Tuesday, March 03, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Locals shine at state meet

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot girls’ swim team finished fifth overall at Saturday’s Arkansas High School State Swim Meet on the campus of UALR, and the Lonoke girls’ swim team had one swimmer earn a state championship in one event.

Lonoke’s Kayla McGee earned the state championship in the 100-yard breaststroke. She won the event with a time of 1:06.49, narrowly beating second-place Corinne Despain, of Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville, who finished the event in 1:07.63.

Cabot’s Jessie Baldwin finished sixth in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 1:10.05, and teammate Melanie Abbott finished 10th in that race with a time of 1:14.48.

The Cabot girls totaled 194 team points at Saturday’s event, which put them ahead of sixth-place Bryant, who had 170 team points.

Bentonville won the girls’ division. The Lady Tigers dominated the competition, finishing with 404 team points. Pulaski Academy was second with 325 team points. Haas Hall Academy was third with 270 team points, and Conway finished fourth overall in the girls’ division with 211 team points.

The Lonoke girls finished the meet with 36 team points, which put them in 19th place out of the 30 teams that competed in the girls’ division.

McGee was the only swimmer from Lonoke County to win a state championship, but the Cabot girls had several top-10 finishers.

Caytee Wright had two top-5 finishes. She finished second overall in the 100-yard freestyle race. Carly Holland of Rogers Heritage won the event with a time of 0:52.96, just beating Wright’s second-place time of 0:53.34.

Wright had a fourth-place finish in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 0:24.56. Lonoke’s McGee finished sixth in that event with a time of 0:24.68.

Baldwin finished third in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 0:59.66, which was less than three seconds behind Heritage’s Holland, who won the event with a time of 0:56.91.

Baldwin and Wright weren’t the only Cabot swimmers to earn two top-10 finishes. Teammate Haylee Beckley finished fifth in the grueling 500-yard freestyle race, and took seventh in the 200-yard individual medley.

Beckley finished the 500-yard freestyle race with a time of 5:24.71, and her time in the 200-yard IM was 2:19.65.

The Lady Panthers’ relay teams had a pair of top-5 finishes. The Cabot girls finished fourth overall in the 200-yard freestyle relay with a time of 1:43.22, and third in the 200-yard medley relay with a time of 1:54.92.

Cabot’s boys didn’t have as strong a showing as the Cabot girls’ team, but they did place higher than 21 other teams Saturday. The Panthers totaled 84 team points at the meet, which was good for 13th place. They finished 22 points behind Siloam Springs, who finished 12th overall with 106 team points.

Bentonville also finished first in the boys’ division, and were even more dominant than the Lady Tigers were. The Tigers totaled a whopping 521 team points Saturday, which was more than half the points second-place Little Rock Central accumulated.

Central took second place with 213 team points, which just edged third-place Little Rock Catholic’s total of 212 team points. Magnolia finished fourth among the 34 teams that competed in the boys’ division with 178 team points, and Springdale Har-Ber rounded out the top five with 168 team points.

Cabot didn’t have any first-place finishers, but the Panthers’ relay teams, like the Cabot girls, had two top-10 finishes. They finished sixth overall in the 200-yard medley relay with a time of 1:47.40, and 10th overall in the 200-yard freestyle relay, finishing that race in 1:38.36.

Payton Jones was the strongest swimmer for the Panther boys Saturday. He had two top-10 finishes. He finished fifth in the 200-yard freestyle race with a time of 1:50.04, and sixth in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 0:55.46.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville ladies fall in first round

Leader sports editor

PARAGOULD — Atrocious shooting and trouble rebounding, especially in the first half, led to a first-round exit for Jacksonville in the Class 5A state tournament Tuesday. Host and 5A-East champion Greene County Tech moves on to the second round with its second win of the season over Jacksonville, 55-31.

The Lady Red Devils didn’t make a shot from the floor until the three-minute mark of the second quarter. Desiree Williams’ running baseline jumper made it 15-4 at that point. It was the beginning of a brief bright spot for the Lady Devils. Williams came off the bench to score six-straight points and cut the Eagles’ margin to eight, but the Lady Eagles also got help from their bench.

Post player Kassie Tyner came off the bench to score eight points in the last two minutes of the half, leading her team into intermission with a 25-8 advantage.

Jacksonville’s poor start included a turnover on its first possession and misses on its first 16 shots. Tech (22-6) didn’t shoot well early either, but the Lady Eagles got several offensive rebounds and second-chance points in the first quarter.

