How Much Are You Willing to Pay for Public School Education?

October 25, 2004 -- Posted 5:17 p.m. CDT

Jonesboro, AR -- This election year, Arkansas voters are being asked whether they want an additional millage increase for public school education. Approval of this measure would increase the statewide uniform rate of ad valoreum property tax for maintenance and operation of schools by 3 mills, from 25 to 28 mills.

If Arkansas voters approve referred ballot question number one, your property taxes will increase, but at a healthy boost for public school education. It's money badly needed, ever since the State Supreme Court found Arkansas' public school funding to be unconstitutional.

"If it goes from 25 mills to 28 mills statewide, you will raise 80 million dollars," said State Representative Chris Thyer.

Thyer believes the money is necessary to meet the court's ruling but he has some questions about the ballot language that would impose this property tax increase.

"We go back and forth honestly about whether it's just M&O mills or whether it's total mills," said Thyer.

Under this proposal, a school district will not face a tax increase if they're already at 28 maintenance and operation mills. Each school district in Jonesboro currently falls below 28 M&O mills, even districts like Valley View and Nettleton who have already high total millage numbers to begin with.

"The way I read it, everybody in Jonesboro gets an additional 3 mills in property tax increase," said Thyer.

Thyer admits the language is tricky and could be interpreted differently.

"In all fairness, there is an argument to be made that no it's 28 total mills, in which case all the districts in Jonesboro are already above 28 total mills," said Thyer.

In either case, what does this mean for school districts in Jonesboro?

"I think a lot of superintendents statewide are pessimistic that it will pass," said Westside School Superintendent Dr. James Best. "There's no descriptor that says where that money goes to."

"It does not require us to spend the money for facilities or to spend the money for the general operation of the school district," said Thyer.

While Best and other superintendents may not agree with this particular tax increase, they do agree the legislature has a tough job ahead of them.

"I honestly don't know where that revenue is going to come from," said Best.

If this measure is approved, the property tax will apply beginning with property assessment this year. Those taxes will be collected in 2005.

Unofficial polling shows more than half of respondents are not willing to vote for a tax increase.