Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TOPSTORY >> Sherwood left behind in deal

Leader staff writer

State Rep. Jim Nickels (D-Sherwood) is upset that the proposed settlement in the federal desegregation case would allow Jacksonville to form its own school district but halt Sherwood’s efforts toward the same goal.

Sherwood supporters have raised more than $16,000 in donations for a feasibility study state law requires for the city to detach from the Pulaski County Special School District.

Nickels wrote in a letter to Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, “I have no problem with the citizens of Jacksonville obtaining their own district. My problem is with the language that ‘the state will oppose the creation of any other school districts from PCSSD’s territory until PCSSD is declared fully unitary and is released from federal court supervision.”’

Nickels’ understanding of state law is that Jacksonville can’t get its own district until PCSSD is declared unitary, according to the letter. The representative writes, “If that is correct, how can the settlement agreement ignore that statutory requirement? The settlement agreement seems to throw my Sherwood constituents under the ‘school’ bus by denying them their rights under Arkansas law to form a district. I would appreciate a response the recognizes that Sherwood and Jacksonville will be treated equally based on their rights under state law.”

The Sherwood Public Education Foundation committee is leading the city’s efforts to detach from PCSSD.

Two longtime former Pulaski County Special School District administrators, Beverly Williams and Linda Remele, are chairing the committee.

The group held its third public meeting last week at Kellogg Valley Baptist Church in the Runyan Acres area near Northwood Middle School.

Williams said during the meeting that, although the feasibility study is underway, volunteers and more donations are needed. She said previously that it would take between $25,000 and $40,000 total to get everything for the detachment prepared.

The study, which is being compiled by retired superintendent Norman Hill, would have to show that the area has the tax base to support a school district, meets state student number requirements and that the racial makeup of the district would comply with federal desegregation rulings.

Williams and Remele reiterated at the meeting that Sherwood and Jacksonville must break away from PCSSD at the same time.

State law requires that PCSSD have at least 15,000 students the year before de-tachment, Williams explained.

She noted that Jacksonville residents could vote on their detachment during the September 2014 school board election or the November 2014 general election.

According to the district’s 2013-14 eighth-day count, PCSSD has 17,705 students.

State law also requires any new district to have at least 4,000 students.

Jacksonville would take at least that many — and up to 4,500 — from PCSSD’s enrollment when it detaches.

The enrollment of Sher-wood’s proposed school district is 4,770.

If Jacksonville detaches before Sherwood, PCSSD would be left with — at best — 13,705. If Sherwood were to detach first, PCSSD would have 13,305.

Both figures are too low to meet the 15,000 requirement. The law would have to be changed if Jacksonville detaches first and Sherwood still wants its own district, Williams explained.

One attendee asked the chairwomen at the meeting how this move would affect taxes.

Williams said, unless voters approve a millage increase later, the new district would receive the same 40.7 mills PCSSD is receiving right now.

Another audience member asked how soon the new district would come about.

The committee’s tentative plan, Williams said, is:

 Present completed study to the community in February,

 Seek signatures on a petition for a vote on whether Sherwood should leave PCSSD in March,

 Present completed petition to the state Board of Education in April,

 Seek the attorney general’s opinion about the impact of the proposed detachment on desegregation in May (the next hearing in that lawsuit is Dec. 9),

 Hold the election on whether Sherwood should detach in September,

 Have a Sherwood School Board appointed by the state board in September 2014 until an election can be held in September 2015,

 Employ a superintendent who will begin staffing the new district in December 2014,

n Register students, create master course schedules and hire personnel from January through March 2015

 and have students start school in the new district in August 2015.

At the meeting in Runyan Acres, the committee was criticized by one audience member for not getting the word out about this issue.

Remele said the law prohibits them from sending letters home in children’s backpacks but there are fliers at the schools.

Meetings are not held at the schools because Superintendent Jerry Guess does not support the detachment, Remele said.

“I would be remiss to say Dr. Guess is thrilled by this. He’s not. He would like to keep Sherwood,” she explained.

The audience member suggested the group get on Parent-Teacher Organization meeting agendas. Williams said they would pursue doing that.

The proposed Sherwood district’s schools — Clinton Elementary, Cato Elementary, Oakbrooke Elementary, Sher-wood Elementary, Sylvan Hills Elementary, Harris Elementary, Northwood Middle, Sylvan Hills Middle, and Sylvan Hills High have an enrollment of 4,770, according to PCSSD’s eighth-day count for the 2013-14 school year.

The new district will include McAlmont and Runyan Acres, which are outside city limits, but organizers have said several times that Sherwood has no hidden agenda to annex those communities.

They have explained that it is too late for McAlmont and Runyan Acres to join the proposed Jacksonville District because those supporters would have to re-do all of their work. The communities can’t join an existing district, like North Little Rock, because there is no law that allows that to happen.

If the two communities do oppose joining Sherwood, they would remain with PCSSD and students who live there would have to be bussed to Little Rock for high school, the chairwomen have said.

But both Williams and Remele admitted they’ve heard no one speak out against McAlmont and Runyan Acres being part of the Sherwood district.

Also, according to the eighth-day count, the new district would be about 46 percent black. That is within the acceptable federal range for desegregation. For more information, visit the foundation’s website or Facebook page,