Wednesday, June 15, 2005

EDITORIAL>> Can divided court stand?

It is settled then. The Arkansas Supreme Court has the power to immediately review the work of the General Assembly and the governor on public education, and it is going to do it. That should be a fine victory for the public schools, the children and all of us who believe that the caliber of their schooling holds our future as well as theirs.

But now that the question of the court’s jurisdiction is settled — to the extent that there was ever any question that the court could do anything that a majority wanted to do - we fear that it is a pyrrhic victory. The court was more narrowly and bitterly divided than we have ever seen it. The accusations back and forth among the justices were not what we normally describe as “strongly worded” opinions. They were personal and resentful, which tells us that the court may not be able to make its mandate stick.

A bare 4-to-3 majority granted a petition for the court to dissolve its mandate in the Lake View school case and take a look at the deliberations of the just-finished legislative session to see if the General Assembly and the governor complied with the court’s order in 2002 that they bring all Arkansas schools up to constitutional snuff. The Constitution requires that the state provide suitable, efficient and equal educational opportunities for every child in Arkansas.

This will be the court’s third reflection in three years on how well the state government is meeting its responsibility to school children, and three members of the court believe one was all that the court was lawfully supposed to undertake. The minority, led by the new chief justice, Jim Hannah, says that the court was finished with the case when it ruled unanimously that the schools were operating unconstitutionally and that the legislature and governor needed to fix it.

They argue that the schools that believe that the state did not fulfill the mandate must file a fresh lawsuit in Pulaski Circuit Court. To continually review legislative work themselves, Justice Hannah said, makes the Supreme Court a super legislature and abridges the separation of powers. The court commits itself, the minority suggested, to second-guessing the legislature every time that it meets from now until doomsday.

But this is really not the court’s third pass at a constitutional review of the schools but the fifth in our generation, and we may be forgetting a genuflection or two at the issue. In 1983 and again 10 years later, the Supreme Court declared that the schools were operating in violation of the Constitution. In the first two instances, the court was largely judging the equity of how schools were funded from one corner of the state to another, from poor Lake View to Bentonville, which pays its football coaches more than the entire faculty and administration of many school districts. The Lake View case goes deeper, to the suitability or adequacy of school programs, a standard that obviously is forever changing in an economic order that knows no borders.

The majority — Justices Robert L. Brown, Thomas A. Glaze, Betty Dickey and Donald Corbin - were mindful of that 25-year-history of court orders and disobedience, beginning with the first trial in the original Dupree case in 1980. To tell schools and the whole state that this process would have to start once more and work its way back up to the Supreme Court in, say, 2008 or 2009 seemed, well, foolish. Their remedy may be extraordinary in the annals of Arkansas jurisprudence, but it seems rational to laymen. Where is the wisdom in delaying an unpleasant task when it may be addressed now?

So the majority turned once again to two former justices, who will take testimony on the school laws of 2005 and the condition of the schools and then compare them with the general prescriptions of the Supreme Court in its 2002 order. Who can envy the task of Bradley D. Jesson of Fort Smith and David Newbern, the court-appointed masters?

They will answer to a court that cannot possibly be satisfied and that disagrees in almost seven directions about what the task ahead is. One of the four majority judges seemed to have switched sides from last June, when he was inclined to close the case because the legislature at a special session in 2004 had done right by the schools.

Another, Betty Dickey, who was appointed by Gov. Huckabee to complete an unexpired term, was shaky this week. She voted with the majority with great reluctance. But she at least tried to be consistent. Huckabee wanted the court to keep the case open a year ago when he was mad at the legislature, and she did that.

On the day of this decision, her patron and former employer (she was Huckabee’s legal counsel), who now wants the case closed, denounced her and the other three, although not by name. Justice Dickey is not apt to stay the course if the masters suggest big shortcomings by the legislature and the governor.

Huckabee’s other appointee, Carol Dalby of Texarkana, predictably went his way. The court, it must be remembered, did not declare the legislature and governor in default, yet. The schools that petitioned for the review merely made allegations, and Jesson and Newbern will advise the court by Sept. 1 whether those allegations are true. If they are, the feuding justices then will decide what to do about it.

In similar straits last week, the Kansas Supreme Court - unanimously — gave the legislature and governor until July 1 to put another $143 million into the school budget for the next school year or else, presumably, shut the schools down.

Three Arkansas justices clearly find such a notion repugnant and we suspect that a fourth would follow.

Our own view is that the legislature did fall short. Clearly, it did not meet its own standard, which was $2 billion or more in improvements in school facilities. It appropriated only $104 million and made no provision for future additions unless the state again runs a huge surplus. It might have given voters a recipe for permanently meeting the facility needs through intermittent bond issues, much in the way that the legislature did a dozen years ago when it provided for periodic bonds for water improvements around the state.

The masters can hardly ignore the legislature’s failure to provide even a dime more money for schools the next school year under the state equalization formula. Forty percent of Arkansas schools will receive less state aid in 2006 than in 2005. Legislators, Gov. Huckabee and Attorney General Mike Beebe, who must defend the first two in court while he runs for governor, have a defense for that failing, but it is a hard sell.

But for a court so splintered, querulous and nervous, a poor job may begin to look just good enough.

EDITORIAL>> An apology

The United States Senate, by an unrecorded voice vote, formally apologized Monday to the families and descendants of thousands of men and women who were lynched over a century of grim history. The Senate’s declaration of contrition for the lawless murder mostly of blacks might have been made for all of us, whose forebears said little and did nothing. But the Senate spoke only for the institution. Between 1882 and 1968 the Senate blocked more than 200 bills that sought to make lynching a federal crime.

