Tuesday, September 22, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Sore spots for JNPSD

It’s inevitable, this divergence of interests among groups in the new school district.

Essentially everyone in the Jacksonville-North Pulaski County area was in favor of a stand-alone school district when it was a simple, binary proposition.

Resolved: We support a Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District — Yes or No.

In the face of decades of neglect, 95 percent voted yes.

When you didn’t have to figure out a budget, a salary schedule or what programs the district could afford — when you could assume JNP could keep everything that worked at PCSSD and jettison that which didn’t — it was all good.

Patrons didn’t know that the top teacher pay would be only about 78 percent of the top pay at PCSSD, that Jacksonville-area teachers couldn’t use seniority to take the better paying jobs at PCSSD, or that 80 students currently enrolled in PCSSD’s Scholars Program would have to leave the program and come home to JNP schools beginning next year.

Here’s the rub — the inevitable part: There’s not enough money in this new, 4,000-student district to do everything.

Until the board knows more about its funding and passes a healthy property tax millage increase, the district must budget conservatively and its patrons will not get everything they may have expected.

The devil is in the details, and, in some cases, the interests of some are pitted against the interests of others.

Two cases in point:

Currently, 80 students living in the JNP boundaries are bused every school day to College Station Elementary, Fuller Middle and Mills High schools, where they participate in the Scholars Program. That innovative program is said to be more rigorous than simple Advanced Placement classes. JNP Superintendent Tony Wood is disinclined to send them back beginning next year, costing the district about $520,000 a year in state minimum foundation aid — money that would instead follow the students to PCSSD.

“We have not been satisfied with curriculum offerings for our students at Jacksonville,” said JNP School Board President Daniel Gray. “PCSSD channeled all the best in the district to one school, far from our home schools. They have recruited our kids. We want kids of this caliber, and we’ll increase offerings.”

Students living within the boundaries of the JNP School District will go the JNP schools, according to Wood.

At the same time, at least for the first year, JNP can’t afford to start a Scholars Program.

Some parents are upset and say they might move.

We think maybe there’s an opportunity for compromise, allowing students who would be seniors next year, for instance, to stay in the PCSSD Scholars Program to graduate with the special scholars designation on their diplomas and in their transcripts.

Just using averages, 10 students, and about $65,000, would be diverted from Jacksonville’s bottom line to PCSSD’s for the 2016-17 school year.

The new JNP teachers’ salary schedule is another area of concern. It offers a competitive beginning pay of $38,000, but, at the top end, it lops off as much as $15,000 a year for the most educated, most experienced teachers, compared to what they currently earn with PCSSD.

We think that needs to be addressed as attendance numbers and revenues increase.

We fear the district will lose many top-flight teachers from its schools before the beginning of the next school year.

These are the first of many areas in which we will find we’re not quite in nirvana.

We urge patience, compromise when possible and resounding community support for the inevitable property tax increase election.

The lion’s share of such an increase would be dedicated toward the $100 million or so needed to replace or repair ancient school buildings, a requirement for PCSSD and JNP to achieve unitary status and be released from federal court desegregation oversight.

The JNP board and interested parties met Monday night in a work session to begin determining what schools to build and replace, to submit on the state Facilities Long Range Masterplan by Feb. 1 and what to actually apply for by the March 1 deadline.

A lot has been accomplished in a short period of time and much remains. Running and refining a school district is a never-ending proposition.

The Jacksonville area has always been generous and supportive when it comes to providing for its young folks, and we expect that to continue.