Friday, September 19, 2014

TOP STORY >> Mayor: District in 2016

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s new school district will be totally on its own in at least two years, according to Mayor Gary Fletcher.

The mayor, still excited about Tuesday’s 95 percent yes vote for the new 4,000-plus student school district, explained to the city council Thursday night what was next.

“Optimistically, we’d like to be on our own by next school year, but, realistically, it will probably be the 2016-17 school year,” he said.

His announcement of the vote totals brought a loud round of applause — one of two given the mayor by the council and guests at the meeting.

The mayor said the next step was to pick the interim school board. Anyone from he new school district can apply through the state Education Department. “The state is taking applications through the end of the month,” he said.

That board will be tasked to complete some serious groundwork, including hiring the district’s first superintendent, according to the mayor.

Once the deadline has passed for applications, a state-appointed committee — includes state Sens. Eddie Joe Williams, Jane English and Linda Chesterfield; state Reps. Mark Perry and Doug House, along with Representative-elect Bob Johnson and the mayor — would pick the initial set of leaders for the district. That list will then have to be approved by the state.

“I figure that will be sometime in November,” Fletcher said.

He added that the election results still have to be officially certified and that takes 30 days. Then the whole process goes back to the federal court for approval. “But we don’t expect any problems or delays there,” Fletcher said.

Once the interim board hires the superintendent, that person would work with Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Jerry Guess to complete the separation. The mayor likened it to divorce proceedings.

In talking about the election itself, Fletcher said the community came together in a way that was “just mind-boggling.

“I don’t think anyone has ever gotten 95 percent of the vote before. I don’t even have a 95 percent approval rating at home,” he quipped.

The mayor said the new school district brings with it a “blank canvass – a new beginning. We will have the ability to handpick the finest policies and programs and put them together here for our students.”

In other council business:

 Because of a vote at the last meeting to take locals bids for a new yard waste grinder rather than buy one off a national bid list, the public works department has had to truck waste to North Little Rock at a cost of about $5,000 a week. The city does have a small, 18-year-old grinder that is down for repairs. The department is trying to fix that to avoid the hauling costs while the city waits on bids.

 The mayor received another round of applause when Jim Durham, the director of administration, explained how the mayor and the city worked with the county and state to keep the tax collector’s office in Jacksonville in what will be a newly renovated space.

“We might have been able to get along without the tax collector, but then the assessor would have been gone and then residents would have to travel to Sherwood to take care of their licensing needs.”

The mayor added, “We just didn’t think our people needed to drive to another city for services.”

 In his monthly report to the council, Police Chief Kenny Boyd said his department responded to 3,770 complaint calls during August and made 392 arrests.

For August, there were no homicides reported, one sexual assault, no robberies, nine felony assaults, 17 burglaries, 89 thefts and 11 vehicle thefts.

Code enforcement officers responded to 171 assigned calls and 439 self-initiated calls in August. Officers issued 155 citations or warning letters, removed 139 signs and had 66 properties mowed because their grass was higher than is allowed by the city and owners did not take care of the situation. Owners will be billed for the work and liens could be placed on their properties.

 Public Works Director Jimmy Oakley, in his monthly animal shelter report, said the shelter received 86 dogs and 64 cats in August. Officials were able to return 42 dogs to their owners and adopt out 53 dogs and 20 cats. The shelter had 14 dogs and 33 cats euthanized.

One bite case was reported in August. A Shepherd mix bit a girl on the cheek as she was pulling the dog’s whiskers while it ate. The dog has been quarantined for 10 days.

 The council approved rezoning 109 Dennis Lane from C-2 (commercial) to R-0 (single-family home).