Friday, August 22, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Chamber is on board

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors on Thursday voted to support the city’s efforts aimed at getting its own school district ahead of a Sept. 16 election asking residents to break away from the Pulaski County Special School District.

The chamber’s announcement is not surprising. Some of its most prominent members were at the forefront of this fight for years. Its leader, Daniel Gray, may be best known these days as head of Education Corps, the group responsible for giving the community a presence in numerous court hearings and helping articulate why a new district is key to Jacksonville’s future.

The chamber deserves a lot of credit as we approach Sept. 16. This is, after all, an economic-development issue that will lead to scores of ribbon cuttings if it’s successful.

Six years ago, when Jacksonville seemed condemned to life under PCSSD’s dysfunction and aimlessness, Gray was often in the audience at school board meetings, speaking up for Jacksonville when even its own representative was more concerned about union matters than the sorry state of school buildings here.

It’s important to remember those meetings were held 20 miles away on Dixon Road in Little Rock. That’s like Cabot’s schools being overseen by Searcy, simply unfathomable. The distance between district headquarters and Jacksonville alone is enough to justify the split. It may be the reason why PCSSD wrote off this community long ago.

“Mail us your property-tax check; we don’t want to drive all that way,” you could almost hear them taunting.

With an independent Jacksonville/north Pulaski County school district, a revitalization of the city will ensue that will emulate many other bustling communities in central Arkansas.

Even before schools are built and Jacksonville is fully separated from PCSSD, the sense of hope and optimism will spur investment. When new campuses do go up, rooftops will follow and so will businesses, especially once the widening of Hwy. 67/167 through town is complete in 2019.

After that, we will see a rebirth of downtown, which is often overlooked by businesses, but ripe for development just the same. To lead the way, the new district’s administrative offices should be built downtown.

There’s never been a better time to invest in Jacksonville. Early voting starts Sept. 9.