Friday, June 17, 2011

TOP STORY > >Building plans go forward if budget is cut

Leader staff writer

How to continue to provide an education, build and remodel schools with less money is something the Pulaski County Special School District Board will look at in its Tuesday meeting.

The board will look at a number of different budget scenarios at its 6 p.m. meeting at the district’s central offices in Little Rock off Dixon Road.

“They’ll look at one that’s $10 million less and one that’s $20 million less,” explained Deb Roush, spokesperson for the district.

The district’s superintendent, Dr. Charles Hopson, has made it clear that even though the district is in fiscal distress, facing a state takeover and is in danger of losing about $20 million in desegregation funding, he wants the district’s building plans to go forward.

Board president Bill Vasquez also wants the board to re-educate itself on the district’s desegregation plan, Plan 2000. The inch-thick plan, which was approved by a federal judge, is the blueprint the district needs to follow to be declared unitary and get out from under federal monitoring.

In a May 19 ruling, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller said the district had achieved success or a good-faith effort in only three of 12 areas. He also decided to cut off $70 million in desegregation funding to the three county districts. The PCSSD’s portion is $17 million to $20 million.

Roush said the district is set to present its bond-issue plans to the Arkansas Department of Education in August for the first phase of its remodeling, updating and revamping of schools.

The federal court must also approve the district’s building plans.

But all that could be moot based an announcement planned for early next week by Dr. Tom Kimbrell, the state’s education director, when he could either fire the superintendent, dissolve the school board, revamp the district school lines, consolidate the district completely or a combination of the four options. He could also take a wait-and-see approach as the district was just placed in fiscal distress by the state in May and has up to two years to right itself.

But the governor has called on Kimbrell to take some sort of action after the state’s Legislative Audit Committee two weeks ago called for the board to be dissolved and consolidation considered.

If the district gets to move forward, the local aspects of the facilities plan, called Vision 2020, calls for the current site of Jacksonville Elementary School to be closed. A new elementary school would be built on the middle-school property. Jacksonville Elementary students would likely be split between Warren Dupree and Murrell Taylor elementary schools until the new school is completed. The new school would have a capacity for 650 students and serve kindergarten through fifth grade.

Arnold Drive Elementary School, which is on Little Rock Air Force Base, and Tolleson Elementary School, which is just outside Little Rock Air Force Base property, would be combined in a new facility. The Air Force has indicated its willingness to provide a site for the new elementary school on base property lying just outside the fenced perimeter. The property anticipated to be provided is across the street from the current North Pulaski High School.

The combined new elementary school would continue to serve grades K-5 and would be designed to house up to 750 students.

A new Jacksonville Middle School would be constructed to replace the current facility and would serve grades 6-8. The new building would be located upon the current site occupied by Star Academy, which is part of the same campus and acreage upon which Jacksonville Middle School currently stands. This school would be built to accommodate up to 1,000 students.

No concrete plans have been set yet for Jacksonville or North Pulaski high schools.