Tuesday, March 29, 2016

TOP STORY >> Green light for PCSSD candidates

By JOHN HOFHEIMER Leader senior staff writer

On the Nov. 8 general election ballot, you can vote for president of the United States, help choose a U.S. senator and congressman and—if you live within the new, reduced boundaries of the Pulaski County Special School District—choose the first elected school board since the state took over in 2011, sending the old board packing.

Those running for the PCSSD school board can begin collecting signatures July 31, according to Chris Powell in the secretary of state’s elections office. The filing period is from Aug. 23 through Aug. 30.

PCSSD was in fiscal distress when the state took it over that year, installing Jerry Guess as superintendent and the state Education Commissioner, currently Johnny Key, as a one-man PCSSD school board.

With the help of demographers at Metroplan, the PCSSD advisory board recommended and Key approved seven new board zones, changes necessitated by creation of the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, which has lopped off the north end of the PCSSD district for its own.

A new, seven-member board representing areas of the district including Maumelle, Sherwood and parts of Little Rock and North Little Rock and unincorporated areas of the county like Sweet Home, Camp Robinson and West Little Rock, would take over immediately upon being elected and trained.


Among the challenges facing a new PCSSD board will be attaining unitary status, a challenge from the district’s two unions, which before state takeover were the bargaining agents of the employees and perhaps eventually separate districts for both Sherwood and Maumelle schools.

Sherwood and Maumelle areas are both interested having their own school districts some day, and Sherwood Alderman Beverly Williams said Tuesday, “It’s not eluded us that we will have someone on that board.” Having not seen the board election zone map, she said it could be big enough for two zones and aldermen. That would be helpful if and when Sherwood tries to move forward on creating a school, she said.

“It won’t be Beverly Williams,” she said.


Currently, no additional school districts may detach from PCSSD until it is completely unitary and released from federal court oversight.

Guess, superintendent of the almost 17,000-student district, said the need for a new board came after the district was released from fiscal distress and returned to local control earlier this month by the Arkansas State Board of Education.

“We are proud of our hard work these last few years and are pleased that the state has confidence that we are ready to be returned to local control,” Guess said.

The new district already has elected it first board, and now that PCSSD is dismissed from fiscal distress, it needs to elect and train board members.

School elections, including for board members, have traditionally—and by law—been held in September, but the General Assembly last session changed the law to allow the election to be held with the November general elections.

In cutting PCSSD and also Helena/West Helena loose from state control, Key ordered those elections to be held as part of the general elections.

The filing period for school board candidates runs from noon 77 days before the election through noon 70 days prior, according to state law.

The Secretary of State’s Office has not yet set the dates.

Meanwhile, “The current Community Advisory Board shall remain in place until such a time as the new board of directors has been elected,” Key wrote.

Jacksonville-North Pulaski School Board officers Daniel Gray, president, and Ron McDaniel will continue to represent that area on the PCSSD advisory board until July 1, when the two districts become completely separated from each other.