Friday, August 14, 2015

TOP STOIRY >> District passes another hurdle

Leader senior staff writers

U.S. Dist. Judge D. Price Marshall must sign off on the formal detachment agreement dividing assets, liabilities and responsibilities between the Pulaski County Special School District and the emerging Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District.

As anticipated, the state Board of Education unanimously approved that agreement Thursday. Negotiated by PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess, JNP Superintendent Tony Wood and their teams and state Education Com-missioner Johnny Key, all three men signed the agreement July 27, and it was approved by the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School Board Aug. 3.

“It’s a solid agreement,” Key told the state board. “Both districts can move forward during remainder of transition time. It brought some clarity in areas that needed clarity.”

“The spilt of the assets is appropriate,” Key said. “Both districts will be able to move forward, efficiently, if not without some difficulty.”

“This is like the separation of Siamese twins,” Key said. “I want to express my appreciation to Mr. Wood and, before him, Mr. Lester, and Dr. Guess and their teams.”

While Marshall has said he doesn’t want to manage the detachment of Jacksonville from PCSSD, he will check the agreement to be sure it complies with the efforts of the two school districts to achieve unitary status.

The detachment agreement has already been filed with the court, according to PCSSD attorney Allen Roberts, and the judge, who doesn’t like to let things linger, is likely to rule on it at the Aug. 20 desegregation status hearing.

Guess told the board that the commissioner’s assessment captured the hard work and time put into the agreement and “I think it gives a framework critical to detachment and to PCSSD afterward. I’m here to show my support for this.”

“I don’t have anything to add,” Wood told the board.

Detachment is not the only critical issue PCSSD is faced with. It is beginning its fifth year of the five-year takeover by the state for reasons of fiscal distress. As a result of that, the PCSSD school board was dissolved in 2011 and Guess was appointed “interim” superintendent with the state education commissioner acting as PCSSD’s one-man school board.

During that time, Tom Kimbrell, then Wood and now Key have held the position. Kimbrell was hired away to be superintendent of Bryant School District and Wood to be superintendent of Jacksonville-North Pulaski, a job he assumed July 1.

State School Board member Jay Barth noted that the end of the state’s five-year authority to run PCSSD was approaching and asked that the board be given a more comprehensive look at the district’s fiscal situation at the next review.

“I’d like to know where we are now and how we’re going to get there — out of fiscal distress — if we are going to get there,” he said.

Among the elements of the detachment agreement, the new district will pay PCSSD $10.8 million for school buildings and a bus terminal that will become the property of JNPSD.

Based on the projected enrollment in the JNP district, PCSSD has agreed to pay JNP 26 percent of the final two $20.8 million state desegregation payments, or $5,409,170 during the 2016-17 school year and another $5,409,170 — earmarked for facilities improvements — during the 2017-18 school year.

The community, district leaders, architects, engineers and fiscal agents as well as Education Department staff will work to determine the revenue needed to support facilities improvements. The amount of a new millage increase proposal will be based upon that.

Distribution of assets and liabilities will be determined on a “per student basis.” For instance, PCSSD bought 2,900 iPads during 2014-15 for about $1.5 million and will acquire additional iPads and Chromebooks for 2015-16. PCSSD will pay JNPSD $750,000 for its claim to any of that property.

On its first day of operation, JNP will receive an advance of $4.5 million on any and all monies due under this agreement. That will give the new district some operating money.

JNPSD is eligible for its share of any legal fund balance after the legislative audit has confirmed that amount.

PCSSD will non-renew employees assigned to JNPSD schools near the end of the 2015-16 school year. JNPSD’s staffing plan commits it to comply with the desegregation obligations in PCSSD’s Plan 2000.

Those non-renewed employees are eligible to apply for their jobs, often at a lower rate of pay and are not guaranteed a position.

The agreement also provides for the transfer and maintenance of student and employee records from PCSSD to JNPSD.