Wednesday, October 26, 2005

EDITORIAL >> Not helpful on education

Asa Hutchinson, the free-wheeling Republican candidate for governor, exercises a decided advantage over Attorney General Mike Beebe at this stage because he is not obliged to represent the governor and the legislature before the state Supreme Court in the constitutional public school case.

Anything that Beebe might say outside the courtroom on what he thinks about school spending and taxes could jeopardize his clients. Hutchinson, who is unencumbered by any obligation to protect the interest of clients, can say what he pleases and he has done that. When the Supreme Court masters criticized the legislature’s failure to provide a cost-of-living increase in the schools’ base operating aid this year, Hutchinson played to the peanut gallery by saying that the solution to inadequate schools was not to throw more money at them. It is a tired old bromide but it gets applause every time.

But for the public school forces that were apt to read the small type, he subsequently said the legislature should have thrown more money at the schools by appropriating a full cost-of-living increase for them. It is a rare politician who can’t have it both ways.

But if Hutchinson is unobligated by clients in the school case, he ought at least to be tethered to the truth. He stretched that beyond the limits. In a speech to the Pulaski County Bar Association, Hutchinson said he opposed a tax increase to help schools meet constitutional muster (no one expects the Supreme Court to order a tax increase). Rather, if he is elected governor, he said, he would ask the legislature to develop a more competitive tax structure. He declined to say what that would be or if he would propose a tax cut.
But he implied that he would.

Arkansas should follow the example of New Mexico, which cut income taxes by 3 percentage points over five years, Hutchinson said. He said those tax cuts generated economic growth of a whopping $216 million this year.

Well, not exactly. He can’t prove that the tax cuts produced a dime of economic growth and neither can the state of New Mexico.
But if it were true, $216 million in economic growth in a state the size of New Mexico would be hardly worth mentioning.

Now, what is known is that New Mexico’s general revenues for the current fiscal year are to produce a net increase of $216 million. But so what? Arkansas, which did not cut its taxes the same year, produced greater general revenue growth than that. New Mexico is in the booming Southwest and it has a greater gross domestic product per person than Arkansas, although that state, like Arkansas, has lots of poor people and its schools are very, very poor.

So, if Arkansas needs to emulate New Mexico, it is not in the tax-cutting business. The governor who propounded that small tax cut, Bill Richardson, has been in North Korea this week trying to do what the Bush administration failed miserably to do, persuade the tyrant who runs the country to quit making nuclear bombs.

Hutchinson would help us Arkansans more if he took the next plane and joined Gov. Richardson in that campaign and left taxes and economic stimulus to those with a better feel for it.

TOP STORY >> Bonds will fund schools in Cabot

Leader staff writer

It was a busy evening for the Cabot School Board on Tuesday, when it approved getting a $6 million bond loan, returned a second recess to the schedule of elementary students, swore in a new member and reorganized the board.

The board approved $6 million in second-lien bonds, a type of loan, to help complete current and future construction projects. Stephens Inc., the financial agent for the Cabot School District, will coordinate the sale of the bonds to inv-estment companies early next year.

Depending on federal in-terest rates when the bonds are issued, the district’s repayment schedule is expected to be between $395,000 and $400,000 per year beginning in 2007. The $6 million, plus interest, should be paid in full by 2032.

The district is receiving $1.4 million, nearly all of the $1.5 million it requested, to proceed with immediate facilities improvements from the Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation Commission.

“It was a very extensive process to go through,” said Cabot School District superintendent Dr. Frank Holman.
“We asked for $1.5 (million) and got $1.4 (million) so it was good for us. We got nearly everything we asked for.”
The money will be used to replace roofs at Cabot Middle School South, Ward Central Elementary and Champs Hall, the multipurpose building at Cabot High School. The state chose not to give the district money to remove asbestos from buildings “C” and “D” on the high school campus before they are demolished next year.

Cabot was among 142 districts across the state seeking a share of $20 million authorized by the legislature for emergency facilities improvements. Under rules established by lawmakers, the state can transfer funds to pay for the additional $14.7 million needed to pay for the state’s portion of the facilities improvements, creating a fund of $34.7 million for the districts. Altogether, districts sought $73 million for projects from the commission.

Over the summer, teams of architects and engineers went statewide to examine the buildings of the districts requesting the immediate-needs funding. The teams checked the repairs listed on the funding applications against the deficiencies listed in the facilities study conducted last year by the Arkansas Task Force to Joint Com-mittee on Educational Facilities.

The next wave of state funding is called transition funding. It will help districts fund construction started between Jan. 2005 and June 2006.
“We feel like we’ll probably qualify for $6 million dollars,” Holman said.

In other business, the board voted to reinstate a second 20-minute recess at the elementary schools throughout the district. The recess was removed from the schedule by the administration to meet a state mandate of six hours of instruction each day. Terry Donham, a kindergarten teacher and member of the Personnel Policy Committee, read a letter to the board from the teachers in the district, asking for the recess back. During last month’s board meeting, several disgruntled parents asked the board to return the second recess.

“Our students are finding that the school day is physically uncomfortable due to the extended period in the classroom with no break,” Donham said. She added students are having trouble focusing and additional recess would not impede the six hours of instructional time.
Additionally, the teachers are requesting the board hire aides for each school to help teachers with the various duties such as morning and afternoon bus duty and lunch and recess duty.

“Some teachers are being assi-gned more than the 60 minutes of duty per week as mandated by law,” Donham said.
After some discussion, the board voted to reinstate the second 20-minute recess. The board tabled discussing hiring additional aides for the November meeting.

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman gave the oath of office to the newest board member, Wendel Msall. Msall was elected to the board during the September school board election.

