Wednesday, September 17, 2014

TOP STORY >> Historic vote establishes new district

Leader editor-in-chief

Jacksonville voters Tuesday overwhelmingly approved forming a new school district, and organizers began making plans to ask the state Education Department to let local residents run their own district in a few weeks and elect a new board next September.

The final vote was 3,767-218, or 95 percent, in favor of the new district.

“Jacksonville is soaring higher,” said Daniel Gray after the votes were announced at the community center. His Education Corps spearheaded the drive for independence.

“I feel like I’m the mayor of a new city,” Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said after the results were announced.

Patrick Wilson, Education Corps’ legal adviser, said he will now seek an order from the state Board of Education to approve formation of a Jacksonville-area school district in October or November.

He said the new district’s advisory school board, which will be appointed by the state board in October, must divide school property with the Pulaski County Special School District. “Next September we’ll have a popularly elected school board,” Wilson said.

Jacksonville could then have its own school district once the state Education Department lifts its supervision of PCSSD in this part of the county. (See editorial, p. 8A.)

Wilson said his group would also negotiate with the state board on building new facilities. The deadline for making requests for facilities has passed, but Wilson said, because Jacksonville has not had its own district, there should still be time to make requests for facilities.

Jerry Guess, PCSSD superintendent, said he was happy for Jacksonville, which he expected would soon hire a superintendent and finance director.

“I supported this idea for a long time,” Guess told The Leader. “It will be a great benefit to Jacksonville in the long run. A lot of detail needs to be worked out.”

Bobby Lester, former PCSSD superintendent, said he would not seek a job in the new district but would help organize it and help calculate its budget.

“This is a great night, a historic night,” Lester said. “I’m going to be a big supporter. The hard work is still ahead of us.”

Back in the 1980s, Lester saw PCSSD lose 51 square miles and 11 schools when he was superintendent.

He said he was confident the new district would work out separating its buildings from PCSSD and budget for the future.

Former state Rep. Pat Bond was very pleased with the results, accepting many hugs and thanks from those who attended the watch party. She helped draft the law in 2001 that allowed the detachment and attended a meeting 37 years ago to kick off the effort to form a standalone district. The group raised $120 at that meeting.

On Tuesday, Bond said, “It’s been such a long haul...I can’t tell you how hard it’s been, mentally disturbing. All the people who were opposed out of town who I struggled with trying to make the way to where we stand...Who would have thought that there was no law to say that you could do this?”

The new district will include Homer Adkins Pre-K, Bayou Meto, Murrell Taylor, Pinewood, Tolleson, Arnold Drive and Warren Dupree elementary schools, Jacksonville Middle School, Jacksonville High School and North Pulaski High School.

The following are initial results from each polling site:

 216 for and 36 against at Bayou Meto Baptist Church;

 121 for and two against at Berea Baptist Church;

 362 for and 14 against at First Baptist Church;

 92 for and 11 against at First Baptist Church of Gravel Ridge;

 155 for and four against at First Presbyterian Church;

 16 for and none against at Harris Elementary School;

 42 for and 10 against at Kellogg Valley Baptist Church;

 399 for and 19 against at McArthur Assembly of God Church;

 249 for and none against at the Jacksonville Community Center;

 321 for and 10 against at the Jacksonville Senior Wellness and Activity Center;

 209 for and 12 against at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church;

 372 for and 19 against at The Venue at Chapel Hill; and

 1,188 for and 65 against at early voting locations.


Lonoke school board member Karen James was re-elected Tuesday. She defeated Philip Cole 87 to 36.