would like to add security measures to help ensure the safety of students and faculty alike. There are several changes that are proposed such as redoing the front of the elementary school to create one entrance with windows and a buzzer system that visitors would have to enter and be "buzzed in" to the building by school personnel. Other potential changes would be closing off the playgrounds with the fences, possibly adding another resource officer, and adding more security cameras and monitors.
     
    3.) Our high school cafeteria can seat about 200 students. We presently have 524 students enrolled in our high school. We have divided the high school into two different lunch periods, but there just isn't enough room to seat all the students in each lunch at one time. We've added outdoor seating with picnic tables, but as we are all aware, Arkansas weather is just not conducive to outdoor dining year round! And so, like the band room, we have wall-to-wall students at both lunches.
     
    4.) At present, our occupational and physical therapist are housed in a trailer that the school bought used from Cleburne County Community School in 1999 with the understanding that the trailers were a temporary fix to our overcrowding. The students who receive these services come from the elementary, middle, and high schools, so the proposed building would be a stand-alone building that would be truly handicap accessible by students from all schools.
     
    5.) Unfortunately, we have aging buildings, aging roofs, furnishings like student desks that wear out, and heat and air units that also wear out and need replacing. With this millage increase, the school would be able to replace, repair and/or renovate facilities and furnishings that are needed.
     
    So what does this mean to you, the residences of Heber Springs, and how does Heber Springs measure up to other schools of like size in the state? Our present millage rate of 29.4 mills ranks us at 42nd out of 44 other 4A schools with whom we compete in all areas like football, track, basketball, band, and quiz bowl. Even with our proposed millage increase of 3.4 mills, our standing in the 4A classification would move us from 42nd to 36th place. With a new millage rate of 3 2.8 mills, we would still be 4.8 mills below the state average of 3 7.6 mills. We also have one of the lowest millage rates in our county: Pangburn - 4 1.4, Rose Bud - 3 9.3, and Quitman - 3 3.5. An increase of one mill for Heber Springs translates to approximately $2 0 per $100,000 of assessed property value for residents, so a 3.4 mill increase translates to about $64 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
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    OUR kids, OUR school, and OUR community here at Heber Springs deserve to have an outstanding school facility. We are a great school and we want to be even better.

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