Monday, September 20, 2010

TOP STORY >> Redraw PCSSD, group asks

IN SHORT: Jacksonville school district proponents ask state education director for help, citing district’s failures.

Leader senior staff writer

As the cost of Pulaski County’s 20-year-old desegregation agreement nears $1 billion, a group of frustrated Jacksonville residents Friday petitioned state Education Department Commissioner Tom Kimbrell of Cabot to reorganize the county’s schools, create an independent Jacksonville-north Pulaski County school district or do something.

In a two-page letter to Kimbrell and members of the state board of education says a state of emergency exists and “your assistance will be appreciated,” but it stops short of asking the board to take over the Pulaski County Special School District or to create a new, standalone district. It does not ask any specific remedy.

Attorney Ben Rice, who wrote the letter, said he’s suggesting the board reorganize the school district “to allow the north Pulaski-Jacksonville area to have a separate school district, independent of PCSSD. We have no preference as to whether there is a simple detachment or a dissolution of PCSSD, with our area being allowed to go its own way.”

Currently, PCSSD and the North Little Rock School District are awaiting a ruling from District Judge Brian Miller on whether or not they have achieved unitary status and are released from the desegregation agreement.

The letter, supported by several documents and a half-inch thick stack of petitions with about 2,000 signatures favoring a standalone district, asks Kimbrell and the board of education to do something, according to state Rep. Mark Perry, who says he hand delivered the bound petition to Kimbrell’s office Thursday afternoon and that copies also were mailed to the nine member state Board of Education.

“We’re not spelling it out,” Perry said. “We’re giving them facts they may not have been aware of. They’ll do what’s in the best interest of the kids of Arkansas.”
Perry said neither the creation nor the timing of the delivery of the packet is related to the Pulaski County Special School District’s rejection Tuesday night of the Jacksonville Education Foundation’s proposal to resume talk aimed at a standalone Jacksonville-North Pulaski school district. Nor is it intended as a reflection of the administration of the new PCSSD superintendent Charles Hopson. “Dr. Hopson, I think, will do a good job.”

“We’ve been working on this for a couple of months,” Perry said. “We have a legislative audit going on. (The legislators are) “bringing them back in to figure out how much misspending there’s been.”

“Sooner or later, something has to be done. Whether or not the court stays involved, I don’t care. What’s going on now is not a remedy.”

Those who signed the document were not from any one of the groups working toward a standalone Jacksonville-North Pulaski district.

The letter was signed by more than a dozen Jacksonville area residents including Perry, Ben Rice, Alderman Reedie Ray, Bishop James. E. Bolden III, Pat Bond, who is chairman of the Jacksonville Education Foundation, Mayor Gary Fletcher, J.P. Bob Johnson and Daniel Gray.

The letter calls the following to the attention of the director and the board members:
• The state has funded desegregation efforts at the districts with more than $896 million.

• In 2003, more than 4,000 registered voters signed a petition calling for detachment election for creation of a new district, but PCSSD successfully challenged hold of such an election in court.

• The state General Assembly appropriated $250,000 for a feasibility study, completed in 2006 which shows such a district would be financially feasible.

• The Jacksonville City council on Aug. 21, 2008 passed a resolution in support of a standalone school district.

• Second feasibility study in 2009 again showed a new Jacksonville-North Pulaski district to be financially feasible.

• The PCSSD board in 2008 approved a resolution in favor of a Jacksonville-North Pulaski district subject to federal court approval, and later it approved boundaries for such a district.

• Approximately one-third of the PCSSD tax revenue comes from the Jacksonville-North Pulaski area, but only 3 percent of the revenues spent for maintenance and construction in the past decade was spent on schools in that area.

• Attorney John Walker found that Jacksonville had been “disfavored in the expenditure of PCSSD funds for facilities.

• Public school enrollment in Jacksonville-North Pulaski had declined nearly a quarter in the last decade.

• A recent state Legislative Audit found extensive financial mismanagement and lack of oversight in the PCSSD, including activities by some board members.

• An impasse exists between the PCSSD board and the unions representing teachers and support staff.