“You just can’t shoot that bad and beat anybody that’s good enough to be here in the state tournament,” said Jacksonville coach William Rountree. “We came out in a junk defense and the two we were guarding went into the half with a combined two points. So I thought our defense was OK. We didn’t quit. We fought hard in the second, we just couldn’t get anything going offensively.”

Jacksonville didn’t quit in the second half, even though Tech opened the third quarter with a 6-0 run to take a 31-8 lead.

The Lady Red Devils got to within 35-20 on a Williams’ 3-pointer. After a steal by Asiah Williams, Desiree Williams hit a 3-pointer just as the officials called an offensive infraction away from the ball. It would have pulled Jacksonville to within 12 with six minutes left. Instead, Tech’s Lara White hit her own 3-pointer to make it 38-20 and end the Lady Devil threat.

Only five Lady Red Devils scored in the game, with Antrice McCoy and Desiree Williams each finishing with 11 points. Alexis James and Asiah Williams each scored four for Jacksonville.

Blair Metheny led GCT with 11 points while Tyner and Josie Fletcher scored 10 apiece for the Lady Golden Eagles.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Panthers get tourney host first

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Lady Panthers have been on a tear since their last loss all the way back on Jan. 20. They beat two of the highest-ranked teams in the state and earned a share of the 7A/6A-East Conference title. For all that they get the No. 3 seed, are the only conference champions to not get a first-round bye, and have to play their first-round state tournament game against host school Springdale Har-Ber. The Lady Panthers and Lady Wildcats are scheduled to tip off at 4 p.m. today.

“They’re pretty good and we have to play them at home so that will be tough,” said Cabot coach Carla Crowder.

Still, Cabot enters the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the state. Ball pressure on defense, transition offense and good ball movement in the half-court sets has been key to Cabot’s success. There’s also been more and more effective contribution from the bench during the recent run.

“Our kids are playing hard and playing well,” Crowder said. “We’re excited about that going into this thing, we just hope it will continue. Har-Ber is good.”

The Lady Wildcats will be bigger than Cabot, but not something the Lady Panthers haven’t dealt with, and overcome, before. North Little Rock and Little Rock Central, Cabot’s conference co-champions, are far bigger than Cabot, and Cabot beat them both in the last three weeks.

But size is about the only similarity between Har-Ber and those other two teams. The Lady Wildcats’ style of play is different and they’re not as athletic as the East teams.

“There’s nobody we’ve played that even resembles Har-Ber,” Crowder said. “So that’ll be a challenge. They like an up-tempo game, too, but our league is so athletic I don’t think it’s going to be like what we’ve seen. They’re pretty big. They shoot it very well and have a really good post player. They have the whole package.”

Har-Ber (20-9, 8-6) enters the tournament having lost four of its last five games. It lost four-straight before closing the season with a 64-48 road win at Rogers Heritage. Before that, they lost 66-52 at home to top-ranked Fort Smith Northside, 66-57 in overtime at FS Southside, 50-36 at home to second-seeded Fayetteville and 69-60 at home to three seed Bentonville.

SPORTS STORY >> Malham honored, humbled by award

Leader sportswriter

Longtime Cabot High School head football coach Mike Malham was one of 12 members inducted into Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on Friday night at the 57th annual induction ceremony at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.

Malham just completed his 34th season at CHS, and is one of the most successful coaches in Arkansas high school history. In his 34 years as head coach of the Panthers, Malham has compiled an impressive record of 274-114-4, making him the third-winningest coach in the state’s high school football history.

Under Malham’s lead, the Panthers have won two state championships. Their first came in 1983. That team finished with a 13-1 record, and in 2000, the Panthers won another state title and finished that season with a perfect 14-0 record.

Malham’s teams finished as state runner-up three times, in 1997, 1998 and in 2013. His teams have advanced to the state semifinals a total of 11 times, and have won 14 conference championships.

Malham said he was surprised and humbled when he got the news earlier this year that he’d be inducted into the latest Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame class, but said it was an enjoyable evening Friday, and he was quick to thank everyone that helped him earn this prestigious honor.

“I had a lot of people that came out and gave me a lot of support,” said Malham. “It was a great evening. I really enjoyed it – pretty humbled by it. I’m fortunate enough to be honored this way.

“Of course it took a lot of great teammates, coaches and players to help get me here. I didn’t get here by myself, that’s for sure. It was a fun evening, and I really enjoyed seeing a lot of the old greats that came before me, and they were all real nice and congratulated me.”