He replaces Steve Blackwood, a five-year veteran of the board. Immediately after the swearing-in of Msall, school board president Jim Coy nominated board member David Hipp to serve as the new board president, Dr. Brenda Thielemier to serve as the board’s vice-president and Brooks Nash to serve as the secretary/treasurer.

The board members usually rotate officers every year just after the fall school-board elections.
The board unanimously app-roved the change. Coy and Hipp immediately exchanged seats so Hipp could preside over the rest of the meeting.

“This is my fifth year to be on the board,” Hipp said. He has served as secretary/treasurer and served as vice president.
“I like the thought of keeping the meetings going quickly, but there’s times when you have to discuss things — that’s just the way it is,” Hipp said.

In a brief recognition ceremony, assistant superintendent Jim Dalton and Donna Whiting, director of the district’s gifted and talented program were presented Administra-tors of the Year Awards from the Arkansas State Communication Association. The association is comprised of speech, theater, forensics, and debate teachers across the state.

“Donna and Mr. Dalton have been such inspirational motivators,” said Jane Balgavy, director of forensics, theater and debate for the district. “As administrators, they’ve helped us so much securing different things for the facilities and theater and allowing us to travel to (debate) tournaments.”

The board also received a presentation on the district’s Pinnacle Internet Viewer software, which is available to parents, teachers, and students on the district’s Web site. As teachers and administrators enter in student information such as class schedules, attendance, tardiness and grades, the data is automatically in the program.

This information is then available to parents and students to view at any time. Unique log-ins and passwords, in addition to other security features, keeps student’s information secure for teachers, parents and students only. Parents can sign up for an e-mail notification if their child misses a class or if grades drop below a certain percentage.

TOP STORY >> City lashes out at PCSSD

Leader staff writer

“Organized, peaceful resistance works,” Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim told aldermen and a city council room packed with administrators, teachers, concerned parents and students Thursday night as he explained the problems the city was having with the Pulaski County Special School District.

Plenty of opinions were voiced at the meeting, which sometimes took the tone of a controlled free-for-all regarding the subject of the school district.

School board member James Bolden chimed in, saying, “We need to wear out their phone lines with our concerns.”
“What’s the number?” someone from the audience hollered out.

More than a dozen shouted back the number of PCSSD offices, “490-2000.”
“I’m tired of the district lying,” Bolden said.

Alderman Marshall Smith said, “We were promised grants and funding for the middle school when it went to single gender classes. Now we hear that the majority of the grants were turned down.”

“Were they even applied for?” questioned Alderman Linda Rinker, a former district principal.
Smith continued, “The left hand and the right hand don’t know what they are doing down at Dixon Road (the location of the district’s central office in Little Rock). No one’s in charge.”

Bolden explained to the council and the chamber full of concerned residents that he was here for the children.
“I’m not a politician, just a retired Army sergeant looking out for our children,” Bolden said, adding that the district and some school board members have a problem with him “because I work with my principals.”

“One administrator wants Michael Nellums (the middle school boys campus principal out),” Bolden said, because of the good relationship the two have.

Bolden didn’t name the administrator.
But audience members chanted, “Jeter, Jeter,” referring to Marvin V. Jeter, the assistant superintendent for learning services.
Bolden simply replied, “Amen.”

The mayor took about 15 minutes to explain the recent round of animosity between the city and the school district.
“Our children are not getting a quality education. It’s not in question, it’s documented,” Swaim said.

The latest wedge stemmed from a meeting city officials had with district administrators last week.
At the meeting, according to the mayor, Bolden and others in attendance, the district promised not to cut any administrators from the Jacksonville Middle School — at the time there was one principal and two assistants — and then a few days later, giving her less than 24 hours noticed, moved assistant principal Collen Johnson from the middle school to the high school.

“They just lied to us,” the mayor said. “We are trying to work within the system, but the system is not working for our schools.”
Nellums and Carl Brown, from the district’s central office, both spoke to the council about the situation, even though they said they feared for their jobs.

Bolden and Swaim said money was out there for the middle school, but the district was either not making the effort to get it or using it elsewhere.

Nellums said the school was eligible for about $156,000 in funds from the national school lunch act because of the high number of students on free and reduced lunch payment. He said the money could be used to pay for a math coach, a literacy coach and a curriculum specialist to supplement what the teachers are doing and work with students one-on-one.

He also said the funds could be used to purchase books and materials and the assistant principal position that they just took away from the school.

“If the district can’t find a way the money to pay her, I wish you (the council) could fund her position for a year,” Nellums said.
Nellums called Johnson a highly qualified, competent, innovative and creative middle school administrator, who is lost at the high school level.

Nellums said he realized that he was an employee of the school district and that there was a change of command.
“But the middle school is a handful,” he said. “Mine and (assistant principal Jackie) Calhoun’s hands are not enough.
“With the scores as law as we have had, we need materials and personnel.”

Alderman Bob Stroud then ask Nellums, “If the money is out there, where is it then?”
Nellums hesitated and Bolden stepped back up.

“They can’t fire me,” he said, and then explained that the district had made a local decision to spend its Title I money at the elementary level and not budget any of it for the middle schools.

“I expect the money next year for our school,” he said. Brown told the council that he didn’t want to go into detail about the money, but did say the school should be able to use Title V money.

Alderman Gary Fletcher acknowledged that the district was in a financial jam because of poor decision made previously. “But they are still making poor decisions,” he said.


JHS choir department fall concert Thursday

The Jacksonville High School Choral Department will present a fall concert at 7 p.m. Thursday at the high school auditorium.
This first concert of the year will feature Cadet Choir, Concert Choir and the Chamber Singers. Under the direction of Joan Blann, the choirs will sing several All-Region pieces, a traditional gospel blues number, the perennial favorite “Embraceable You” and some barbershop numbers.
Admission is free and the public is invited to attend.

