Tuesday, February 24, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Jacksonville taking lead

Jacksonville’s new school district is showing the way for Sherwood and Maumelle, which are also trying to separate from the troubled Pulaski County Special School District.

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District is off to a great start as plans are being completed for a complete split from PCSSD next year.

The Jacksonville district isn’t exactly an overnight success: It took more than 35 years to make it happen and more than a decade to win approval in the legislature allowing the city to split away from PCSSD.

The House of Representatives on Monday approved a bill that would let smaller cities like Sherwood and Maumelle form their own districts. A Senate committee could act on the proposal as early as today, but once it’s approved there, the federal courts would also have sign off on the split.

Jacksonville can pave the way by showing how to build a new district from the ground up. Interim Superintendent Bobby Lester received a warm welcome last week at Bayou Meto Elementary as he told area residents about the district’s ambitious rebuilding program. The district will close Jacksonville Middle School next year and, for one year, move 190 students from there to Northwood Middle School, which PCSSD was planning to vacate because of low enrollment.

Lester also focused on plans to build a combined high school on 300 acres of Air Force property at the base, along with a new elementary school on 20 acres of Defense Department land and converting North Pulaski High School in between the two lots into a combined middle school.

North Pulaski will become the new middle school in 2016-17, Lester said, and its students would transfer to Jacksonville High School until the combined high school becomes a reality.

The new elementary school would replace Arnold Drive, which was built on Little Rock Air Force Base in the early 1960s, and Tolleson on Harris Road.

Those projects, in addition to renovating Adkins Pre-K, Bayou Meto, Dupree, Pinewood and Taylor elementary schools, will cost about $92 million, Lester said. “Our kids deserve more,” the superintendent said.

Derek Scott, PCSSD director of operations, said the Defense Department’s Office of Economic Adjustment, which would provide a portion of the funding for the elementary and high school projects, is doing paperwork for both.

The new district could sell hundreds of acres of land after demolishing Tolleson Elementary, along with Jacksonville High School, the middle school and even the abandoned Jacksonville Elementary. Some of these campuses, especially the middle school property near Hwy. 67/167, are potentially valuable for commercial development.

Lester has said the new district doesn’t know yet how much of a millage increase might be needed to fund new facilities. A millage increase for Jacksonville-North Pulaski patrons will not be voted on this September, and the 5.6-mill increase sought by the Pulaski County Special School District won’t affect them.

PCSSD has built new schools in Sherwood and Maumelle while it has neglected Jacksonville for more than 35 years. It’s a sorry record Jacksonville-area residents are determined to rectify, and they could show Sherwood and Maumelle how to better educate local students.