With Friday’s induction, Malham joined his father, Mike Malham Sr., into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. Malham Sr., a former high school football coach at Little Rock Catholic and assistant at Arkansas State University, was inducted in 1999.

That makes the Malhams one of just a handful of father and son members in the state’s sports hall of fame.

“That’s kind of neat,” Malham said. “I think there are only five of those. In fact, Steve Jones is going in the same year as me, and my dad and his dad went in the same year. So that’s kind of neat.”

Stephen Jones is the son of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Stephen Jones and Malham, along with Dwight Adams, Pat Bradley, Leon Clements, Eldon Hawley, Bowden Wyatt, Christy Smith, Stan Lee, Carl Jackson, Jack Fleck and Ron Calcagni made up this year’s hall of fame class.

In addition to his coaching success, Malham saw success as a player as well. He had a successful playing career at Arkansas State, where he played from 1973-1975.

After the ASU Indians finished 11-0 and became the Southland Conference champions and finished No. 21 in the final Associated Press poll among major universities his senior season, Malham was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 17th round of the NFL Draft in 1976.

A broken arm ended his professional playing career in 1977, and his coaching career began as an assistant at Jacksonville High School in 1978. The Red Devils won the state championship in 1981, Malham’s last year there.

He was named the head coach at Cabot in 1981, and has been there ever since. Part of the shock Malham received when he got the news of his hall of fame induction stemmed from the fact that he’s still coaching.

“When I got the call it did shock me a little bit,” Malham said, “because I’m still actively coaching. Usually that’s something that comes after your career is over. It shocked me a little bit, but, again, it’s a humbling experience.

“Everybody was so nice, and like I said, the support that I have from Cabot, I think we had about 10 or 12 tables here, it was really neat. Not only were all these other people here, but Cabot was well-represented, which represents me, and I appreciated that.”

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils are ready to run

Leader sports editor

The first round of the Class 5A boys’ state tournament will feature a rematch of last year’s state championship game. Jacksonville and Forrest City will take the floor at Greene County Tech High School in Paragould at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow in what could be the most exciting game of the first round.

Forrest City interim coach Barry Hodges has his team running at a blistering pace. The No. 2 seed from the East has broken the 90-point margin three times this season, and Hodges believes that’s when his bunch is at its best.

“It’s absolutely nothing like our state championship team,” Hodges said on Monday. “Last year we went 6-foot-8, 6-6 and 6-5 in the starting lineup. This year our tallest guy is 6-3 and my only real post player is a football kid who’s about 6-0 or maybe 6-1. So we had to play faster and we have some guys who can shoot it. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t.”

Forrest City (15-11, 11-3) is led by junior guard Robert Glasper, who was the only starting underclassman from last year’s team that beat Jacksonville handily in the state finals. He averages almost 25 points per game and has scored more than 30 several times.

Jacksonville also has shooters, but has looked its best playing a half-court game, feeding 6-4 Tedrick Wolfe and 6-3 Devin Campbell inside. Both of those guys can also step outside and score, and Campbell is also effective off the dribble.

Teams that have been able to force a frenetic pace have troubled the Red Devils this season, but head coach Vic Joyner welcomes the challenge.

“If they want to run, let’s run,” said Joyner. “It’s not running that has hurt us. It’s been pressure. We have athletes and we have some depth, so just running up and down the court is no big deal. We haven’t done it much this year because we haven’t been disciplined enough to press ourselves. When we settle down and execute my offense is when we look really good.”

Jacksonville hasn’t had a size advantage many times this year, but will have one on Thursday. So despite Joyner’s talk of running with the Mustangs, the Devils might slow it down and feed the middle.

“Listen, this team doesn’t really have an identity,” Joyner said. “This team has just had to morph into whatever we need given each matchup. Sometimes we’ve done that and looked extremely good. Other times we’ve struggled and looked like crap. But our struggles have primarily been our own fault, not the people we were playing. If we’ll just go out there and take care of our own business, we’re as good as anybody in 5A.”

Both teams’ most recent games have been against their respective league’s champions. Jacksonville (20-7, 10-4) pulled off a mild upset by going to previous 5A-Central unbeaten McClellan and winning 68-64 in overtime. The Red Devils did it by cutting off the lane on defense and playing with patience on offense. Wolfe finished with 25 while Campbell had 11. Sophomore guard Tyree Appleby scored 18 from outside to help keep things open inside.

“We played a complete game and executed,” Joyner said. “Their two main guys got their points, but they weren’t all dunks like they were when they beat us. They had to work.”

