Westside Added to Distressed Schools List

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) -- Another Region 8 school is added to the list of fiscally distressed school districts.  On Friday Westside Consolidated School District announced it is on the state's list of financially distressed schools, even with a healthy amount of money in the bank.

"It is surprising that we're being treated like a school district that's broke and we're not," said Westside Superintendent Dr. James Best.

On Friday the school had $1.4 million in its bank account, but that's less than it has had in the past.

"We've known we've had a declining balance over the last couple of years.  We've lost enrollment.  We had a tax year a couple of years ago where we collected significantly less in taxes than we normally do," said Best.

The district has not received the official word from the state of what the problem is.

"It's not a solvency issue.  It's not that the district doesn't have money to make payroll or pay its utility bills or anything.  We feel like it's a technicality with isolating the balance to just a few different funds," said Best.

Two years ago there was $700,000 less collected in tax money from people living in the district, which is a big chunk of the money needed to run the school.

"There are a number of different indicators in the law that can place a school district in distress and we do not qualify for any of them other than declining balance," said Best.

Those numbers have rebounded now.  In fact, so far for 2006, 98% of the taxes have been collected by the Craighead County Tax Collector's office.

The tax collector is still collecting delinquent taxes from 2006.  On March 1st they started collecting

taxes from 2007 and tax payers have until October 10th to pay those before they become delinquent.

"We send out a little reminder that says, 'Have you forgotten something?  We show that your taxes are not paid.'  That gives them a second notice and then if it rolls around that they don't pay it by then, we run the delinquent list in the paper," said Chief Deputy for the Tax Collector, Janiece Robbins.

But Best said he doesn't blame those who haven't paid their taxes, saying everyone is having a rough time.

"It's just real hard for me to be judgmental with the public out there because we're all suffering to a certain degree.

Another problem is enrollment.  Schools receive about $5,600 a year per student in state aid money and the number of students at Westside is down by about 50 kids since four years ago.