Monday, September 20, 2010

TOP STORY >> Mayor: Give us district

IN SHORT: Jacksonville questions validity of school board numbers on support.

By Rick Kron
Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville mayor is willing to bet his job that the Pulaski County Special School Dicstrict’s board members are wrong.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Bill Vasquez, who represents the Jacksonville area on the board, said only 20 percent of Jacksonville wants a separate school district.

Thursday night, after the city council was briefed about statements made by Vasquez and other board members at the school board meeting, Mayor Gary Fletcher said he would put up his mayorship over the issue.

“The majority of the people in Jacksonville want their own district,” he told the council. “If I’m wrong and don’t know the feelings of our residents, then I shouldn’t be mayor. But I know the residents want this,” he said.

“I’m willing to put my seat up and want the school board members to do the same, but they won’t.”

Fletcher said the city council, which is diverse and represents the city well, is united in the effort for a separate school district. “We plan to go to the next school board meeting as a body and voice our unity and concerns,” he said.

The school board meets at 6 p.m. Oct. 12 at the district’s central offices off Dixon Road.

Attorney Patrick Wilson, who briefed the council, said all of Jacksonville needs to attend that meeting and sign up to speak. “If you sign up, they have to give you up to two-and-a-half minutes to voice your opinion.”

Alderman Kevin McCleary asked Wilson why the school Board does not want to talk about a new district. Did you ask Vasquez why?”

Wilson said he asked Vasquez twice and twice got no answer.
Fletcher said Vasquez, at Tuesday’s meeting, called Jacksonville a third party for wanting to be a part of the negotiations. “This has nothing to do with you (the city),” Vasquez told Fletcher.

The mayor called Jacksonville’s relationship with the school district a bad marriage. “And we want a divorce.”

A kink in the city’s unity seems to be the local chapter of the NAACP.

Rizelle Aaron, a spokesman for the group, told the council, after asking for permission to speak as the council was trying to adjourn, that if the city wasn’t going to recognize the NAACP, then it would not support the call for a separate district.

Alderman Marshall Smith responded, “What does this mean? Are you going to pick up your toys and leave? That’s not the way to do it.”

Besides Vasquez, school board members Gwen Williams, Sandra Sawyer, Mildred Tatum and Tim Clark voted against reopening negotiations for the new district, which had been tabled for about a year.

Williams and Sawyer think blacks in Jacksonville have been left out of the debate and don’t want a separate school district