Middle school Frontier Festival events on Friday

Cabot Middle School South’s annual Frontier Festival will be held Friday. The day is the culminating event for the study of Arkansas and pioneers by the fifth graders.

Activities throughout the day, led by experts and living-history re-enactors from all over the state, bring to life lessons learned in class over the previous weeks.

Ann Gray from the Ozark Folk Center will explain and demonstrate how to make corn shucks. Tom Yancey from the Mississippi Valley Educational Program will prepare logs for a cabin.

The day begins at 7:15 a.m. with a pioneer breakfast open to the public. Throughout the day, participants can enjoy the pioneer experience along with the fifth graders. The fifth-grade music and dance programs will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the cafeteria. Also, participants are invited to attend the hoe-down taking place at the same time. For more information, contact Debra Polston at 501-941-7335.

Cabot Kiwanis Club selling smoked turkey, hams

The Cabot Kiwanis Club will be selling smoked turkeys and hams. Orders will be taken for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving turkeys and hams will be delivered Nov. 21 and 22 and Christmas turkeys and hams will be delivered Dec. 20 and 21.
The group will sell smoked turkeys for $25; smoked hams are 16 to 18 pounds and will sell for $45.



Sam Mahmoud, 13, of Beebe passed away Oct. 23. He was an eighth-grade student at Beebe Junior High. He is survived by his parents, Sam and Aida Mahmoud of Beebe; three brothers, Adel of Beebe, Zack and Aaron of Attalla, Ala.,; and one sister, Anna Mills of Jacksonville. Funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Westbrook Funeral Home, Beebe, with burial in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Pine Bluff.


Gip Jerry Wells, 27, of North Little Rock, died Oct. 24.
Survivors include children, Dakota, Dalton and Aspen Wells of Texas, and Saera Cox of Little Rock; parents, Linda and Jerry Wells of North Little Rock; brother, Glenn Seyller, sister, Missy Moss both of Little Rock.
Graveside service will be 11 a.m. Thursday at Wattensaw Cemetery, Lonoke.


Edward A. Peterson, 67, of north Las Vegas, Nev., died Oct. 21.
He was retired from the Air Force, having served in the Marines, Navy and Army Corp. of Engineers. He was a veteran of the Korean conflict. Peterson was a Christian. He was preceded in death by his wife of over 35 years, Patricia Peterson and is survived by one son, Christopher P. Alveti of Clarksville, Tenn.; one daughter, Linda Alveti-Sarota of Riverside, Calif.; two grandchildren, Chad Alveti and Crystal Alveti, both of Beebe; and four great-grandchildren. Funeral will be 10 a.m. Thursday at Westbrook Funeral Home, Beebe, with burial in Arkansas State Veterans Cem-etery.


Brenda Kay Reed, 41, of Austin, passed away Oct. 23. She was born Feb. 26, 1964, in Mockley, Fla., to Owen and Mary Davis.
She was preceded in death by her father Owen Davis and a brother. Survivors include her husband, Frankie Reed; two sons, Ronnie and Cody Reed all of the home; mother, Mary Davis of Ward; and three sisters, Pat Boone of Ward, Helen Dover and Billie Noey both of North Little Rock. Memorial services will be held 11 a.m. Friday at Campground Union Church in Cabot with Bro. Ron Cody officiating. Arrangements by Thomas Funeral Service.


Deacon Perry Lee Dodson, Jr., 64, died Oct. 22. He was vice chairman of St. John Baptist Deacon Board, one of the original members of the Zion 5 Jr. Gospel Singers, vice president of St. John Baptist Choir and was a veteran of the Army.
His parents, Perry Lee Dodson, Sr. and Annie Elizabeth Waller Dodson and several brothers and sisters preceded him in death. Survivors include his wife, Estella Dodson; daughter, Bonita Walter and husband Anthony of Little Rock; son, Rev. Brian Dodson and wife Jackie of DeValls Bluff; brothers, Major Dodson of California and Robert Dodson and wife Aretha of Lonoke; one sister, Laura Spencer and husband Eddie of Lonoke; five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Boyd Funeral Home, Lonoke. Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Saturday at Gateway Fellowship Church. Burial will follow in Sunset Memorial Garden.


Joseph D. Chamblee, 69, of Ward, died Oct. 21. He was born in Romance, and was a retired meat cutter. He is survived by his wife, Barbara; his son, Mark Allen Chamblee of Ward; two daughters, Melinda Ryan and husband Charles of Batesville and April Gammel and husband David of Lonoke; two grandchildren, Amanda Armstong and Cliff Ryan; one great-grandchild, Camden Ryan; two brothers, Dennis Wondel Chamblee and Joe Chamblee; and two sisters, Emma Madding of Forest City and Laura Eubanks of Morrilton.
Funeral services were held Tuesday at Westbrook Funeral Home, with burial in Apple Hill Cemetery.


John Robert Parr Sr., 70, of Lonoke died Oct. 24. He was retired from the city of Lonoke. He is survived by one son, Harold Parr and wife Joanna of Ward; one daughter, Tammy Mackey and husband Dale of Lonoke; seven grandchildren; three brothers and three sisters.
Funeral services will be held today at Westbrook Funeral Home in Beebe, with burial in Monk Cemetery.


Dora E. Riggs Haynes, 92, of Austin died Oct. 21. She was retired from MacMillan-Bloedel and was a member of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. She was preceded in death by her husband, Elmo M. Haynes.
She is survived by one son, Joe W. Haynes of Plano, Texas; two daughters, Rosemary Sutton of Saratoga and Martha Martin of Austin; nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
Graveside services were held Monday at Oak Grove Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Mt. Carmel Baptist Church for the Lottie Moon Foreign Mission Offering, 163 Mt. Carmel Road, Cabot, Ark., 72023.


