Monday, August 31, 2015

TOP STORY >> District hopefuls give credentials in school voting

Leader staff writer

Richard Moss and Marcia Dornblaser are facing off in the race for the Zone 1 seat on the first elected Jacksonville-North Pulaski School Board.

One of them will be chosen Tuesday, Sept. 15.

Early voting is Tuesday, Sept. 8-Monday, Sept. 14.

Polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 8-11 at the Jacksonville Community Center, 5 Municipal Drive, and William F. Laman Library, 2801 Orange St. in North Little Rock. They will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays at the Pulaski County Regional Building, 501 W. Markham St. in Little Rock.

Both candidates told The Leader that students would come first if they were elected.
Moss, a native of Arkadelphia, has lived in Jacksonville since 2005 – a year after his career in higher education began — and is a member of the interim, appointed JNP board. He is a student-success coach at Pulaski Technical College and hopes to be awarded a PhD in public education policy from the University of Arkansas this December.

Moss was a member of the Education Corps, the group that pushed for the area’s split from the Pulaski County Special School District.

Dornblaser has lived in Jacksonville since she was an elementary school student, about 49 years, and raised three children here. Her dad is a World War II and Korean War veteran who retired from a 27-year military career in 1966.

She has a degree in dental hygiene from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and has worked for 35 years in the office of Drs. Rodriquez and Pinney on Marshall Road.

Dornblaser says she has stayed informed, spoken with teachers, attended public meetings with her adult children during the breakaway efforts and applied to serve on the interim board.

Moss said he’s running to do what’s right by the kids. “I think it’s time for Jacksonville students to have all the rights and benefits that other students have. Students (come) first. We also must be able to provide them with top-notch educators” and “bridge the technology gap.”

He emphasized, “I want to make sure all our decisions are student-based...If we do what’s in the best interest of the students, then we’ll be OK.”

Dornblaser said, “No. 1, I think every decision that we make has got to be made on what’s best for the kids in the education system. There are going to be hard decisions, give-and-take in every situation. What it’s going to boil down to is doing what is best for kids.”

She remembers growing up when Jacksonville was a big player in the high school scene and people had pride in the education system here.

Asked why having an independent school district is important for the city, Moss responded, “It brings the community together. Not being spread out gives a sense of pride to the community and the students as well. It’s a rallying point for the community.”

Dornblaser said having a good education system attracts young families and keeps them here, raises property values and brings in new businesses. She believes the standalone district is the best chance to have good schools. “Failure is not an option.”

She added, “It’s very obvious Jacksonville schools have always been left out of any improvements” as part of PCSSD. “We’ve been neglected, and they’ve looked the other way with our schools for years.”

While Dornblaser said she would support a millage increase to build new campuses and there is “no way around it,” Moss said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it…I will fully support it if that’s the route the board chooses.”

Moss also said he was the only “no” vote when the interim board approved a controversial salary schedule designed to attract new and innovative teachers. It gave big pay cuts to experienced teachers.

He would like to see a balance of new and older teachers, to continue increasing transparency and to build partnerships with colleges that would offer credits to students.
Dornblaser said the board did a lot of research on the salaries. “If anyone looks realistically at the situation, it has to happen…You can’t compare us to that huge district (PCSSD)…It’s impossible to meet the salary of experienced teachers there” because JNP is going to have around 4,000 kids. PCSSD has about 27,000.

“We would go bankrupt before we got started. We can’t pay what we don’ t have,” she continued. At the same time, the candidate hopes the board will increase pay for more experienced teachers when money becomes available.

Moss believes he should be elected because “I care about the students. I care about the teachers, and I care about the community. I would like to continue (the board’s) work. There are still things left undone.”

Dornblaser says residents should vote for her because no one is more passionate about Jacksonville. “I know what it used to be. I’ve been here through it all, and I want to give it my best, to give it positive change.”

The candidate added that she was on the parks and recreation commission for two terms, served as chairwoman for one, “planted the seed” for Splash Zone and worked on the funding campaign for the public safety building.

Both Moss and Dornblaser supported the 5-2 school board configuration that has been the topic of heated debate in desegregation hearings. Opponents believe the at-large zones disenfranchise minority voters.

The candidates also agreed the board’s job is to set policy while the superintendent handles day-to-day operations.