Graham talks proposed millage increase for new elementary school building
With the upcoming Sept. 16 school election looming, Trumann Superintendent Myra Graham has been meeting with citizens and various organizations to talk about the need for a millage increase to build a new elementary school.
When Graham spoke to the Trumann Lions Club last week, she said when she first came to Trumann three years ago and saw the state of Cedar Park Elementary, she began saving money for rennovation. Since then, the district has saved $1.4 million, but when state officials inspected CPE, they told Graham the buildings were not adequate for students and it would be much more costly and time-consuming to rennovate versus building a new elementary.
Among the problems at CPE, Graham said one of her first concerns was not having adequate security. "One issue that's important is the safety of the kids coming and going," Graham said. "There are so many ways to get into Cedar Park right now. It's a concern." Also, elementary classrooms are required to be 1,000 square feet, but CPE's rooms are 750 square feet. Air conditioners are reaching the end of their lifespans, parts of the building flood during rain, and there is not adequate access to bathrooms for disabled students.
Graham said there were 625 kids at CPE when she started as superintendent in 2011. There are 725 this year. "We're out of room. There are kids everywhere," Graham said. "They didn't project us to grow like this and yet we are, and I'm not seeing anything different about the future. Hopefully the opportunities we're offering at the school will bring people to Trumann."
State officials declared the only CPE buildings which are adequate include the safe house--which is open to the community during dangerous weather--the gym, the cafeteria, the art classroom and the music classroom. Tearing down the rest, which includes all the classrooms, would cost about $90,000. The school is proposing a millage increase of 2.8 mills. Graham said for a home owner with a house appraised at $100,000, this would mean an increase of $56 a year in real estate taxes. This would bring the total millage to 38.6. The state average is 37.4 mills, though 20 schools are having elections this September. A millage increase of 2.8 would raise $5 million. If the millage increase passes, the state has offered to give Trumann $4.7 million to help with the project. Graham said if the millage increase does not pass, that money will go to another school. "They're giving us $4.7 million if we can put up the rest," Graham said. "We just need good classrooms. There's so much rennovation that without that $4.7 million, I don't know how we'll get it done," Graham said.
Together with the money the school has already saved, the millage increase and the state grant would raise a total of $11.1 million for the construction of a new elementary school.
Graham said she was trying to be as frugal as possible with the public's money and added there is room in the proposed designs to add on to the school in the future as Trumann continues to grow. If the millage passes, the new school would take an estimated 18-24 months to complete as opposed to five years and more money to rennovate.
Another issue Graham said needs to be addressed is the Wee Cats building, which houses four preschool classrooms. Graham said after an inspection with the state fire marshal, she learned the pressboard used for the walls is highly flammable, but the roof is in such bad shape that rennovation cannot be done. The fire marshal told her if the walls were painted, the school would be allowed to use the center for Wee Cats for another five years. "That was a year and a half ago," Graham said. The current art and music classrooms, along with the current library, could be converted to preschool classrooms if the millage passes, but if it does not pass the problems will not go away. "If we don't solve the problem of the classrooms, we'll have another problem with our preschool classrooms," Graham said.
When Graham spoke to the Trumann Chamber of Commerce this week, the Chamber board agreed unanimously to endorse the millage increase.
The election will be held at the Community House from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 16.
"I've had a lot of support from the community, but I need you to come out and show your support at the polls," Graham said.