Wednesday, August 13, 2014

EDITORIAL >> The future is up to us

We’ve said it before: Jacksonville puts “unity” in community.

Finally, local control of our schools is within our grasp.

In the decades-long quest for a stand-alone Jacksonville-north Pulaski County school district, 400 people gave a preview of things to come at Monday’s meeting, when they pitched in $4,000 for printed materials to get out the “for” vote for the Sept. 16 school election that has school detachment on the ballot.

Thanks to more people than we can name or count, only the Sept. 16 referendum on the school election ballot now stands between local residents and their own Jacksonville/north Pulaski County school district.

Jacksonville has a history of putting its money where its mouth is, and we expect this group to overwhelmingly approve the new district and, if necessary in the future, we expect them to raise their own property taxes.

That’s what you did to raise $5 million to pay your share of the Joint Education Center on the base, and that’s what you did to build a swimming park for your kids.

This is a community that brought what is now the world’s premier C-130 base to Jacksonville in 1955 and has been recognized as the most supportive community attached to an air mobility wing more than once.

The 30-year school district effort is finally paying off. After decades of declining enrollment in the Pulaski County Special School District, Jacksonville and parts of north Pulaski County will have approximately 4,400 students and the chance to build a new high school plus, perhaps, even a new elementary school.

At least three generations of Jacksonville residents have campaigned for the creation of a separate school district, including former Representatives Pat Bond, and her son, Will, who pushed through legislation that allowed Jacksonville to leave the Pulaski County Special School District.

Mayor Gary Fletcher has seldom missed a meeting or a court date related to a new Jacksonville district. Let’s also credit younger people like attorney Patrick Wilson and Realtor Daniel Gray, who both grew up in Jacksonville, for pushing the issue on toward the finish line, through the courts and the state Board of Education.

We see no downside to a stand-alone district.

Without reservation, voters should approve the split so Jacksonville can continue to improve its schools, which will ultimately boost the city’s population and lead to an economic revival.

The old PCSSD board was tricked and bullied into building a new $56 million Maumelle High School by Tim Clark, who represented that area, while the Little Rock-based PCSSD has not built a new school in Jacksonville in about 30 years. Deteriorating facilities are not its only problem: Poor test scores, too, show that it is time for a change.

Decisions like the new Maumelle school helped sink the district financially and led the state to disband the school board and take over the district in 2011.

The failure of Jacksonville schools has sent many families north to Cabot, where new schools open almost every year.

On Monday, the first day of classes, a new $22 million Cabot Freshmen Academy will open. We believe, in five years or less, Jacksonville will also celebrate the opening of a new school.

A recent study shows that Jacksonville has a sufficient tax base to support its own district. But, if a locally controlled school board decides to ask voters to approve a property-tax increase so the fledgling district can build modern schools that the community will be proud of, we will support that, too.

If all the decrepit 40-year-old school buildings are to be replaced, we’re likely to need a millage increase down the road. Jacksonville’s residents have been generous about funding things for their children and to better education.

Vote for a detached Jacksonville-North Pulaski school district Sept. 16 — early voting starts Sept. 9 — and encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same.