School levy vote is Tuesday

Thursday, May 11, 2006

by Landon Johnston

Mountain Home News

A plant facility levy will highlight the ballot when polls open May 16 for the Mountain Home School District elections.

Superintendent Tim McMurtrey said the levy is a continuation of a past levy and will not affect current tax rates.

"This levy is not an increase in taxes," he said. "We specifically chose to stay at the same level we have been operating at for the past five years so that taxes wouldn't increase."

The plant facility levy has been successfully approved by voters every election since the early 1950s.

"Hands down, this area has always supported education no matter what the cost," McMurtrey said. "The levy this year is almost $1 million ($915,000), but that money will be spread out over a five-year period."

"We have always tried to stay away from supplemental levies every year like some school districts in our area. We simply ask the voters to approve the levy once every five years so we can update our buildings and keep our children safe," he continued.

Getting new air conditioning units installed is the first priority said McMurtrey, but roof repair is ultimately what the majority of the levy funds will be designated for.

Besides building upkeep and maintenance, funds from the levy also will be used to maintain all of the fields and grounds for the district's 12 buildings.

"We have six buildings in town, three on the base and three remotely-located buildings in Pine, Atlanta and Featherville," said McMurtrey.

"If the levy didn't pass for some reason, the funds to maintain those buildings and grounds would have to come from somewhere."

Enrollment in Mountain Home is down and McMurtrey said the district has been forced to modify their budget because of the low numbers.

"It's no secret that our enrollment has been declining for the past few years," he said. "We still need new roofs, new air conditioners and new lights, however, so we've turned to ideas like energy-saving lighting projects just to stay in the black."

In 2002, enrollment for the entire district was at 4,500 students. Enrollment for the 2005-2006 school year is down almost 500 students to 4,008. McMurtrey said this has also had an effect on the junior high/high school expansion project.

"When we first built that, many people thought it was going to be used as the high school right away," he said. "That was never the case. We were only planning on it being the high school after the second phase was completed."

"Unfortunately we haven't been able to do that yet due to our low numbers."

One bright spot is that both North and East Elementary Schools have seen increased enrollment this year and McMurtrey believes this is a sign of good things to come.

"It will pick up," he said. "It always does."

McMurtrey also touched on the fact that several of the school district's buildings have been around for more than 40 years (the average age of the district's buildings are 41 years old) and need constant attention in order to keep them updated.

"It's like if you had a home that was 41 years old, you'd have to sink some serious money into it in order to keep it liveable," he said. "School buildings are no different."

"The best thing is that we've laid it all out on the table," he continued. "We've said, 'This is what we're asking and this is what we're going to use it for. There are no secrets. We need this levy."

Polls will be open for voting at all schools May 16 from noon to 8 p.m.

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