Lula McClure, 68, of Jack-sonville, passed away Oct. 23. Born Feb. 24, 1937, in Lake City and she was the daughter of Homer and Sarah Smallman Seay.
She was a member of North Jacksonville Baptist Church.
She was preceded in death by her parents, two brothers, and two sisters. McClure is survived by her husband of 50 years, Ken; two sons, John McClure and Ray McClure, all of Jacksonville; and a host of nieces and nephews.
Graveside services were held Tuesday at Rest Hills Memorial Park. Arrangements by Griffin Leggett Rest Hills in North Little Rock.


Infant Sandria Marie Gowen of Ward died Oct. 15 in Searcy.
She is survived by her parents Michael Gene and Kathy Jean (Razer) Gowen; maternal grandparents, Bruce and Ann Razer of Cabot; and paternal grandmother, Patricia White of Cabot.
Graveside services were held Thursday at Oakland Cemetery.
Arrangements by Jackson’s Newport Funeral Home.


Richard Carl LaCroix, Sr. 75 of Lonoke, formerly of Fairfield, Calif., passed away Oct. 21 in Jacksonville. He was born April 2, 1930, in Georgiaville, R.I., to the late Richard C. LaCroix and Marion Morvan LaCroix.
He was preceded in death by his wife Sarah Edith Pate LaCroix in 1997. Survivors include one daughter: Cynthia Hawk of Cabot; one son Richard Carl LaCroix, Jr. of River Bank, Calif.; two grandchildren: April Renee Boyd and Adam Russell Shaw; four great-grandchildren: Tawnie Rae Boyd and Amber Jean Boyd, Thomas Adam Shaw and Samantha Kristine Shaw all of Cabot; two sisters and several other family members of Rhode Island. Private family services are arranged by Thomas Funeral Service. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials in Richard‚s name be made to the Lonoke County CASA program at the Lonoke County Court House, 201 Court St., Lonoke, Arkansas 72086.

NEIGHBORS >> All aboard Cabot train engineer working for the kids

Leader staff writer

What took hours and hours to construct can quickly make a kid’s day.

And that makes a lot of hard work a lot of fun for Cabot’s Don Robinson.

Robinson, 71, is the engineer of the Grand Kids Express, a homemade 32-foot long train that can carry about 27 small children. Robinson takes the train out to churches and area festivals in a 100-mile radius around Cabot.
“If I can bring a minute of joy to a child’s life, it’s worth it,” Robinson said.

A pastor and retired stonemason, Robinson got the inspiration for the train after seeing a similar one in another state.
In 2003, Robinson set to work in his workshop nestled in the tree-covered hills above Greystone in Cabot.

Robinson designed the train’s engine and boxcars. After first removing the mowing assembly underneath a riding lawn mower, he set a black barrel over the lawn mower engine to make it resemble the boiler of an old-time locomotive.

He attached a wooden cattle guard and a trashcan lid with a brightly painted face to give the train personality. Robinson doesn’t have names for the trains.

He simply calls them the long one and the short one. Many children call the trains “Thomas” after “Thomas the Tank Engine Train,” the popular children’s cartoon.

Underneath, each boxcar has dual sets of tires. Each set of tires has a wooden cover over the hub to make them look more like train wheels.
Each boxcar is specially designed by Robinson to follow the engine closely. This allows the train to safely make tight turns.

There is a pair of camp lanterns on the front, rigged with electric lights. Mounted on the caboose is a third camp lantern with a flashing red-beacon light.

The three boxcars are green, red and yellow, decorated with the names of Robinson’s 18 grandchildren. Wooden cutouts and designs on each boxcar display his woodworking skills.

The 32-foot train is actually Robin-son’s second train. After operating the first train for a while, he improved the design to build the current train, adding a third boxcar for carrying young passengers. The first train is stored in his woodshop as a backup.

Robinson’s wife, Betty, helped paint and decorate the trains and also serves as the train conductor, helping the small passengers board the train. As conductor, Betty makes sure each child has the installed seat belts fastened.

Don Robinson built The Station, a canopy with a railroad crossing sign and fencing to keep the little passengers safe while waiting for their turn on the train.

The engine and three boxcars fit snugly, like puzzle pieces on the 16 foot-trailer he uses to transport the train.

At events such as children’s outreach ministries and vacation Bible school children get to ride for free.

“One day we gave 425 children, seven busloads, rides all day long,” Robinson said.
At festivals, he charges $2 to $3 per ride.

“If a child doesn’t have the money to ride — you can see it on their faces when they walk up — we give them a ride anyway,” Robinson said, adding that the money he makes is used to pay the insurance premiums for the train. Insurance companies consider the train a carnival ride and the Robinsons have to keep a million-dollar policy on it.

Other money the couple makes from the train is invested back into it to pay the cost of the gas, oil and upkeep. At most festivals, the Robinsons have to pay a booth fee to operate his train for the children. The cost of constructing the trains and the money the Robin-sons could make if they sold them doesn’t matter to Don Robinson.

“It’s worth it when I see the children get on the train and smile,” he said.

SPORTS >> Volleyball playoffs get started this week

Leader sports editor

The class AAAAA and class AAAA state volleyball tournaments get underway Thursday, with Jacksonville, Cabot and North Pulaski vying for their respective shots in those events.

