The Smackover-Norphlet School Board held its regular monthly meeting on Monday, Jan. 10. Board members discussed several agenda items, including funding for future projects and a contract with Entergy for a new solar energy opportunity.
The board previously met for a special-called meeting last Wednesday and decided in a 3-2 vote at that time to reintroduce a mask mandate in the district due to COVID-19 quarantine and isolation absences among students and staff.
District financial advisor Ray Beardsley spoke to board members about funding options for potential projects this week.
Beardsley described to board members how a millage increase could generate substantial funding for district projects.
"If you ask for one new mill and, with the extension of existing mills, we could produce $3,925,000 in project money. If you asked for two new mills, we could increase the total to $7,415,000," he said. "We also have additional options by doing what is called a second lien, which does not require voter approval... On that, if the district contributes $100,000 out of cash flow... we could produce $1,670,000 in project money. A $150,000 payment would generate $2.5 million in project money and for $200,000: $3,304,000."
Beardsley next briefly went over the SNSD's current millage rate.
"A question came up of what is your millage and how does it compare. The millage rate in Smackover-Norphlet is 41 mills; the state average is 38.9, so you're slightly above state average. There are mills as high as over 50 and as low as 27," he said.
The SNSD has the highest millage rate of Union County's five school districts; the lowest is the El Dorado School District's rate of 33.5 mills.
SNSD superintendent Jason Black spoke on the topic of the project funding options.
"One of the things that seemed to be high-reward, low-risk is the second lien with $100,000 minimum because we're able, at the end of each year, to put roughly $200,000 back into the building fund. [District business manager Lori Willis] will look further and see if we can do $150,000 or $200,000," Black said.
Black also mentioned several potential projects previously discussed in school board meetings.
"The things we've talked about [are] doing a renovation to the gym, the (air conditioning); doing the foyer; the band is growing, the choir is doing well, so doing something for those students out there, soundboards and acoustics; then circling back around to the stadium and looking at turf -- those are all options," Black said.
Beardsley also sought board approval for an advance 2023/2024 budget for May school board elections and a renewed contract with his firm, First Security.
Motions were made for both and both passed unanimously.
Entergy representative Chris Wasson next came before the board to give details on the district's opportunity to participate in the company's SEPO B solar power program.
According to an Entergy release from 2020, the program "allows the eligible customers to subscribe to a percentage of the output from the Stuttgart Solar Energy Center while reducing their current electric bill. These customers include 26 school districts, 18 cities, three counties, five water/sewer customers, four churches and five nonprofit agencies."
The 2020 release goes on to state that participants will "save anywhere from 18 to 28% on their electricity usage while paying a more appropriate portion of maintenance for the grid all Arkansans use."
Wasson told board members details of how the solar power program works.
"You do get a cheaper rate. You subscribe in blocks of kilowatts... We take your kilowatt hours and divide it by the solar," Wasson said. "The only downside is if you subscribe to a block of kilowatt hours -- let's say you subscribe to 20 KW for a specific account -- if you only use 15 KW for that account during one month, you still pay for that 20 KW. But, for that five you didn't use, you don't lose it -- you can bank it."
The proposed contract would last until May 31, 2030 and individual accounts can be closed in the interim, according to Wasson.
Board member Damon Goodwin asked if the district would need to resubmit to renew the contract in 2030.
"You would still be on the list. It's evergreen," Wasson said.
The board unanimously passed a motion recommended by Black to enter into the contract with Entergy for the SEPO B solar power program.