Tuesday, May 17, 2011

EDITORIAL >> A reprieve for PCSSD

The Arkansas Board of Education did not lower the boom on the fiscally troubled Pulaski County Special School District at a hearing Monday, but the department did tell the district: “We’re watching you, and you’d better put your financial house in order.”

Although the state board labeled the district financially distressed — which will mean submitting all expenditures to the board for approval — the meeting could have ended with the department taking over PCSSD and firing the superintendent. But Tom Kimbrell, the education commissioner, said the state couldn’t afford to run the district anyway and will just keep an eye on its finances.

Superintendent Charles Hopson was prepared for the worst, but he acquitted himself well. He’s promised to straighten out the district’s financial problems, many of them created before he became superintendent. He said PCSSD will go ahead with a $104 million construction plan that includes two new elementary schools and a new middle school for Jacksonville and renovations around the district.

State board members praised the progress PCSSD has made in recent months, despite criticism by the state Legislative Audit. Then there was an out-of-state consulting firm that charged Attorney General Dustin McDaniel $250,000 to clip negative newspaper reports about PCSSD.

The district hopes to get out of financial distress before the end of the year. The administration and the board are convinced it can be done by trimming expenses and closing some schools. Hopson has promised to turn PCSSD into a first-class district, offer real educational opportunities to all children and end the negative publicity.

PCSSD has avoided a death sentence, but the district faces more than financial challenges. It must improve test scores, reduce dropout rates and rebuild its crumbling schools. The state board has given the district one more chance to show it’s serious about improving its schools. Failure is no longer acceptable in the Pulaski County Special School District — or anywhere in the state.