After a one-year break, the AAAAA state tournament is back in Cabot, where it was a mainstay for several years.
Cabot and Jacksonville continued their long strings of playoff berths, but Cabot’s stretch of six-straight seasons with at least one playoff win is in jeopardy this year. The Lady Panthers managed to slip into the playoffs, but as the No. 4 seed from the East, meaning a first-round date with defending state champion and No. 1 ranked Fort Smith Northside at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Jacksonville is back as the No.3 seed from the East, which it took into the state tournament for four straight years until moving up to grab the No.2 seed last season.

Oddly, Jacksonville will again face North Little Rock in the first round, the same team it has met in the opening round for three of the last four years.

Cabot and Jacksonville are on opposite sides of the bracket, so in the unlikely event the two meet in the tournament, it will be in the championship round on Saturday.

Jacksonville opens the tournament at noon Thursday in the Cabot annex gym. At the same time, AAAAA-South winner Benton will play West No.4 seed Russellville in the main gym.

The other two matches in the top half of the bracket pit Jonesboro, the East champion, against Little Rock Central, and Fort Smith Southside against Texarkana.

Northside and Cabot get the bottom half started in the main gym while South No.2 seed Sheridan meets Central three Mount St. Mary.
Sheridan meets Central No.3 seed Mount St. Mary’s.

The final two matches of the first round features Central champion Conway against South No.4 seed Lake Hamilton, and East No.2 seed Mountain Home squaring off against Bentonville, the No.3 seed from the West.

The quarterfinals will be at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Friday. After a break, the winners return to play the semifinal matches at 4 and 6 p.m. The championship match is set for 11 a.m. Saturday.

North Pulaski kicks off the class AAAA state tournament against the third-place team from the East, Paragould.
If the Lady Falcons can pull off the victory, they will meet the winner between Southwest champion Hot Springs Lakeside and Alma, the No.4 seed from the West conference. The rest of the top of the bracket includes West No2. seed, Siloam Springs taking on Southwest No.3 seed Malvern, and East No.2 seed Marion facing Southeast No.3 seed JA Fair.

East winner and tournament host Wynne plays Pulaski Rob-inson at 4 p.m. The winner of that match faces the winner of the Morrilton-Arkadelphia matchup.

Southeast champ Mills plays the East No.4 seed Nettleton, and Magnolia plays Greenwood at 6 p.m. to close out the first round of play. The quarterfinals, semifinals and finals for the AAAA tournament are on the same schedule at the AAAAA tournament.

SPORTS >> Devils must focus to get win

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils have a huge task ahead of them this week as they head into the hometown of the second-ranked team in the state, on its senior night.

While focusing on what’s ahead, they also have to forget what’s behind them, an ugly loss to Forrest City that head Red Devil Mark Whatley summed up perfectly.

“We didn’t make them earn it,” Whatley said of last week’s loss. That may sum it up nicely, but there is more to it, and Whatley expounded.
“We were not mentally prepared to play that game, just look at our first possession. I’m not going to put in the paper my opinion on it, but you can bet they (the players) are crystal clear on what I think. Now we just have to put that behind us and move forward. We’ve got one heck of a football team in front of us and we can’t keep worrying about last week.”

West Memphis barely kept its perfect season intact last week, skimming by Mountain Home 25-24 in overtime, so it’s likely the Blue Devils got a wakeup call of sorts too.

West Memphis is a little more versatile this year, but still likes to pound away at opposing defenses with big fullback Xavier Murry.
The added versatility comes from a quarterback with a cool head, a good arm and some tall, speedy receivers that can make plays when called upon.

West Memphis torched Cabot for two big touchdown passes to beat the Panthers when the running game wasn’t working all that well.
Last year, Jacksonville shut down West Memphis’ ground game, and lost a hard-fought, low-scoring battle.

They’ll have to be prepared for more this year, but this has been a Jacksonville defense that has exceeded most everyone’s expectations.
“The defense has played well enough to win ballgames most of the time,” Whatley said. “I thought they did an outstanding job last week. We gave them two defensive touchdowns and a 20-yard field to work with for another.
“That’s tough on those guys, but they played well.”

Forrest City’s defense played well too, and it doesn’t get any easier this week.
Whatley said the Mustangs’ front four on defense were the best his team has seen this year, and West Memphis’ looks just about as good on film.

“We’re definitely going to have to do a better job with our pass protection,” Whatley said.
“A lot of that last week was because we put ourselves in a situation where they knew what we had to do to.
“Hopefully we’re more prepared from the start and can keep from putting ourselves in that situation this time.”
Senior night festivites at West Memphis begin at 7 p.m., kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

EDITORIAL >> Three cheers for Huckabee

We can report another sighting of the good Mike Huckabee, the rare Republican politician who believes that government and taxes are not in all cases to be abhorred. It was in a spirited exchange in the prints with Grover Norquist, the Republican lobbyist and economic guru who has vowed before the altar of God to end every tax and government service that does not benefit the rich and the mighty.

Arkansas is missing some $250 million to $300 million a year in taxes because out-of-state mail-order houses and Internet merchants either will not collect use taxes on their Arkansas sales or else will not remit to the state the taxes they collect. Use taxes are the equivalent of sales taxes, but they are collected on items bought outside the state for consumption inside the state.

The U. S. Supreme Court ruled 38 years ago that the commerce clause of the Constitution bars a state from collecting taxes on sales originating in other states if the businesses do not have a base in that state — unless the federal government says it is OK or unless the merchant voluntarily obliges.

Internet marketing has become so pervasive that it has carved away much of the retail business of local merchants and sharply reduced state and local tax collections.

It has made the sales tax, already unfair to consumers, unfair to merchants as well. It assigns a distinct trade disadvantage to local merchants, who support the state, the schools and their communities through taxes, employment and gifts.

The states have lobbied Washington for a dozen years to rectify the injustice. Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, while he was a senator, took up their cause, but he was unsuccessful. Congress said it wanted to give the fledgling Internet marketers time to grow. Requiring them to collect and remit taxes like other merchants might discourage growth of Internet businesses.

The Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement gives states and online and catalog merchants a way to collect and remit taxes. Thirteen states are full participants and Arkansas and four other states are partial participants. But Arkansas will begin to collect a few taxes soon if it can work out several kinks in how it will be done. The Arkansas Legislature this year postponed Arkansas’ full participation until 2007, which might still be postponed if the kinks are not worked out or Congress does not by then require sellers to remit taxes to the states.

Norquist, an exponent of President Bush’s four rounds of tax cuts for high incomes and corporations, says he has the legislation scotched if he can keep a Republican majority in just one house of Congress after the midterm elections in 2006. He is confident that he can do that while trying to kill off Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare and other insurance programs for the middle class and the poor.

He was quoted in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette as telling Huckabee that he should withdraw Arkansas from the agreement and refuse to have any taxes collected from merchants outside the state. It is a tax increase, he said, and Huckabee needs to burnish his credentials as a foe of taxes if he hopes to be elected president.

Another Republican presidential wanna-be, Sen. George Allen of Virginia, opposes the agreement.
Huckabee had the perfect riposte. He said he favored a tax structure that was fair and a national government that obliged the 10th Amendment to the Constitution by not usurping the power of the states.
Frankly, we didn’t know he had it in him.

“Mr. Norquist,” the governor said, “doesn’t have to govern and isn’t accountable to anyone but his donors and lobbying clients, so while I don’t fault him for taking a more liberal view of letting Main Street small business collect taxes while letting the big corporations off the hook, I do feel he needs to be more honest about what the streamlined sales tax really does, which is create a simpler and fairer system.”

A Republican who talks back to Grover Norquist? Some days, our incredibly shrinking governor’s presidential preoccupation doesn’t look so preposterous.

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Nightmare on Elm St. no movie for family of victim

Until 30-40 years ago, schizophrenics like Howard H. Neal, Jr. were kept in mental institutions, but most states decided a long time ago it’s cheaper to give the mentally ill anti-psychotic medication than have them locked up.

Neal, a convicted sex offender, is in custody for the murder of a 5-year-old Jacksonville girl, Jasmine Peoples, in a house on Elm Street in the Sunnyside neighborhood. He’s also charged with kidnapping and third-degree battery.
Neal has had problems with the law for a long time, but he has spent little time in jail.

He once came into our building and locked himself in my office while he made some irrational demands, but police quickly escorted him away.

His victims were not as lucky on Sunday night, when the 23-year-old Neal barricaded himself inside the house, held several adults and children hostage, allegedly stabbing a man and suffocating the little girl, as they watched a horror movie.

The Sunnyside area is no stranger to crime. Years ago, Ledell Lee, a serial murderer, had killed two women in the neighborhood, and shootings and drug busts are common.

But even Lee would stop at killing a child: Christine Lewis, one of his murder victims, was with her little daughter the night she was killed, but Lee left the girl alone.

Lee and Neal can’t commit any crimes behind bars, but that’s little comfort to their victims, including Jasmine Peoples, who was suffocated in the worst possible way, with furniture tossed on top of her.

Neal, if convicted, will stay locked up for a long time, possibly in a psychiatric unit, where he’ll get his daily dose of anti-psychotics that his mother says he stopped taking because they cost too much.

These medicines didn’t exist 40 years ago, so the mentally ill were institutionalized.
Most will never commit a crime, but those with violent tendencies like Neal will keep assaulting their victims until the police catch these disturbed individuals and put them away.

But if they walk out of mental institutions and prisons, the next victim is only a violent outburst away.

TOP STORY >> Cabot students getting enough instruction

Leader staff writer

However, the accredited-probationary status given to the school in August for not having enough instructional time will remain in effect until the school’s accreditation is re-viewed again in the spring.

“It (the review) does not mean anything one way or another, it simply closes out the 2004-05 school year for Cabot High School,” said Annette Barnes, school improvement coordinator.

Despite having a 369-minute long school day, Cabot High School was among 96 schools across the state placed on accredited-probationary status in August for not meeting the 360 minutes of instruction time per day standard by the Arkansas Board of Education.

“We are very pleased the De-partment of Education came back to review us and affirmed we were not in violation after all,” said Tony Thurman, principal at Cabot High School.

Accredited-probationary status means a local school district has either failed to correct a problem for which it acquired accredited-cited status or committed a more serious violation of the standards.

The 2004-2005 bell schedule at Cabot High School shows a 369-minute school day, from 8:05 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.
But the Arkansas Board of Education decided 25 minutes of the school day used by Cabot High School students for advising and career action planning should not be considered instructional because club meetings are permitted during that time.

Advisory and career-action planning are key components of the High Schools That Work program that offers students both traditional college-preparatory academics with technical and vocational studies.

Cabot High School has a revised bell schedule for the 2005-06 school year that has 371 minutes of instruction four days a week and 364 minutes of instruction on Thursdays.

This meets the instruction requirements as well as allowing time for tutoring, literature circles and career-action planning.
Another time crunch for Cabot High School students is the time required between classes. Typically five minutes are allowed.
Cabot High School allows seven minutes, an extra 12 minutes per day, for 1,700 students to navigate the 25 buildings on the 44-acre campus.

The new schedule still allows seven minutes for students to get from one class to another.

TOP STORY >> Beebe police upset with hiring by chief

Leader staff writer

Five Beebe police officers have filed grievances, claiming they were not given an opportunity to apply for a promotion to sergeant before Police Chief Jess Odom hired a 30-year veteran law-enforcement officer for the position without advertising it.

It is unclear how the grievances will be resolved because no one in the city is certain who should hear them or whether any hiring or promotion policy was violated.

