Tuesday, September 15, 2015

EDITORIAL >> School board gets voted in

Congratulations and welcome to the seven new and returning Jacksonville-North Pulaski School Board members elected last night. They succeed the interim school board that was appointed after voters last year approved the split from the Pulaski County Special School District.

Please fasten your seatbelts.

Like many Arkansas roads, the path forward for this fledgling district may be pitted with potholes, switchbacks and wrong turns — life, in other words.

Collectively, it’s now your responsibility to navigate that path and to make the difficult decisions necessary to make “World-Class Education” not just a slogan, but also a reality.

Politicians like to say you can’t solve a problem by throwing money at it, but the truth is this district is going to need more money than current projected revenues to build new schools, rehabilitate others, to hire more teachers for more course offerings, improve benefits for employees and, if possible, a salary schedule that is more attractive to more experienced teachers.

How much of that is possible will depend, among other things, on passing a millage increase.

School districts get most of their money from property taxes within the district, state minimum foundation aid, federal programs and, in the case of JNP, a significant amount of facilities matching money should be available.

Time is growing short for the district board to determine its long-range master academic facilities plan, according to Charles Stein, former director of the State Transportation and Facilities Department and now a JNP consultant. There is a Feb. 1 deadline for submitting the facilities plan for 2017-19 and a March 1 deadline to submit an application for funding.

The state’s match on approved academic construction and improvements for Jacksonville is expected to be about 50 percent.

Toward that end, the newly elected — but not necessarily certified and sworn — board members will gather at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Jacksonville Police and Fire Training Room.

The board needs to decide on a proposed property-tax millage increase to fund the building program, get it on the ballot for a special election and to educate the voters so that our students can go to school in buildings that are safe, sound, conducive to learning and which send the message, “We care about our children.”

Again, congratulations to the winners: School board president Daniel Gray, Ronald McDaniel, LaConda Watson and Carol Miles, who have been on the appointed school board all year, as well as newcomers Marcia Anne Dornblaser, Jim Moore and Dena Toney. Let a new era begin.