Tuesday, May 19, 2015

TOP STORY >> Dividing assets by Jacksonville, PCSSD expected

Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville-North Pulaski and PCSSD may settle the division of assets and liabilities in time for consideration when U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall holds his status hearing on Aug. 21, PCSSD attorney Allen Roberts told the judge Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Joshua Intervenors’ lawyer John Walker told Marshall that the minority group won’t support the detachment unless they have assurances that the Jacksonville-North Pulaski County School District will move forward with an ambitious plan to build new facilities and rehabilitate others and fairly elect a school board.

Moments later, JNP attorney Scott Richardson told the judge Jacksonville already has its own district thanks to a multi-party agreement that Walker and others signed off on a couple years ago and actions taken by the state Board of Education and the court.

The district has already been created, Richardson said. It’s working on refining its facilities planning beginning July 1 with Charles Stein, the current director of the state transportation and facilities planning division. Stein retires from PCSSD June 30 and starts contract work with JNP the next day.

The new district has already submitted a rough draft facilities plan itself and another, with narrative, under the umbrella of PCSSD, according to JNP Chief of Staff Phyllis Stewart.

The district plans to submit a new facilities plan, with Stein’s guidance, at the first possible opportunity, and matching money could be available from the state during the 2017-19 funding cycle.

The state is expected to pay at least 50 percent of all qualifying construction and remodeling for JNP, because it’s a relatively poor district.


Walker wants Jacksonville to elect its own school board, then secure construction funding through the state facilities partnership program — things they can’t do unless they are a functioning, detached district.

JNP is currently operating with an appointed board, but will have board elections in September.

Meanwhile, PCSSD had planned a complete makeover of its facilities, including two new high schools and two elementary schools, but the millage increase to fund a $220 million program failed at the polls last week.


Instead, PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess told Marshall that the district would proceed with Plan B, which will issue second-lien bonds to help raise $55 million to replace Mills High School and to move Fuller Middle School to the refurbished Mills building.

In other matters, Marshall ruled that, for now at least, JNP would not be a party to the existing desegregation suit before him, but that in some circumstances its lawyers could brief the court and address issues related to desegregation.


Still on the issue of facilities and the failed millage increase, Walker noted that Maumelle was an affluent community that had “already raided the treasury.”

He asked Guess how the Maumelle patrons had voted on the issue. “Maumelle rejected it by 84 percent.”

“They got theirs and then dramatically rejected improvements for the rest,” Walker said.

On the issue of unitary status, PCSSD attorney Brittney Moore said the failure of the millage increase scuttled efforts to solve the facilities piece of the unitary solution.

The district also has yet to become unitary in student discipline, staffing and monitoring.

She said the district was working next on staffing, which will depend in part on how teachers and support staff are divided for the JNP detachment.


The Donaldson Scholars Program at University of Arkansas at Little Rock and also Philander Smith College was making good progress in helping at-risk students, founder Charles Donaldson testified, but instead of the 600 PCSSD students it had hoped to work with, only 140 signed on.

This is part of the solution in the academic scholarships piece.