BEE BRANCH, Ark. (KTHV) -- Property taxes keep a lot of things going including Arkansas schools and events surrounding a recent ruling against the State Department of Education regarding them is creating a firestorm.
Circuit Judge Tim Fox ruled, last year, districts that raise more revenue than state-mandated minimums -- can keep the excess. The Department cannot withhold property taxes from school districts to make up for overpaying them state funding last year and the Supreme Court last month affirmed it.
Fountain Lake and Eureka Springs School Districts filed suit when the state ordered them to repay a total of 2-point-2 million back, saying they received too much school aid when state funding combined with taxes collected locally.
Governor Mike Beebe says the Supreme Court decision could upset efforts to ensure equality among the state's 239 school districts so the attorney general's office plans to appeal by December 17th.
According to Assistant Attorney General Scott Richardson, 8 school districts take in more than they should. They are Armorel, Eureka Springs, Fountain Lake, Nemo Vista, Quitman, Southside Bee Branch, West Side and Wonderview.
With just over 500 students K-12, South Side Bee Branch is one of the smallest school districts in the state but with help from tax payers, they are leaps ahead of schools three times their size.
"We have several mobile carts that we use. We have a thirty cart of Toshibas that teachers are allowed to check out, take to their classrooms and use," says Librarian Amy Hutto.
With iPads, iTVs and WiFi throughout the campus, kids can learn just about anything, anywhere, anytime.
"In the past, I would have to stand behind my computer and press the arrow key or stand up here and press the Smart Board but now I'm able to roam around the room and keep an eye on everyone as well as go through it and discuss at the same time," says Family and Consumer Science teacher Lori Rooney.
"With these extra funds, we are able to do stuff with the campus, with the curriculum that we weren't able to do before," says Superintendent Billy Jackson.
He says it is all made possible by natural gas drilling that has dramatically increased rural property assessments. With residents paying more in taxes, more money is available for the students.
"A little bit over $6,200 that the foundation funding requires that each student have in every school. Well, we raise in the neighborhood of about $9,000," says Jackson.
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled districts could keep those excess funds but now legislators might change that, spreading those extra tax dollars to other districts across the state.
"The people pay taxes in this community for our school districts. I think they need to go to the school district. That's why I agree with the Supreme Court Ruling," says Jackson.
Without those funds, South Side Bee Branch will have to cut more than three million dollars and while they await a decision from legislators, Jackson says they will continue to use every dime to give their students a leg up.
"It's our little district and we want to provide the best education possible for our students. We need to do what we can while we have it," says Jackson.
If the legislators decide to spread out those funds to other districts, Jackson says South Side Bee Branch will be forced to make major cuts to planned building renovations. They will also have to cut Christmas staff bonuses.