Wednesday, November 13, 2013

EDITORIAL >> We support schools plan

The Pulaski County Special School District announced last week it is seeking a modest property tax increase to raise $220 million to build new schools and remodel others, with Jacksonville — where the district has not built a new school in nearly 30 years — slated to receive $80 million to $90 million.

Derek Scott, PCSSD’s executive director of operations, who is in charge of upgrading the district’s aging buildings, believes that Jacksonville needs at least $60 million to build a new high school. Presumably that plan would consolidate the campuses of Jacksonville High School and North Pulaski High School to create one modern facility.

That wouldn’t leave much money for any more new schools in Jacksonville, but we are impressed that the Little Rock-based school district thought of its northern benefactors, who have consistently been shortchanged thanks to a series of superintendents paralyzed by dysfunctional and mischievous school board members.

Interim Superintendent Jerry Guess, who is in charge while the state continues its custodianship of the district, recognizes that if PCSSD continues to ignore Jacksonville schools, enrollment will continue to decline and the district’s credibility will be lost.

Under Guess’ leadership, and with Scott’s help, the district has shown that Jacksonville schools do matter and acknowledged that there is still a long way to go. Before their arrival, city schools were lucky to get a fresh coat of paint here and there.

Guess has also supported Jacksonville’s plan to break away from PCSSD and form an independent north Pulaski County district. That’s bold leadership considering that it would significantly reduce his district’s tax base. He recognizes control of Jacksonville schools is a matter of local pride and would allow problems to be addressed more easily.

We support his plan to increase the property tax to help Jacksonville and PCSSD rebuild. The tax hike — from 40.7 mills to 46.4 mills — would bring Jacksonville’s rates on par with those of North Little Rock and Little Rock. Besides, a millage increase will be inevitable if Jacksonville succeeds in forming its own district.

The plan will likely bolster our chances of winning court approval to be released from PCSSD.

The consequences of not supporting the plan will definitely cost residents more in the end: Schools continuing to fail, which will lead to more urban blight and more departures of middle-class families.

Critics may claim quality facilities aren’t needed to get students to perform well and that first-rate educations can be attained in decrepit environments. Just go ask Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman what new school buildings mean for his district.