Tuesday, August 04, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Alimony check from PCSSD

An agreement reached Monday between the new Jacksonville school district and the Pulaski County Special School District is a bargain by any measure and should secure the city’s fledgling school system while it gets its footing.

The deal calls for the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District to pay PCSSD $10.8 million for nine mostly dilapidated campuses and a bus depot, but lots of land and schoolhouses nonetheless. JNP will receive about $11 million in federal desegregation money, which will soon be phased out for all central Arkansas districts, and it will also get $4.5 million in separation money.

It’s a divorce worth bragging about considering many Jacksonville residents would have been willing to pay PCSSD for their freedom. The payout won’t be enough to build a new school or compensate the community that has been bilked by Dixon Road bureaucrats for decades. But the arrangement will be enough to set the Jacksonville district on a path to achieve all of the goals it has set for itself, like building new campuses and improving education standards.

The agreement will also provide JNP with enough funding to fight any lawsuits that it can be certain will be filed by John Walker, the civil rights attorney who for years sued PCSSD for inequitable treatment of black students. He’s already explained to U.S. District Judge Price Marshall what he says are major concerns about the Jacksonville district’s efforts to provide quality education to all of its students.

Walker’s condemnations of the new district are premature, but he is a force to be reckoned with. School board representatives should invite him to tour all of the campuses to see the havoc caused by PCSSD’s incompetence and neglect. He will see that rebuilding won’t be easy and that it will take several years.

Jerry Guess, interim superintendent of PCSSD, deserves praise for compensating Jacksonville as best he could. When he was appointed by the state to sort out PCSSD’s financial and academic problems, he had the courage to see that Jacksonville’s schools were in such bad shape that PCSSD couldn’t afford to make the necessary improvements because it would simply cost too much money.

Say what you will about him, but no other PCSSD superintendent ever supported Jacksonville’s effort to break away. The others always chose to continue the ignore-and-neglect strategy instead of doing the hard work of addressing what Jacksonville needed — at least three new schools and millions more in repairs.

Indeed, Jacksonville owes Guess a lot. It’s not likely the new district could have gotten more out of the deal or would have ever been released from PCSSD without his approval.

Jacksonville schools will be fully independent on July 1, 2016. That’s something to look forward to and an important factor to keep in mind when school board elections are held on Sept. 16.

There are three competitive races: Ron McDaniel vs. Celeste Williams, Richard Moss vs. Marcia Dornblaser, and a three-way race with Jim Moore, Jerry Reichenbach and Barry Roper.

Four other races are uncontested: Board President Daniel Gray is running for the at-large Position 1 seat; board secretary Carol Denise Miles is seeking the Zone 2 spot; board member LaConda Watson is after the Zone 4 seat; and Dena Toney is unopposed for the Zone 5 seat.

The candidates should steer clear of the divisiveness of the past. Positivity should be embraced as should open discussions about where schools should be built, how to pay for them, whether a millage increase is needed and what the new high school’s mascot should be.

The school board election should be treated as a new beginning of Jacksonville’s civic life as well as for its schools.

The Jacksonville detachment is a win-win situation. It will allow Jacksonville to build new schools with the state covering half the cost. It also lets PCSSD concentrate its resources on improving or replacing fewer schools.

Good school buildings are probably the most difficult hurdle to achieving unitary status, and both districts will continue to answer to the federal courts until they provide the same quality of education for all of their students.

The Jacksonville detachment, because of the opportunity to improve all facilities faster, is the keystone to solving the desegregation conundrum.

Jacksonville Superintendent Tony Wood told the school board Monday he plans to hire an architect and a construction firm to begin the rebuilding process right away.

This new district is taking shape fast.