Forrest City comes off an 80-62 loss to Valley View. Unlike Jacksonville’s game with McClellan, for which nothing was on the line, the winner of the FC-VV game at FCHS was for a share of the conference championship and the No. 1 seed in the state tournament. The Mustangs had beaten the Blazers 90-88 in their first meeting in Jonesboro.

Forrest City has been without longtime leader Dwight Lofton, who suffered two strokes between the Christmas break and the second conference game, the last one requiring surgery, hospitalization and a long period of rest.

Hodges has been with Lofton at Forrest City for 18 years, making the transition easier for the players.

“I’ve been here so long there wasn’t much adjustment the players had to do as far as how things are done around here,” Hodges said. “Just the fact of not having coach Lofton around, that has been a big adjustment for everyone, me included. I’m really kind of surprised and pleased and very proud of how well our players have handled it.”

EDITORIAL >> More funds for air base

“Sequestration is the dark cloud up ahead, and it could affect us in readiness,” Col. Patrick Rhatigan, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, recently told The Leader.

Rhatigan said, eventually, the Air Force has to get back to pre-sequestration funding levels and beyond. “We took a hit in Little Rock on flying, then got some relief in FY 2015, and we thought we turned the corner,” the colonel said.

While budget cutbacks or another round of sequestration could slow modernization and infrastructure replacement, three major projects worth $133.6 million are underway at Little Rock Air Force Base and due for completion by 2017.

Those include rebuilding a 50-year-old runway and adjacent landing strip. Sundt Construction of Tempe, Ariz., is the contractor. In addition, the construction of a fifth C-130J simulator is underway as the 19th Airlift Wing transitions to an all C-130J combat unit. They needed a new 12,000-foot runway and adjacent landing strip, along with the construction of a fifth C-130J simulator as the wing continues its combat missions in Asia and Africa in the war against al-Qaida and the so-called Islamic State.

Currently, the base has four C-130J simulators, and an annex to house the fifth is due for completion by November. Alessi-Keyes Construction of Maumelle is the contractor and the cost of the project is $4,218,503.

The base has eight aircraft and 12 crews deployed in Afghanistan, one airframe and two crews flying in support of the Combined Joint Task Force in the Horn of Africa, supporting that operation as they counter the violent extremist groups in East Africa and two flying out of central Europe, flying missions and sitting alert for places like Libya, Rhatigan said.

Although the size and scope of all other construction at the base is overshadowed by the construction of the runway and airstrip, there’s still more construction going on. To keep the planes flying, they need fuel to stay in the air. The new C-130 fuel-cell building project is 74 percent completed.

As part of their job, fuel-systems repair airmen here immerse themselves in highly flammable fuel tanks to keep C-130s flying. The team of more than 80 enlisted airmen works three shifts around the clock to get the job done.

They will service, maintain, repair and, if necessary, replace the plastic wing bladders that actually hold the fuel. The original awarded amount in June 2013 was $20,869,000, but the scope of work increased. The new facility replaces Hangar 222, a 1950s-era building that was not designed for the C-130.

Construction of the new two-bay fuel-systems maintenance hangar project is on schedule for November completion. That new building is being constructed on a design-build contract by Ross Construction Corp. of Tulsa for $21,464,972.

But sequestration still looms, with no assurance that there won’t be another round of sequestration imposed by Congress this year. Including the National Guard and the Reserve, the Air Force seeks a troop strength of 492,000 airmen. The Active Air Force would account for about 311,000 of that, the lowest since the Air Force was formed in 1947 with 307,000.

“It’s easy to get caught up in sequestration and what’s the next plane,” Rhatigan said. “The main thing is to let people know we’ve got to make sure the airmen are focused on the missions.”

As Washington politicians haggle over the defense budget, it could take years before our base gets another major infusion of funds. The $133.6 million in improvements will make LRAFB better prepared for the tasks ahead.

Our airmen have been flying into hot spots on three continents almost nonstop since 9/11. They deserve all the improvements and all the help a grateful nation can give them.

TOP STORY >> Leader starts its 29th year

The Leader is starting its 29th year this week. The award-winning newspaper was launched 28 years ago with the March 4, 1987 issue.

One headline on the front page: “Lester is optimistic on new busing plan, pushes millage hike.”

Bobby Lester was superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District then and is now interim superintendent of the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District.

We have covered local school news almost every week since then.

Our talented staff of reporters and photographers cover news, sports and events that matter to you.

