Friday, April 22, 2011

TOP STORY > >State to get last word on school plans

Leader senior staff writer

The future of Pulaski County Special School District’s ambitious seven-school building plan is now in the hands of the state Board of Education.

The PCSSD board Tuesday approved $8 million in budget cuts—including money saved by closing Jacksonville Elementary School—to service the annual payment on the proposed sale of $104 million in construction bonds, according to Derek Scott, the district’s chief operations officer.

The state Board of Education has informed the district that based on the Legislative Audit Report released last fall, PCSSD is facing a fiscal-distress designation. The district has made great strides in correcting the problems identified by that audit, and officials are optimistic that the state board will approve the district’s appeal.

If not, the fiscal distress designation could derail the proposed bond sale, and thus plans to build a new Jacksonville Middle School, new Jacksonville Elementary School, and a new school to serve students who otherwise would go to Tolleson and Arnold Drive elementary schools, as well as to do extreme makeovers of Harris, Scott and College Station elementary schools and Robinson Middle School.

“We’re on target and hopeful the state’s going to let us build the schools,” Scott said. “If the state approves us to move forward and sell bonds, we’ll be rocking and rolling.

“We believe we’ve answered all of their concerns,” he said.


One change is in the works. Scott said plans to build the new elementary school to replace Arnold Drive and Tolleson had been tentatively changed to a new location. The Air Force had offered 20 acres on Little Rock Air Force Base, but Scott said that land is now believed to be unsuitable, so the new school may be constructed on land adjacent to Tolleson, and it may be built and occupied in stages.

An audit and press release by the state attorney general could also hurt the district in its efforts to stay out of fiscal distress and to move on with needed new and rehabilitated buildings.

The district has hired architects and builders to do the preliminary work, and so far they are telling Scott that his cost estimates are right on target.


“The operating estimates I came up with three and a half months are right on target,” Scot said.

He had estimated the cost of building the new Jacksonville middle/elementary school complex at $43.5 million and the architects are telling him they estimate the cost at $44 million.

Scott did similar work for the Air Force, from which he retired as a colonel.

Scott said the plan is to start demolition and site preparation work as early as July on all the projects and to have them all completed by August of the 2013-2014 school year.


Of the $8 million in cuts approved Tuesday with a lone dissenting vote, $2.6 million would be from academic-accountability division; $209,100 from equity and pupil services; $1.5 million from operations; $1.2 million from business; $5,000 from communications; $100,000 from the superintendent’s office; $100,000 from human resources; $100,000 from information technology, and $2.23 million from systemic changes.

The $2.6 million from the academic-accountability division would be derived from reducing the number of employees and redefining and transferring other positions so they are not paid out of funds that can be used to pay debt service. It includes $600,000 annual savings from cutting six assistant principals, $500,000 from eliminating five of 36 speech pathologists and eliminating two special-education coordinators to save $200,000.

About $720,000 in savings would come from closing Jacksonville Elementary at the end of this school year.