Friday, March 13, 2015

TOP STORY >> District not out of fiscal distress

Leader senior writer

The Pulaski County Special School District, despite resolving 37 of the 38 issues for which it was placed in fiscal distress and taken over by the state in 2011, will remain under state control for a fifth and final year, the state Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday.

The unresolved issue revolves around the end of $20.8 million a year in state desegregation funds and loss of revenue when the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District steps out on its own in the 2017-18 school year, according to PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess.

“We’ve created a plan for (getting by) without the $20.8 million in annual state desegregation funds, but having a plan and doing it are two different things,” Guess said recently.

State Education Com-missioner Tony Wood had hinted earlier that the state board might release PCSSD from its control, but the agenda issue read: “Continuation of Fiscal Distress Classification under authority of the state for the Pulaski County Special School District; and allowing the community advisory board to remain in place for one (1) additional year.”

“PCSSD has done an outstanding job,” Wood said. “My memory is that there were 38 components of fiscal distress and only one remains.”

The board is required by law to review districts in distress by April 1, and Thursday’s was the last regular meeting before that deadline. Wood did not recommend release.

Board member Jay Barth asked Guess, “What’s the wisdom moving forward on the Community Advisory Board?”

“It’s a very appropriate method of management,” Guess said.

He recommended that PCSSD be continued in fiscal distress for another year.

Guess had said earlier that he would be comforted by another year of state oversight.

According to him, there are too many financial questions yet to be answered at a time when the district is losing millions of dollars a year in state desegregation aid and Jacksonville is detaching.

That means that, barring further consideration later this school year or next, Guess, the seven-person community advisory board and ultimately the commissioner will continue to run the district.

The board action concluded:

“The Arkansas Department of Education continues to review the status of the Pulaski County Special School District’s compliance with its Fiscal Distress Improvement Plan and its efforts to remove itself from fiscal distress. That review is ongoing.

“Because that ongoing review will extend past the date of this meeting, and because this meeting is the last meeting prior to April 1, we recommend that the Community Advisory Board remain in place at this time.

“However, should our review indicate that PCSSD is no longer in fiscal distress and has met all of the goals in its Fiscal Distress Improvement Plan, we will return to the Board with a recommendation that the district be removed from fiscal distress classification and from state authority.”