Wednesday, May 02, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Breaking up failed disrict

A year after a tornado struck the auditorium at North Pulaski High School and nearby Little Rock Air Force Base, the auditorium is still torn up while rebuilding on the base started almost immediately after the twister struck on April 25, 2011, destroying homes and buildings.

The sorry state of that North Pulaski auditorium proves again that Jacksonville is the stepchild of the Pulaski County Special School District, which is under state supervision for failing to educate its students and for failing to provide adequate facilities to those students.

The good news is that PCSSD officials this week again reaffirmed their desire to carve Jacksonville out of the district and let local residents establish their own school district — and not a moment too soon.

In a motion filed Monday in federal court requesting continued state desegregation funds for at least a few more years, PCSSD officials promised that Jacksonville could then go it alone. Prolonged state and federal supervision of the sprawling district could delay that separation for several more years, but local supporters of a new district are confident that it will happen sooner than later. Sherwood, too, is expected to seek its independence from PCSSD, which could lead to more lawsuits and appeals.

But after more than a decade of legal maneuvers, including special legislation that allows Jacksonville to break away from PCSSD, the promise of a Jacksonville district appears within reach.

The Jacksonville area would have a much smaller district than Cabot — 4,500 compared to Cabot’s 10,000 or so students. But the state could give Jacksonville up to 60 percent of its funding for new school building construction, several times more than the current formula, which has meant letting Jacksonville schools deteriorate for the past 30 years.

The new formula would be more in line with Cabot, which has built new schools every two or three years because of generous funding from the state.

Jacksonville is looking for a new start. The city’s two new Lighthouse Academy charter schools, one on North First Street, the other on LRAFB, have shown the way with their new facilities and construction of a new high school set to open next year.

The Jacksonville-area district should get state funding for new elementary and middle schools and for repairs at its crumbling campuses. That rebuilding should have started a generation ago, but putting up new schools is like planting trees: Someone said the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Start planting.