Friday, August 22, 2008

TOP STORY > >Jacksonville district is seen as a ‘win-win’

Leader senior staff writer

Proponents of detaching Jacksonville and much of north Pulaski County from the Pulaski County Special School District have crafted a district boundary they hope will be approved at the next meeting of the PCSSD school board.

The map has been discussed with the mayors of Jacksonville and Sherwood and has been used by consultants for tax and revenue purposes in figuring the feasibility of such a new district, according to state Rep. Will Bond. Bond’s maneuvering in the state House of Representatives over the past six years has pushed PCSSD and North Little Rock School Districts toward taking the steps needed for release from the current court-ordered desegregation agreement. The Little Rock School District already has been declared unitary—or desegregated—by U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson, but the Joshua Intervenors have appealed that ruling.

Using the map and the most recent available school enrollment statistics, Stewart Education Consulting has completed a 32-page draft report that finds splitting the district into two would be a win-win situation.

According to the map, the new district would have roughly 6,000 students, and PCSSD about 12,000.

Jay Whisker, Jacksonville’s director of administration and former city engineer, has drawn the boundaries of that proposed district, which were used to calculate the feasibility of a stand-alone Jacksonville/north Pulaski County school district and to show it can be done without harming PCSSD.

Whisker said Tuesday that he was unaware of any opposition to those boundaries, which he drew up in consultation with Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman and Jack-sonville Mayor Tommy Swaim. Hillman wants the Sherwood attendance zones contiguous with Sherwood city limits, including the recent annexation of Gravel Ridge.

“The Sherwood mayor did not want Northwood Middle School and Cato Elementary in our district and doesn’t want any of the city limits of Sherwood in our district,” Whisker said.

So, according to the boundaries Whisker drew, a new district would be bounded by Sherwood and Faulkner County on the west, Faulkner County on the north and Lonoke County on the east. The southern boundary is Jacksonville’s southern city limit and Wooten Road to Lonoke County.

The following schools would be in the proposed new district:

Arnold Drive Elementary, Bayou Meto Elementary, Homer Adkins Pre-K, Jacksonville Elementary, Murrell Taylor Elementary and Pinewood Elementary.

Also, Tolleson Elementary, Warren Dupree Elementary, Jacksonville Boys Middle School, Jacksonville Girls Middle School, North Pulaski High School and Jacksonville High School.

Using those boundaries, the feasibility study explores projected revenues, tax rates, facilities needs and teacher salaries, among other data. Stewart’s study is under review before it will be presented to PCSSD board members in time for the next regular meeting, Bond said.

Unless it is radically revised from the current draft, the study will conclude that it is in the interest of both the proposed Jacksonville school district and the remaining PCSSD to split.

As currently written, Donald M. Stewart’s financial analysis finds that both districts would be financially sustainable and that it is to the financial advantage of PCSSD to separate from Jacksonville.

“The division into separate districts will create an atmosphere of unity and cooperation that will mitigate the divided support currently found under the present conditions,” the report concludes. “The resulting districts could and should create a ‘win-win’ situation for everyone involved.”

Stewart’s report concludes that PCSSD and those in favor of forming a Jacksonville district should immediately start an orderly process to divide the two independent districts.

It recommends the employment of an administrative team to address various issues and that a process be developed to help divide the real estate and personal property assets including buildings, transportation equipment and maintenance, and operation equipment.

Division of existing staff and of operation, capital and building- fund balances, of the remaining desegregation funds from the state and questions regarding special student transfer provisions would also need to be addressed, according to Stewart.

“We’ve had Band-Aids and roof fixes, but not much significant done to Jacksonville-area buildings in recent years,” Bond said.

“It’s really time for us to get this done.

“I really believe this is going to happen,” Bond said. “We’re really close. It has been common sense for many years.”

Bond said a Jacksonville district would be the culmination of a 30-year effort. “It takes a tremendous community effort to get this done,” he said, but “it’s the right thing to do for our kids.”