Wednesday, May 23, 2012

TOP STORY >> Board zones are redrawn for balance

Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville schools east of Hwy. 67/167 would be in school board Zone 7, those west of the highway in Zone 6, and Sylvan Hills/Sherwood schools in Zone 4, according to Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Jerry Guess’ preferred alternative for redrawing board zones to balance the number of patrons in each.

Federal law requires that after the census, every school board zone should have a starting population within 5 percent of the mean average zone in that district by Aug. 1.

With a population of 152,855 divided by seven zones, that would be 21,836 people per zone, plus or minus 5 percent.

The current preferred alternative — which Guess described as the result of an evolution of proposals — will have 21,082 population in Zone 1, in southeast Pulaski County, to 22,768 residents in Zone 7 in the Jacksonville area.

That’s within legal guidelines and a great improvement over the current boundaries in which 9,927 residents shared a board member in southeast Pulaski County, but 34,361 residents shared a single board member in western Pulaski County. Rapid growth in the western part of the county accounts for most of the disparity, Guess said.

Currently in fiscal distress, PCSSD has been taken over by the state. Education commissioner Tom Kimbrell dissolved the district’s board and serves as a one-man board in its place.

Guess said the redrawn zones are mandated by the results of the 2010 census and are unrelated to the state takeover of the district.

The possibility of an eventual Jacksonville school district did not factor into the way in which boundaries for the proposed new zones were drawn, he said.

Guess said he had three priorities in developing new board zones:

 An absolute one-man, one-vote mandate — that is each board member would represent about the same number of constituents.

 It must preserve minority representation on the board, which was a challenge since the minority population of the entire district is only about 21 percent.

 It must be a reasonable configuration reflecting common sense if possible.

Working with Metroplan public policy analyst and GIS planner Jeff Runder, Guess and his staff worked through four different map proposals before coming up with one that put each of the six high schools in a separate zone, accompanied by the schools that eventually feed students into that high school. Because they have seven zones, the sparsely populated northern Pulaski County — Zone 5 — has no schools within its boundaries, Guess explained.

Preferred alternative 4(a) would anchor Zone 4 with Sylvan Hills High School with the feeder schools of Sylvan Hills Middle, Sylvan Hills Elementary, Oakbrooke, Clinton and Sherwood elementary schools all in the zone.

Zone 6 would be anchored by North Pulaski High School with feeder schools Northwood Middle School and Cato, Arnold Drive, Tolleson and Bayou Meto elementary schools.

Zone 7 would be anchored by Jacksonville High School and fed by Jacksonville Middle School and Dupree, Pinewood, Taylor, Adkins and Harris elementary schools.

Other than staff, reporters and Runder, only about four people attended the Monday night meeting, the first of three.

Anyone familiar with the current zones will find that the old zone numbers and boundaries and those of the proposed new boundaries differ greatly.

After the last of the three public hearings, Guess and his staff will make a recommendation Kimbrell and he’ll approve or disapprove it.

A second meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at Maumelle High School and a third at 6 p.m. May 29 at Jacksonville High School.

The final piece of the puzzle was placed by Brenda Bowles, director of equity services for the district, when Harris Elementary was moved into Zone 7, Guess said.

Other alternatives split up schools in a district, had problems with an increase of minority concentrations, created five larger zones instead of seven smaller and had problems with dilution or concentration of minority populations or the likelihood of minority representation on the board.

Other alternatives split up schools in a zone, had problems with over dilution or over concentration of minority populations, or with the likelihood of minority representation on the board.