Tuesday, March 03, 2015

TOP STORY >> Bill to form new districts passes

Leader senior staff writer

House Bill 1242, which, without naming them, makes it easier for Sherwood and Maumelle to form their own school districts by detaching from the Pulaski County Special School District, passed the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 20-6.

Eight didn’t vote, and the bill was returned to the House, which is expected to send it to the governor for his signature.

HB1242 lowers the threshold to 2,500 students for districts trying to stand up their own districts. The law previously required 4,000 students, which was fine for its then-intended purpose, allowing Jacksonville to detach from PCSSD.

Jacksonville has jumped through three decades worth of hoops, including desegregation concerns, court approval, approval by PCSSD, approval by the state Board of Education and approval by a majority of affected residents (95 percent of voters supported the split in a special election). The city is now just a year off from having neighborhood schools.

Senate sponsors Jane English (R-North Little Rock) and Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle) were among the 20 yea votes, as was Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot).

Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock), whose husband was president of the Pulaski County Association of Support Staff, voted against the measure, as did Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock), who is past president of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers.

Among local senators, only Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) didn’t vote.

In the House last week, the bill passed 60-21, with 18 not voting. House sponsors were state Reps. Karilyn Brown (R-Sherwood) and Donnie Copeland (R-North Little Rock).

State Rep. David Hillman (D-Almyra) was among the nay votes in the House, with Copeland, Bob Johnson (D- Jacksonville), Douglas House (R-North Little Rock) and Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) not voting.

Still in the way of both detachments is a court-approved desegregation agreement that declares only Jacksonville can detach from PCSSD until it is declared unitary — desegregated — in all aspects.

Each district will also have to conduct timely feasibility studies that show, among other things, that a new district could support itself, achieve racial balance and would not harm PCSSD by detaching.

Sherwood has already completed one study that shows all three, including that the racial composition of its proposed district would mirror PCSSD.

But a new study will be required to factor in changes that are a result of the Jacksonville split.

Maumelle has not completed a feasibility study yet.