Straight Talk by Baker Kurrus, December 21, 2015

The administrative staff of LRSD and I have determined that we should proceed with the planning, design and construction of a new middle school in west Little Rock and a new high school in southwest Little Rock.  These projects were envisioned by the former board of LRSD in the broader context of a millage increase and bond issue.  I believe these projects can be planned, designed, constructed and equipped using existing revenues.  These projects can be the beginning of a new and more fulfilling era for our district if we can work together.  We will put each project on a fast track.

We are planning to open an area middle school (6th grade initially, grades 7-8 will be added in subsequent years) at the Leisure Arts location in the fall of 2016.  We will prepare temporary space for the 6th grade in the office building.  We will also begin the process of converting the large warehouse into the permanent middle school facility so that we can accommodate the students as they move up.  Land and improvements are now under contract for $11,500,000.  A substantial amount of construction will be required to convert the existing facilities to school use.  Current estimates are for total costs in the range of $15,000,000 to $19,000,000 for the conversion, a new gymnasium, furniture and equipment. 

The attendance zone that we have planned will include the elementary zones for Fulbright, Terry and Roberts.  Current LRSD fifth grade students from these schools will automatically be assigned to the new school without any action by parents/guardians.  If a parent/guardian from the new zone has completed an Optional Enrollment Request Form (“OERF”) requesting assignment to an LRSD magnet/specialty school (Dunbar, Forest Heights STEM, Horace Mann), and if the magnet/specialty assignment is no longer desired, the OERF may be rescinded.   The parent/guardian may also wait to see if the alternative assignment is received.  The alternative assignment may then be accepted or declined.  Based on historic patterns, almost all students from these zones can receive an assignment to Dunbar or Mann.  Space is very limited at FH STEM.  If you wish to rescind your OERF, please do so on January 5 through 8 so we can plan accordingly. 

We will have an open enrollment period on January 5, 2016 through January 8, 2016 for non-LRSD students living in the zone who wish to attend the new school as sixth graders in the fall of 2016.  Planning will be ongoing, and we will communicate with prospective students promptly after the open enrollment period closes.

I am appointing a committee to choose architects for the new SWLR high school and for the Leisure Arts warehouse conversion.  Their work will begin immediately.

The reasons to start at this time on these two projects are compelling.  The middle school is needed from a purely demographic standpoint.  The three elementary zones which will be served have a population of about 38,000 people. The area continues to grow. LRSD has over 2,700 students who live in the Fair and McClellan zones.  The cost to refurbish McClellan is estimated to be at least $18,000,000.  The size, scope and cost of the SWLR project will be defined through the planning and design process.  The ultimate costs of the new projects will be driven by the sizes of the schools and their projected enrollments.  Funding will always be a challenge, but LRSD has great resources.  If we approach the same efficiency metrics that exist in other districts, we will be able to continue with a phased plan of facilities improvements.

We have already been reducing costs aggressively.   During each of fiscal 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, LRSD will receive $37,347,429 in funding as a part of the desegregation settlement.  In 2017-2018, LRSD will receive the same amount, $37,347,429, but the money may only be used for facilities.  We have made a number of major cuts which are paying dividends now.  I anticipate an operating surplus this year of about $13,000,000.  Next year I am anticipating the surplus to be in excess $15,000,000.  These surpluses, plus a $2,000,000 surplus from last year, total approximately $30,000,000.  Our tax base is expanding, and I believe we can grow our enrollment.  These developments will enhance our revenues.   

These two projects are only a beginning.  Although we can afford these capital projects, we also must balance our operating budget by 2017-2018.  We face a number of difficult choices as we move ahead together.  We can become more efficient in our utilization of our current school personnel and facilities.  We have other substantial savings opportunities in transportation, administration and scheduling.  

We must never lose sight of our academic mission.  We must always focus on teaching and learning in the classroom.  I will not elaborate now on the progress in those areas, but I believe we are making incremental progress.  We have much more to do.  Buildings do not educate students.  Teachers do.  We must afford our personnel the best long-term opportunities available if we expect to hire and retain the educators we need in order to be successful.

The risks of inaction are greater than the risks of moving forward.  Now is the time for bolder action. We can do great things if we have the courage to work together. 

Baker

To email Baker Kurrus, use this email address Baker.Kurrus@lrsd.org, or use our contact form.

 

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