Friday, June 19, 2009

TOP STORY >> District changes mind

Leader senior staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District Board voted 3 to 2 Friday to adjust its stimulus plan to provide $1 million for architectural designs for a new Jacksonville Middle School.

Jacksonville board member Bill Vasquez made the motion during an emergency meeting to amend the district’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act plan to include the design money.

McAlmont board member Gwen Williams seconded the motion and board President Tim Clark of Maumelle furnished the third and decisive vote.

The vote moves the building plan up on the district’s priority list.

0Charlie Wood first brought up the idea of designing a Jacksonville Middle School about 10 days ago. But he complained, “I’ve been supporting and pushing (for it), and now I’m about to change my mind. The World Class Education (Organization) and

The Leader have been trying to pressure board members,” he complained.

“It doesn’t work. I’ve been turned. Nobody’s going to pressure me,” Wood insisted.

Williams added her complaints. “I’ll not be pressured by the World Class (Organization) or The Leader. If it happens again, I’m going to come out fighting,” she promised.

Williams said she was tired of Jacksonville always asking for something —its own district, exemption from paying part of the recently issued $81 million second-lien bond, and fixed boundaries for its own long-desired district.

In the end though, she voted for amending the district’s stimulus plan.

Jacksonville Mayor-elect Gary Fletcher had met earlier in the day with Clark, promising to work together. He tried to soothe ruffled feathers on the board.

Board member Mildred Tatum said the meeting was improperly called as an emergency meeting. She said she didn’t see the rush.

She also prevented Vasquez from amending his own motion to al-low the funds also to be used to design a new elementary school to replace Arnold Drive Elementary School on Little Rock Air Force Base and nearby Tolleson Elementary School.

Jacksonville Middle School has been in need of replacement for a decade or two. Vasquez was asked why there suddenly was an emergency meeting to pay for plans.

Interim Superintendent Rob McGill said that the stimulus plan needed to be amended and turned into Gov. Mike Beebe’s office by Monday or Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, Daniel Gray, vice president of the Jacksonville World Class Education Organization, suggested the sudden urgency to locate a site to build a new school may mean that the board realizes it has been caught red-handed showing favoritism for Maumelle at the expense of other zones, particularly Jacksonville.

The district built a new middle school in Maumelle recently. It is building a new high school in Maumelle with the aid of $81 million in second-lien bonds.

On Tuesday, the board jettisoned the proposed Robinson Middle School media center in favor of adding an eight-classroom wing at Maumelle’s Pine Forest Elementary School where Clark’s children went and where McGill served as principal until hired to be the acting superintendent.

“How blatant can this school board be with its favoring of one zone over another?” Gray asked. “They wait until they know (Robin-son area board member Shana Chaplin) has a conflict and call a special meeting. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and (Maumelle gets) $5 million in additions and we get five portables (at Jacksonville middle school).”

The board previously had committed to replacing Arnold Drive Elementary School at the request of former base commander Gen. Rowayne Schatz.