Tuesday, April 15, 2014

EDITORIAL >> School board is not missed

Jacksonville High School, still in the care of state authorities charged with rehabilitating the Pulaski County Special School District, has been named one of the state’s most improved schools, but area residents are tired of not having an elected school board.

In Sherwood last Thursday, parents of children in the troubled district said they were tired of paying taxes just to see more cuts to education programs. One parent, who said she was happy when the state took over three years ago, when the district’s finances were in a tailspin and school board members couldn’t get control of themselves or the mounting problems, is now unhappy that the state won’t let go.

We recall former school board president Tim Clark making false allegations about a fellow board member taking bribes. Clark had worked diligently to build the new Maumelle High School that the district couldn’t afford. The state quickly began monitoring all of the district’s spending after that reckless building project.

There was more foolishness from that school board than we care to remember. We don’t miss them. That wasn’t how a school board was supposed to operate, but they still won re-election time and time again.

The man who was appointed by the state Education Department to fix things may not win the support of skeptical residents, who for decades have seen the district’s quality slip away, but Jerry Guess, the interim superintendent, first needs to trim spending as millions of dollars in desegregation funding will soon end and property taxes will drop after Jacksonville finally breaks away.

But there still is reason to be hopeful:

Guess has already appointed an advisory panel that will help the district transition back to a traditional elected school board. A plan for Sherwood to leave PCSSD is gaining momentum, too. It could take several more years, but with the desegregation agreement settled, local control of schools is looking more feasible.

Jacksonville High’s recent most improved designation was based on its end-of-course algebra test. The school went from just 21 percent of its students being proficient on an algebra test in 2007 to 71 percent making the grade in 2012. The school’s grade-point average went from 1.82 to 2.82, nearly four times faster than the state average. If students don’t score well enough, they must repeat algebra.

The University of Arkansas study also ranks Cabot Middle School South as the state’s eighth best middle school based on its 2013 benchmark scores. Students there were 87 percent proficient or advanced in both math and literacy and those students had a grade-point average of 3.41.

Cabot High School is third best in central Arkansas based on its biology end-of-course scores.

Cabot Middle School North ranks 23rd in the state with a math and literacy score of 86.5 percent proficient or better and a GPA of 3.34. It tied with its counterpart, Cabot Middle South, as the 15th best in the state based on math achievement.

Cabot Junior High South is 10th best in the state based on geometry scores. Students scored 98 percent proficient or advanced.

Westside was named the top school in literacy for the state’s northeast region and it was fourth in the region in math. Cabot’s Magness Creek Elementary ranks 21st best school in the state in literacy with a proficiency or better rate of 93 percent and a grade-point average of 3.65.

Lonoke Middle School was the eighth most improved middle school in the state in algebra from 2007 to 2012. It was also the third best middle school in central Arkansas based on algebra scores.

So we can have first-rate public schools. If Cabot and Lonoke can do it, Jacksonville and Sherwood can, too. It will take time, patience and talented administrators.

When the time comes to elect school board members in north Pulaski County again — Jacksonville will vote this fall on forming its own district — whoever wins must listen to school administrators and not return to the combative, aimless ways we’ve seen in the past.