When Jacksonville residents pushed for their own school district, we helped lead the way to make it happen. When we called the Pulaski County Special School District dysfunctional, the state agreed and took over the troubled school district.

The Leader has covered Cabot’s growing school district from day one and told readers Cabot’s district would be a good model for its neighbors to follow.

We are a family-owned Arkansas newspaper that has helped build this community for 28 years. We will build on this tradition of journalism excellence for years to come.

The Leader has been locally-owned and operated since the beginning. We live where you live. When you buy and advertise in The Leader, your money stays in our communities. We have the hometown advantage.

There are only a few family-owned newspapers left in Arkansas. Most are owned by out-of-state corporations with no other local connection.

We thank our readers and advertisers for making The Leader the biggest paid non-daily newspaper in Arkansas.

To subscribe for a year, send $18 to The Leader, 404 Graham Road, Jacksonville, Ark. 72076, or 105 N. 8th St., Cabot Ark. 72203. Call 501-982-9421 or 501-941-5132 to subscribe with a credit card.

TOP STORY >> CHS to present musical ‘Shrek’

Leader staff writer

The Cabot High School Theater presents “Shrek the Musical” at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $8 and can be reserved by texting 501-259-1305.

The musical is based on the 2001 film. Student director Heidi Mackey explained that Shrek is an ogre who was sent away by his family when he was 7 to live in a swamp.

Shrek was happily living alone there when Lord Farquaad banished fairy-tale creatures to the swamp for being freaks of nature and not conforming to his vision of society.

Shrek goes to the Castle Duloc to talk with Lord Farquaad because he wants his swamp back. Lord Farquaad is looking for a queen because he is not considered a king without a queen.

The Gingerbread man tells the lord there is a princess in a dragon guarded castle.

Farquaad makes a deal with Shrek. If Shrek gets the princess, he sayw he will give Shrek the swamp back.

The musical follows the adventure as Shrek and Donkey go out to find Princess Fiona and bring her to Lord Farquaad.

Kolby Cole, who plays Shrek, said, “Shrek grows up believing the world hates him. He finds friendship through Donkey and learns the world isn’t so bad.

“Being the hero, he becomes more appreciative of what he is gaining. It’s a huge honor to take on this role.”

J.P. Gairhan, who plays Donkey, said that character brings a touch of humor and some light-heartedness. But, really, Donkey just wants a happy ending for Shrek and Fiona.

Jeni Fuller, who has the role of Fiona, said the most challenging part for her will be doing a full tap-dance break in “Morning Person” and to sing afterward.

Student director Zoe Eddington said the best part of this show was, “creating the cast list and then watching it all come to life. Seeing all the hard work everyone puts into the show and seeing it come together.”

Mackey said the students started work on the musical in November. “We missed six days of rehearsals due to snow. But all the leads went to the second student director’s house and rehearsed on their own as a group.

“The pit band is working continuous hours. The music is hard. Makeup and costume is what is going to make the show. We made a lot of props and costumes,” Mackey added.

The cast includes Seth Stewart and Andrew Hupp as Lord Farquaad, Charl Young as Pinocchio, Ashley Martin as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Hannah Brletich as Dragon, Tanner Johnson as the Pied Piper, Spencer Worth as Papa Ogre, Annalisse Riley as Mama Ogre, Justin Cheatham as King Harold, Aspen Hendricks as Queen Lillian and Brandon Turner as Captain of the Guard.

The show features Keaton Grimmett as Thelonius, Ashley Julison as Teen Fiona, Piper Mobbs and Lily Guess as Young Fiona, Wyatt McMahan as Young Shrek, McKenzie Marks as the Shoemaker’s Elf, Jordan Gately as the Big Bad Wolf and Bishop, Savannah Woods as the Head Duloc Dancer, Marcela Shipley as the Fairy Godmother, Greg Stone, DJ Boswell and Skyler Ward as the Three Little Pigs; Autumn Romines as Humpty Dumpty, Ashton Williams as Miss Far Far Away, Blain Mahoney as Peter Pan and Audrey Lightfoot as Wendy.

Also in the musical are Emily Adair as Tinker Bell, Payton Carlton and Courtney Lewis as the White Rabbits, Greer King as the Wicked Witch, Madi Burrow and Elizabeth Ring as the Ugly Ducklings, Lane Burchfield as Papa Bear, Clarissa Struble as Mama Bear, Brooklyn Jennings as Baby Bear, Jay King as the Mad Hatter, Savannah Woods, Laiken Kaylor and Ashley Julison as the Three Blind Mice, April Watts as Esmeralda, Allie DeStefano as Dorothy, Holdyn Barnes as Aladdin, Vicky Ray as Jasmine, Avery Elliot as Little Bo Beep, Sydney Calvert as Dorothy, Natalie Brewer as Little Red Riding Hood and Kallie Benedict as Mother Goose.

