Saturday, March 30, 2013

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville schools meeting set

Leader staff writer

Six studies over the past 35 years all say the same thing: Jacksonville can support its own school district without upsetting the required black-white ratio for either Jacksonville or the Pulaski County Special School District.

The Jacksonville/North Pulaski Education Corps will host a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the community center to highlight the latest report, which was released earlier this week.

This study, prepared by Dr. Winston Simpson, echoes the same conclusion from studies done in 1978, 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2010 that Jacksonville can operate its own school district.

Mayor Gary Fletcher has said that the lack of a local school district has been a detriment to the city’s economic growth.

The push for an independent local school district started in the 1960s. It has gained momentum ever since because part of the newest Jacksonville school is 40 years old and the perception, if not reality, is that tax money from Jacksonville was going to support county schools and construction south of the city.

There was also the long-term leadership disarray in the district, which resulted in the state taking it over in 2011.

The latest study shows the proposed Jacksonville school district would encompass 100 square miles all within the confines of the city and have 4,000 students and 11 schools – Adkins Pre K Center, Arnold Drive, Bayou Meto, Murrell Taylor, Pinewood, Tolleson and Warren Dupree elementary schools, Jacksonville Middle School and North Pulaski and Jacksonville high schools — all sliced from PCSSD.

Two other closed school buildings would be included: Jacksonville Elementary and Jacksonville Girls Middle School.

The study, using 2012 enrollment figures, shows that the new district “would have minimal effect on the racial makeup of the remaining PCSSD and that the racial makeup of the new district would include a slightly higher percent of black students than currently exists in the current PCSSD. The new Jacksonville district would be 48.1 percent black. PCSSD is 44.2 percent black.

The county district collects 40.7 mills in property taxes, which comes to almost $96 million. If Jacksonville gets its own district, the taxation rate would remain at 40.7 mills, but could be voted higher.

Splitting PCSSD into two would give Jacksonville $13.8 million of the tax levy and the smaller PCSSD would still get $83 million. Both districts would also receive desegregation money as long as the state continues to make those types of payments. Currently that would be $3.9 million for the Jacksonville district and $16 million for the decreased county district.

Daniel Gray, a spokesman for the local education group, is happy with the study’s results, but added that it was “pretty much as expected. Previous feasibility studies have shown an independent Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District were plausible, and this latest study continues to support that position.”

Gray also said, “The latest study goes into more detail in a variety of areas and makes the strongest case year to support our efforts.”

The study backs up what Jacksonville and the school board said they knew in 2009 — that city schools and the district would be better off if Jacksonville split from PCSSD. That was before the state came in and dissolved PCSSD.

The district passed a resolution last year in support of a new Jacksonville school district. The city must now petition the state Education Department to take the issue before the federal court monitoring PCSSD on desegregation issues. The court could give the city permission to hold a special election on forming the new Jacksonville district.

State Rep. Mark Perry, who is also a member of the local coalition, said, “There’s light at the end of the tunnel. We need the people of Jacksonville and North Pulaski to show up and get these signatures gathered so we can get this issue before Judge Marshall and make this district a reality.”