Tuesday, January 12, 2016

TOP STORY >> New district says critics not credible

Leader senior staff writer

Attorneys for the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District on Monday filed a brief disputing the Joshua Intervenors’ charge that the proposed JNP facilities master plan flies in the face of Plan 2000 and re-segregates Jacksonville.

John Walker, lead attorney for the Intervenors, last week briefed U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr., asking him to hold an evidentiary hearing to decide if the facilities plan meets the requirements of Plan 2000, and asking him not to approve the master plan.

But, in their answer, attorneys Scott Richardson and Patrick Wilson contend Walker uses outdated and wrong data and contend the facilities plan is the best available in difficult circumstances.


“The basic premise of the Joshua Intervenors’ opposition to JNPSD’s current facilities plan appears to be that the only plan consistent with Plan 2000 is immediate replacement of every academic facility in the district,” JNPSD attorneys answered in their brief. “This is simply not the case. Moreover, it is completely unrealistic. JNPSD’s plan balances available resources with current facilities needs to maximize the district’s ability to improve the condition of all of its facilities now and into the future.”


The plan calls for building a new $60 million high school for all JNP high school students and a new elementary school to replace Arnold Drive and Tolleson, refurbishing North Pulaski High School for use as the sole JNP middle school and adding large multipurpose buildings at the four remaining elementary schools.

Walker says those elementaries are predominately black schools and that he wants every school to be replaced. Walker didn’t say in his brief, earlier in court or at a Jacksonville NAACP meeting on Sunday where the money would come from for another $80 million worth of construction.

Walker told the NAACP that the district should have added on more mills to the tax increase it is asking voters for at the Feb. 9 election, but JNP chief of staff Phyllis Stewart said the district would have to double its millage to 15.2 mills to gain that much.

The current proposal would, if passed, cost home, vehicle, boat and motorcycle owners about $150 a year per $100,000 worth of property. A 15.2-mill increase would cost them about $300 per $100,000, and she said she didn’t think district patrons would go for that.


In asking the parties for briefs on the facilities plan, Marshall warned Walker that he wanted evidence-based objections.

“JNPSD cannot locate any document on which the Joshua Intervenors base their expectation that a new 4,000 student district would be able to replace all of its facilities at once,” according to the JNPSD brief.

“JNPSD’s plan is based on its assessment of the current facilities needs in the district and the potentially available revenue sources. The Joshua Intervenors make no attempt to address these two concerns.”

JNPSD believes voters in the district will support a new, premier high school in the city center and a new elementary school to replace two of the oldest schools in the JNPSD.


Marge Powell, the court’s desegregation monitor, wrote Marshall recently, saying she found “no obvious negative effects on desegregation issues” from implementation of the proposed facilities master plan.

Walker said the district had no “Plan B” if the millage increase fails on Feb. 9, but Powell said JNPSD patrons approved formation of the new school a year ago by nearly 95 percent and that she thought it unlikely the same voters would turn down the increase, which would help pay for improvements on the master plan.

Former state director of the Arkansas Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation, Chuck Stein, said Jacksonville High School and Tolleson and Arnold Drive schools had been adjudged to be in such poor condition they needed new buildings instead of repairs.

It is proposed that Tolleson and Arnold Drive be combined into one new elementary.

Harper, president of the Jacksonville NAACP, said her organization had not taken an official position on the proposed facilities master plan. “We’re mostly concerned about transparency,” she said.

The new district’s attorneys also wrote, “It was JNPSD’s understanding, based on discussions over the last year, that the Joshua Intervenors were in agreement with the need to build a new high school in JNPSD.”


“The proposed facility will be located in the Joshua Intervenors’ preferred location: the city center. Moreover, a high school is a premier facility in a school district. A new high school will have multiple benefits to the District and the community it serves. It will help attract students to the district and will demonstrate JNPSD’s strength as a new school district. A new high school will be a bold move that will make the JNPSD competitive with the other school districts in the area,” it reads.

Marshall originally set the evidentiary hearing — if needed — for Jan. 19, but the delay in Walker’s brief resulted in a delayed deadline in the JNPSD brief.

“At this point, we’re just waiting to hear what (Marshall) wants to do,” Richardson said.