The Duloc Announcers are Lauren Travis, Kelsey Drees, Caleigh Pickard and Ashton Williams. The Freak Flag Spinners are Allie DeStefano and Sydney Calvert. The Dragon Doo Wop Singers are Natalie Way, Autumne Kendricks, Heidi Mackey and Rheagan Tyner.

The Dancing Duloc Per-formers are Savannah Woods, Lauren Travis, Laiken Kaylor, Sarah Mitchell, Saralyn Hell-stern, Ashley Julison, Macy McClanahan, Destiny Coyle, Corbin Friddle, Autumn Romines, Kelsey Drees, Madison Coffer, Charl Young, Halie Eastham, Caleigh Pick-ard, Shelby Thompson, Braylin Powers, Lauren Roberts, Savanna Young, Madison Schumacher and Lindsey Slazman.

The Knights are Logan Melder, Jalen Hemphill, Benjamin Davis, Brennen Applegate, Justin Hagar, Cody Nabors, Seth Carter, Easton Seidl, Kent Tarvin, Cody Pugh, Jack Teague and Tristan Bulice.

The Happy People featured singers are Emily Freeman, Payton Adam, Brittany Billingsly, Haleigh Geheb, Hannah Scogin, Jessica Pauley, Amariz Galvex, Rheagan Tyner and Gracie New.

The Angry Mob and Knights are Kayla Looney, Amanda Gathright, McKenzie Runsick, Hallie Lubinski and Kayli Sims.

The Rat Trappers are Savannah Woods, Kelsey Drees, Charl Young, Caleigh Pickard, Lauren Travis, Macy McClanahan, Laiken Kaylor, Christian Weatherly, Alexis Baker and Ashlee Hankins.

The Seven Dwarfs are Sam Owens, Isabel Carpenter, Logan Williams, Paisley Mobbs, Asa Eddington, Cash Tarvin and Grace Bing.

The Skeleton Tumblers are Morgan Walters, Brooklyn Jennings, Lauren Travis, Aspen Hendricks and Halie Eastham.

The Dragon Puppeteers are Noah Tiner, Gacie New, Payton Adams, Brittney Billingsley, Amaris Galvez, Kayli Sims and Brent Simmons.

TOP STORY >> Bill to form new districts passes

Leader senior staff writer

House Bill 1242, which, without naming them, makes it easier for Sherwood and Maumelle to form their own school districts by detaching from the Pulaski County Special School District, passed the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 20-6.

Eight didn’t vote, and the bill was returned to the House, which is expected to send it to the governor for his signature.

HB1242 lowers the threshold to 2,500 students for districts trying to stand up their own districts. The law previously required 4,000 students, which was fine for its then-intended purpose, allowing Jacksonville to detach from PCSSD.

Jacksonville has jumped through three decades worth of hoops, including desegregation concerns, court approval, approval by PCSSD, approval by the state Board of Education and approval by a majority of affected residents (95 percent of voters supported the split in a special election). The city is now just a year off from having neighborhood schools.

Senate sponsors Jane English (R-North Little Rock) and Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle) were among the 20 yea votes, as was Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot).

Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock), whose husband was president of the Pulaski County Association of Support Staff, voted against the measure, as did Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock), who is past president of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers.

Among local senators, only Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) didn’t vote.

In the House last week, the bill passed 60-21, with 18 not voting. House sponsors were state Reps. Karilyn Brown (R-Sherwood) and Donnie Copeland (R-North Little Rock).

State Rep. David Hillman (D-Almyra) was among the nay votes in the House, with Copeland, Bob Johnson (D- Jacksonville), Douglas House (R-North Little Rock) and Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) not voting.

Still in the way of both detachments is a court-approved desegregation agreement that declares only Jacksonville can detach from PCSSD until it is declared unitary — desegregated — in all aspects.

Each district will also have to conduct timely feasibility studies that show, among other things, that a new district could support itself, achieve racial balance and would not harm PCSSD by detaching.

Sherwood has already completed one study that shows all three, including that the racial composition of its proposed district would mirror PCSSD.

But a new study will be required to factor in changes that are a result of the Jacksonville split.

Maumelle has not completed a feasibility study yet.