The grievances were filed by officers Zack Dixon, Freda Callahan, Blake Robertson, David Cook and Brian Coates.
Finding the answer is the job of Beebe City Attorney Mark Derrick, who said Tuesday that he hopes it is somewhere in the stack of documents Mayor Donald Ward and Odom have given him to read.

The possible problem with hiring Alton Boyd for the sergeant’s job was made public during the September city council meeting Monday night.

Alderman Mike Robertson, a former mayor, told Ward and the other council members that in his opinion, Odom had circumvented the state law that requires advertising vacancies and the city ordinance that says the council approves hiring new employees.

Ward countered that he trusts Odom to make the right choices for the city and that the council had adopted a police policy handbook that spelled out hiring practices which superceded other ordinances.

Robertson said during the Monday night council meeting that he could find no record that the city council ever adopted the handbook.
Odom first hired Boyd as animal control officer, a position that was put under his authority a month earlier. Then two days after Boyd went to work in animal control, Odom hired him as a patrol sergeant.

The city attorney and some members of the council called the move a promotion within the department. But Robertson says there is no way a person can be promoted “from dog catcher to police sergeant.”

The animal-control position was advertised in local papers as required by state law. In fact, it was advertised twice, once to hire Boyd, who lives in Searcy and a second time to hire Horrace Taylor, a former Beebe council member. But the sergeant’s position was not advertised even within the department. Alderman Janice Petray told Derrick she wanted the matter resolved before the November council meeting.
“It’s drug on long enough,” she said.

TOP STORY >> Masters’ decision met with derision

Arkansas News Bureau

A review of how special masters in the Lake View school funding case addressed public school facilities was a springboard Monday for another round of criticism of the masters’ report, which has declared school funding inadequate.

Legislators panned the masters’ take on facilities just like the governor, and many legislators have criticized other sections of the 83-page masters’ report in the past.

Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, said legislative education reforms have been “excellent,” though some programs may need tweaking.
Earlier this year, lawmakers appropriated $120 million for facilities needs, to be distributed based on an index giving less state facilities aid to wealthy schools.

After a presentation about the masters’ facilities findings, Rep. Jodie Mahony, D-El Dorado, asked: “Are they crazy?”
“I don’t think you want me to answer that question,” responded Sarah Israel of the Bureau of Legislative Research.
Sen. David Bisbee, R-Rogers, said the report seems to indicate the special masters prefer all schools be operated by the state since the report called for more state funding of facilities needs.

Special masters Bradley Jesson of Fort Smith and David New-bern of Little Rock said the state did not allocate enough money for building improvements earlier this year and were relying too heavily on local contributions for building projects.

Bisbee said during Monday’s Academic Facilities Oversight Com-mittee meeting that he thought the special masters were pushing for a statewide property-tax rate and statewide management of school districts.

Bisbee said he be-lieved the special masters “didn’t seem to have a good grasp” of issues surrounding the legis-lature’s implementation of facility-funding laws this year.

The report echoed the pleadings of the school districts that renewed the suit, he added.
Other legislators joined in the criticism, prompting Committee Chairman Sen. Shane Broadway, D-Bryant, to compare the session to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

“It’s like an AA meeting, it feels like you can get it off your chest here,” he said.
The masters faulted the state for having too lengthy of a planning process when it comes to addressing facilities and for failing to include facility needs in calculating the wealth index.

The report slammed state-mandated sanctions for having poor facilities, which could lead to consolidation if districts failed to keep buildings to appropriate standards.

Jesson and Newbern largely rebuked the General Assembly for failing to meet its constitutional requirement to adequately fund public education.

Specifically, the report concluded that legislators should have given a cost-of-living increase to a $5,400 per-student funding amount. Several school districts, led by Rogers, sought court action.

The state Supreme Court received the report on Oct. 3 and solicited briefs in re-sponse to the report that were due Monday.
If anything, a longtime consolidation foe said the latest round of school-finance litigation has warmed him to the idea of unified school districts.

Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, D-Crossett, said school leaders who sued the state seeking more money may receive an unintended consequence from lawmakers.

A Republican colleague, Sen. Ruth Whitaker of Cedarville, said she will propose consolidating school districts into one district per county to improve efficiency.

“Sen. Whitaker’s bill is looking better to me,” Jeffress said.

TOP STORY >> A real-life horror scene

Leader staff writer

The 23-year-old Jacksonville man charged with killing a 5-year-old girl and stabbing his sister’s boyfriend in the head and face with a screwdriver Sunday night could not afford the antipsychotic medications prescribed to control his paranoid schizophrenia, de-spite his history of violence toward family members and sexually-related arrests.

Howard H. Neal, Jr., is being held without bond in the Pulaski County Detention Center on charges of capital murder, first-degree battery and two counts of first-degree kidnapping, according to Capt. Charles Jenkins, spokesman for the Jacksonville Police Department.
Neal was arrested by Jacksonville police after a 50-minute standoff at the home of his sister, Crystal Pickens, at 314 Elm Street.
“I couldn’t afford to buy his medications,” his mother, Doris Neal, said Tuesday.

Neal is due to appear in Jacksonville District Court for arraignment Jan. 11 on the charges stemming from the alleged screwdriver assault on Ronald Redden.

Redden escaped over a fence and across the railroad tracks, where he was discovered profusely bleeding and was transported to Rebsamen Medical Center, then airlifted to the University of Ark-ansas for Medical Science, where he was treated and released.
The body of Jasmine Peoples, 5, was discovered under a pile of heavy furniture, including a large television and a couch.
She was pronounced dead and taken from the home in a body bag.

