Friday, September 11, 2015

TOP STORY >> Vote Tuesday for JNP board

Leader staff writer

On Tuesday, Jacksonville residents get to do something most in Pulaski County don’t get to do: Elect a school board.

Jacksonville, which is breaking away from the Pulaski County Special School District, will elect its first school board Tuesday.

The rest of the PCSSD patrons and Little Rock residents have no board to vote for as the state controls both districts and acts as the school board. North Little Rock does have a school board election with just one contested race.

Lonoke has two contested races, Melissa Swint vs. Matt Boyles and Charles Hunter vs. Ross Moore.

In Jacksonville, there are three contested races and four unopposed positions.

According to the Pulaski Election Commission, close to 500 residents have already cast ballots through early voting. This compares to about 100 in North Little Rock and less than a dozen in Little Rock.

Not only are Jacksonville residents voting for school board members, they are also voting to maintain the same millage rate (40.7 mils) as residents have been paying as part of PCSSD. Whether residents say yes or no to the rate, it will remain in effect. However, a no vote, according to Tony Wood, the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District superintendent, would delay the district from going out and obtaining construction bonds for new facilities.

A committee of area lawmakers appointed the current board of seven members about a year ago and charged it with hiring a superintendent, other district officials and determining board zones. The panel voted to divide the district into five zones and then have two at-large members.

One of the contested races is for an at-large position.

Three residents, none on the appointed board, are running for the Zone 3 seat. They are Jim Moore, Jerry Reichenbach and Barry Roper, a write-in candidate.

Moore, 68, has worked as a human resource manager for 26 years in the Air Force, then, after retirement, for two companies, he said. He is currently director of Christian education, including children and youth ministries, for his church.

“I also taught at Beebe in the in-school suspension program,” Moore said.

Reichenbach, 72, worked in the Title I and Title II programs for the Pulaski County Special School District for 10 years and put all five of his kids through that school system.

He retired after 26 years in the Air Force.

“I was an aircraft welder and civil engineer,” he said, and performed flight-simulator maintenance with the C-130 School House at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Roper, 57, the write-in, is in his fourth year of substitute teaching. Last year, that took him to seven different high schools and five middle schools in four different school districts.

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.

Moss, who is serving on the appointed board, is a native of Arkadelphia and has lived in Jacksonville since 2005 – a year after his career in higher education began.

He is a student-success coach at Pulaski Technical College and hopes to be awarded a Ph.D. 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.

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

In the Zone 2 at-large race, current school board member Ronald McDaniel, 62, a retired Air Force colonel, is challenged by Celeste M. Williams, 59, a military retiree who works as a testing coordinator for the Army.

“I have raised two children through the Pulaski County Special School District and spent a lot of volunteer time in the district,” Williams says. “I’ve worked with youth and children my whole life.” Williams served as a youth program leader at the base chapel for eight years. She’s a high school graduate with 32 hours of college credit.

McDaniel was appointed to both the district interim board and to the Pulaski County Special School District Advisory Board — positions he said make him “very familiar with the challenges.”

He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He has a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with a business emphasis and a master’s degree in operations management from the University of Arkansas Joint Education Center.

He retired as commander of the National Guard’s 189th Air Wing maintenance group.

The newly elected board will have to continue hiring district officials and administrators for next school year, which is the breakaway year from PCSSD.

The board will also have to lock in a pay scale for teachers and support staff members.

The appointed board approved a salary schedule that puts most of its money into new teachers and cuts the pay of veteran teachers (those with about 11 years or more of experience).

Zone 3 candidate Moore has told the Leader, “I want to make sure we have quality teachers and that they are paid very well, whether they have five years or 20 years experience.

“I want to work as a team player with the rest of the board members to make sure we do have world-class education and facilities.”

Reichenbach says he’s running because “It’s time for new people.”

Reichenbach said Jacksonville needs its own district and that the proof is in the history — things were done south of the river, new schools and new systems “while Jacksonville continued the old grind.”

As for the salary schedule, which shorts the most experienced teachers compared to what they do or would earn at PCSSD, he said, “There’s only so much money to pay so many people. The pay is equitable, given the money available.”

Roper said he thought salaries should be increased for more experienced teachers as money becomes available. The salary schedule that goes into effect next school year tops out at about $55,000 — as much as $20,000 less than the most experienced, educated PCSSD teachers earn.

“We don’t have a lot of the facilities others do,” he said. “All we have to offer is money, but don’t have the resources. Initially, we may not be able to match what they are used to.”

Zone 2 candidate 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.

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 the 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.

At-large candidate McDaniel said he running because “I want to make decisions that will positively impact the future of the students in the district. I want to develop policies that allow district students from kindergarten through high school to maximize their potential to read, write and count well.”

Williams said, “I’m an advocate for children. I thin that they more than anyone need a voice. My whole life I’ve been an advocate for children.”

She has a three-point platform: “I’d like to see a formalized volunteer program, an eight-year term limit for board members and improved teacher salaries,” Williams said.

Now, with its own district, McDaniel said, “Jacksonville can provide a quality education for the young people here and in the future. If you provide that, you’ll have new people moving. A good school district is going to grow the district.”

Unopposed candidates are Daniel Gray, Carol Miles, LaConda Watson and Dena Toney.

Early voting at the Jacksonville Community Center ends Monday. It runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Tuesday, voting will be at multiple sites from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Because voting must occur within the boundaries of the new district, the county election commission has made some changes in polling places.

Precinct 28 voters who normally vote at Kellogg Valley Baptist Church will vote at Bayou Meto Church. Precinct 32 voters who normally vote at the First Baptist Church in Gravel Ridge will vote at the Jacksonville Community Center. Precinct 35 voters who normally vote at The Venue at Chapel Hill will be voting at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church.