Wednesday, September 17, 2014

EDITORIAL >> New district is approved

It’s finally happening — Jacksonville is getting its own school district.

Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly supported breaking away from the Pulaski County Special School District, which has not built a new school in the city in about 30 years and barely maintained the basic upkeep of the old ones either.

A drawn-out desegregation lawsuit, poor test results, dire financial problems, a self-destructive school board and an administration that was inept and uninterested in Jacksonville’s schools: Residents showed they’ve had enough.

Their vote will improve the education of thousands of students. It will also help protect the future of Jacksonville by protecting property values, attracting young people to a community that’s seen many take flight to Cabot and Sherwood and elsewhere.

The state Education Department took control of the troubled Pulaski County district and let Jacksonville slip away. Now PCSSD can try to solve its problems with fewer students while Jacksonville builds its own district in a year or two.

Jacksonville’s new school district is the first in the state in decades. An advisory school board will pave the way for an elected board that will have at least five members. They will concentrate on building new facilities and educating local students in Jacksonville, Little Rock Air Force Base and the rural area around Bayou Meto Elementary School.

The PCSSD school board in south Little Rock had just one Jacksonville representative and a history of poor leadership since Bobby Lester retired. The distant bureaucrats did not care about Jacksonville’s problems. No wonder they let the schools deteriorate.

PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess can rebuild his shrunken district while Jacksonville makes history with a district of its own that will compare favorably to Cabot, Beebe and Lonoke.

It will take time, but at least now, with an independent Jacksonville/north Pulaski County school district, the area will have the opportunity to build modern school buildings that attract middle-class families.

This is Jacksonville’s best chance at revitalization. Little Rock Air Force Base has offered land to the district for a new high school and elementary school on the base. Let the building begin.