Tuesday, June 11, 2013

TOP STORY >> Backers decide to delay request for new district

Leader staff writer

A group seeking Jacksonville’s own school district had to delay its presentation to the state Education Board on Monday after falling short on the number of signatures needed.

The group had planned to submit a petition the state board requesting its support before a federal judge.

“We will turn in the petition in July,” said Daniel Gray, spokesman for the Jacksonville/North Pulaski Education Corps.

“We were worried that we just didn’t have enough signatures. We want to be over not by a few signatures but by hundreds,” he said Monday.

Gray said part of the problem is that a new law pushed through the legislature by Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) — which would require school-districts-to-be to only collect 10 percent of the number of voters in the last election — isn’t in effect yet.

Because no emergency clause was attached to the new law, it won’t take effect until Aug. 17.

So instead of needing 1,268 signatures to get the courts to consider an election for a separate school district, the Jacksonville group needs 1,869.

More than 2,100 signatures were turned in to county clerk’s office to be verified. Out of those 1,700 were declared acceptable.

“Plenty under the new law, but it left us short under the current rules,” Gray explained, adding that he had another 300 signatures to add to it. “We might have been able to push them through, but it’s better to wait and make sure we are doing everything right.”

He blames himself for not having enough signatures. “We didn’t do a big massive push, just a small grassroots effort, and still almost got there,” Gray said. The education group will be collecting signatures at the city’s FestiVille, June 21-22.

“We’ve done everything else we need to do to get our district started,” Gray said.

The petition will be presented at the state board’s July 8 meeting in Little Rock.

Petitions are available to sign at First Arkansas Bank and Trust, RE/MAX and Bart Gray Realty, city hall and the chamber office.

Six feasibility studies over the past 35 years have all said the same thing: Jacksonville has the tax base to support its own school district without upsetting the required black-white ratio for either Jacksonville or the Pulaski County Special School District.

Mayor Gary Fletcher has constantly 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 partly because the newest Jacksonville school is more than 40 years old and no new one is planned.

The perception, if not reality, is that tax money from Jacksonville goes to support county schools and construction south of the city. The last two new schools for the district were built in Maumelle (a high school) and Sherwood (a middle school).
There was also long-term leadership disarray in the district, which resulted in the state taking it over in 2011.

The proposed Jacksonville school district would 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 schools would be included: Jacksonville Elementary and Jacksonville Girls Middle School.

The latest 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.”