The child is believed to have suffocated under the weight of the furniture, but the state medical examiner will determine the cause of death.
Peoples’ mother was a friend of Pickens, and her child was among four children at the home that night. Pickens said the group was watching the movie “Halloween” before the attack.

“He’s schizophrenic with mental problems,” Pickens said of Neal. “He talks to himself.”
Neal, who had no permanent residence, entered the home and acted increasingly irrational, Pick-ens said, before attacking Redden and warning her to get out with the children before he killed them all.
She grabbed up two children and fled.

Pickens called the attack sudden, but only a couple of days earlier, Doris Neal had removed the knives from Crystal Pickens’ home to keep them away from her son.

“I didn’t think it would go this far,” Doris Neal said. “But I didn’t have $1,000 to buy his medicine. I don’t work.”
She said she also tried to get her son help from various agencies or groups, including the jail and the Union Rescue Mission. When her son is out of jail, he is frequently homeless or bouncing from cheap motel to cheap motel or relative to relative.

Neal, who worked briefly at The Leader newspaper mail room about two years ago, hasn’t worked regularly in more than a year — much of the time he was either in jail or in some sort of mental facility such as BridgeWay in North Little Rock.
Doris Neal warned that her son would try to hang himself in jail.

Neal, who was charged with the rape of a 2-year-old girl in 2001, was released after two hung juries.
He agreed in April 2004 to a $500 fine and time served for fondling a teenaged girl and was charged in July 2004 with failing to register as a sexual offender.

The prosecution dropped the case in May 2005, according to Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson, after Neal’s lawyer provided evidence that he was in mental facilities during the time that the state maintained he should have registered.

Neal was admitted in restraints to the St. Vincent Heath System’s Living Hope Institute on June 22, 2004, where he was treated with drugs and counseling until he improved sufficiently to be discharged seven days later into a shelter, according to a medical report attained under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

He was brought in on a commitment from Lonoke County, where he had “apparently tried to set his family on fire,” according to hospital records.

He reportedly also threatened family members and chased them with a hammer.
He was discharged on June 29 on Depakote, Lexapro and Zyprexa for schizo-affective disorder.
On July 8, he was admitted to the Bridge Way, where he said he was hearing voices telling him to hurt people. He told staff members he angered easily and thought about killing people when they irritated him.

“He states he was recently hospitalized at Living Hope, but they released him, knowing that he didn’t have any money to afford his medicines,” according to Neal’s discharge summary from Bridge-Way on July 19.
Neal was discharged on Abilify and Viagra “if needed.”

Without insurance, the Abilify costs about $300 a month, according to a local pharmacy. Prices for Viagra vary.

The following is a transcript of the beginning of a 911 call from Sunday night’s stabbing and murder resulting in the arrest and murder charges of Howard Neal. The transcript was obtained and provided by KLRT, Fox 16.

CALLER: Yes, I need the police to come to 314 North Elm.
DISPATCHER: What’s going on?
CALLER: Howard Neal just stabbed my boyfriend with a screw driver.
CALLER: I need you to come over here right now.
DISPATCHER: Does your boyfriend need an ambulance?
CALLER: Howard Neal just stabbed him.
DISPATCHER: What is your name ma’am?
CALLER: My name is Crystal Pickens, and I need you to come over here cause he is crazy.

TOP STORY >> Jail to lose more than 200 beds

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Quorum Court Tuesday night approved an ordinance reducing the number of beds in the county lockup from about 1,000 to 800 in order to comply with the requirement to submit a balanced budget.

The county has to cut about $7 million from the $40 million unobligated portion of its budget.

Randy Morgan, director of the Pulaski County Detention Center, said he and Sheriff Randy Johnson would just as soon start notifying the balance of the deputies and jailers facing layoffs as to leave the false hope that the county could afford to staff and run a 965-bed jail.
“If we wait another month, it won’t make any difference on what I’m going to do,” Morgan said. “Layoffs will follow the (jail) population down.”
Of the 122 layoffs anticipated, about 90 of them are deputies and jailers, most of the rest work for County Judge Floyd “Buddy” Villines.
“Everybody that we have to cut in the enforcement branch has been notified,” said John Rehrauer, spokesman for the sheriffs office. “That’s about 30. On the detention side, we’ve notified about 16 or 20.” That leaves about 40 corrections officers to be cut.
Court member Steve Goss said it was “fair to let them know now, instead of in 45 or 60 more days.”

But Teresa Belew, director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said it was a matter of survival and quality of life, and she wondered how cases already in the pipeline would be prosecuted after the arresting officers are laid off.

John McCaleb said fewer jail beds mean more criminals on the streets, more crime and perhaps an atmosphere where people will be afraid to go to the River Market or bring new business to town. He said that so far, the cities had received a “sweetheart deal” in their share of funding the detention center.

“Spread this burden over the cities and the county,” he said.
Currently, Pulaski County bears all but $2 million of the $21 million cost of running the lockup.
“I’ve had to terminate friends that have worked here for 30 years,” said Villines, adding that despite the hopes held out by some quorum court members and others, he didn’t see a likely fix that would allow the jail to accommodate 965 prisoners.
“This will officially notify the cities, and the public is beginning to get the notion,” he said.

Jacksonville’s Bob Johnson, an accountant, quorum court member and head of the county budget committee, said the county had the same problem that put the Pulaski County Special School District in fiscal distress—spending more of its carryover each year, at the expense of capital improvements — until it was broke.

“The county has budgeted more than its projected revenues by relying on carryover from the year before,” he said. “In 2000 we had $12 million carryover. This year (2005) we’ll have $2 million.”

Johnson said, “We’re having to make drastic changes this year when small changes should have been made in previous years.”
He said 80 percent of the county’s budget is salary and benefits, but that it should be about 72 percent.”