Friday, September 12, 2008

EDITORIAL >>New district goes forward

There’s still a lot of hard work to be done, but it appears increasingly likely that Jacksonville and the rest of north Pulaski County will soon carve a stand-alone school district from the far-flung environs of the Pulaski County Special School District, and with the approval of the PCSSD School Board at that.

Able and devoted Jacksonville residents have worked for three decades for this moment, but none abler or more devoted than state Rep. Will Bond (D-Jacksonville). Bond is the architect of the successful effort, supplying leadership, wisdom, good humor and an understanding of what was required and how to go about it.

There are a lot of good arguments for term limits. Bond could be the best possible argument against it. He is not eligible for another term in the state House of Representatives.

We think he’d make a good attorney general or governor when the time comes, but in the meantime, we hope he’ll have an active role either on a new Jacksonville school board or behind the scenes.

Over his six years as a state representative, through special language and state law, Bond has created the environment that has led to this moment in history.

First he required the state Education Department to commission a study of the feasibility of a standalone district. Eventually known as the Gordon Report, it found the district feasible and the school buildings abysmal.

Bond authored Act 395 of 2007, which dangled a quarter-million dollar carrot before the state attorney general’s office and PCSSD, North Little Rock and Little Rock school districts—money that could be paid to reimburse legal costs of getting all three districts declared unitary—that is desegregated. It remains to be seen if U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson approves an independent school district in Jacksonville.

It’s impossible to name all, but in their own ways many have contributed to the effort over time. We’re probably leaving out a couple of dozen, maybe more.

Among those who worked for a Jacksonville district are former state Rep. Pat Bond (Will is a second-generation advocate) and her husband Tommy Bond, board member Bill Vasquez, his predecessor James Bolden, who was a forceful voice for a district, and Bolden’s predecessor, Pat O’Brien, who went on to clean up and organize Pulaski County’s two clerks offices.

Little Rock Air Force Base officials, including base commander Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz, Col. George A. Risse, commander of the 314th Mission Support Group, and Maj. Lisa Redinger, have be stalwart in their support.

Daniel Gray, Jody Urqhart, Ivory Tillman, Martha Watley, Linda Remele, Jay Whisker and his boss, Mayor Tommy Swaim, have worked toward the district, as has Dr. Greg Bollen.

Gray has been Bond’s top lieutenant in marshalling support and getting out the word.

State Rep. Sandra Prater (D-Jacksonville) and state Sen. John Paul Capps (D-Searcy) were supportive, particularly in the legislature.

Attorney Ben Rice and Alderman Reedie Ray have worked for a Jacksonville district, sometimes setting a different course toward the same goal.

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce also did its part as the group is determined to revitalize the city, pushing for new schools to present a better image to visitors, who see dilapidated buildings and decide to move somewhere else.

Jacksonville residents will have an opportunity to do their part, because students aren’t going to get the new and improved facilities they deserve unless voters approve an eventual millage increase and bond issue that will be needed to pay for the improvements.

Jacksonville, which has lost scores of students and their families to Cabot schools and others, is a big winner in this, and more importantly so are the Jacksonville students.

But there is no Jacksonville/north Pulaski County district yet. And once it’s established, the real work begins.