Not all Southern senators signed onto this resolution, but we are happy that Arkansas Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor did, and they were eloquent about it. We will quote Sen. Lincoln:

“This was a moment in our nation’s history that was at odds with the principles upon which we were founded - a moment at odds with our future. When we acknowledge the misdeeds of our past and demonstrate a willingness to learn the lessons from those actions, we build upon the many things that unite us all to make our nation an even greater place to live.”

Other states from Texas to Georgia were stained by many more lynchings in that disgraceful time than Arkansas, but hate and intolerance were not absent from our midst.

The grimmest words in all our libraries can be found in the pages of the Arkansas Gazette where its reporters recounted with utter matter-of-factness the deeds of mobs and vigilantes from the 1880s through the Depression. The accounts sometimes were tinged with the excitement of game coverage.

In 1927, suspicion was cast on a young black man named John Carter as the person who had assaulted two white women at Little Rock. He was tortured, riddled with bullets, dragged through the teeming streets of downtown Little Rock behind a car and his body set afire on a pyre of planks ripped from a black church. One man directed the heavy traffic around the scene with a charred arm torn from Carter’s body. No one was ever charged.

Does it count as lynching when vigilantes slaughter hundreds of sharecroppers, their wives and children in Phillips County on the rumor that a black uprising against white plantation owners was in the works? That was in 1919, and no one was punished except a few of the blacks who escaped the massacre. The U. S. Supreme Court ordered them freed in 1923 and they were two years later. For a full and horrifying account read Grif Stockley’s wonderful book, “Blood in Their Eyes.”

No, there is no requiting those horrific deeds, none better anyway than simply acknowledging that they happened and being vigilant that they never happen again, neither on our soil nor in the prison camps run in the solemn name of the United States.

EDITORIAL>> Beebe enters the fray

A full year ahead of the Arkansas primaries, all the major commanders if not their armies are now in the field. He may not be the last Democrat to enter the race for governor in 2006, but Attorney General Mike Beebe, who made it official yesterday, will be the Democratic candidate for governor barring being caught in flagrante delicto doing something dreadfully impolitic.

Being unusually frank might do it, too. And it doesn’t take much cand or to do a politician in. Choosing your words carefully, which Beebe has done all his public life, sometimes is not enough in a campaign against ruthless opponents. Unless we misjudge him, Beebe will not make sweeping, bold and controversial proposals as a candidate. In that respect, he will be like the two Republican candidates, Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller and former Congressman Asa Hutchinson.

But the other day, in answer to a question about school taxes if the courts should order considerably higher funding to comply with the Constitution, Beebe said Arkansas had reached the saturation point on sales taxes, which is the way the state has funded incremental increases in school spending for 70 years. It is the only broad-based state tax that can be levied by a simple majority of the legislature, but the Arkansas sales tax is high in relation to nearby states.

In a pinch caused by court orders, Beebe said, the best Arkansas could do would be to raise property taxes, which requires a vote of the people.

It would be incumbent on state leaders, he said, to go out and persuade voters of the need and propriety of the tax. The property tax is terribly unpopular, but the tax rate in Arkansas is among the lowest in the 50 states. Broadening the base of the sales tax to cover some services also would be preferable to raising the tax rate, he said. Now, Beebe was not proposing to raise those taxes but suggesting the most equitable of a range of very bad options. But if you listen to Hutchinson, Beebe wants to raise your property taxes.

Hutchinson issued a statement saying he would oppose raising taxes on the possessions of farmers and homeowners.

When Rockefeller, in similar woolgathering remarks, speculated that raising the currently invisible severance tax on natural gas if the courts put the state under the gun, Hutchinson condemned him and said he would never permit severance taxes to be raised. Gas producers now pay a tax of three tenths of a penny for a thousand cubic feet of gas - by far the lowest rate in America.

So what tax would Hutchinson propose to increase if the state were under court order to spend a lot more on its children? He will, of course, not say. All taxes are too high. When he’s pressed, we predict, Hutchinson will come out foursquare for cutting the waste and fat out of government.

Meantime, the cast and the script for the 2006 campaign are fixed. Whatever precautions he takes, Beebe will be the taxer and spender, Hutchinson the tight-fisted foe of taxes, Rockefeller the absentee in the argument. The negative candidate always sets the terms of the debate. Welcome to the campaign, General Beebe.


E.L. Luttrell

Elwyn “E. L.” Leroy Luttrell of Beebe was born July 8, 1912, at Tishamingo, Miss., and died Monday, June 13. He was a veteran of World War II, a building contractor and a Baptist.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Flora Morine Perry; mother, Ada Modeana Bruton; father, Walter Raleigh Luttrell; sisters Mary Helen Thorne and Grace Mae Luttrell; and brother, James Edward Orville Luttrell; and one grandchild.

He is survived by one daughter, Patricia Louise Luttrell Halfacre of Pleasant Grove; four grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren and two sisters, Mattie Faye Croney of Widener and Ruth Louise Moseley of Memphis.

Family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Westbrook Funeral Home, Beebe, and from 11 a.m. Thursday until service time at First Baptist Church, Caldwell. Funeral will be 2 p.m. Thursday at the church, with burial in Hughes Cemetery.

Doris Stanley

Doris R. Stanley, 77, of Pleasant Plains died June 13. She was a housewife and a Baptist.

She is survived by her husband, John Marvin Stanley; two daughters, Regenia Matheny of Pleasant Plains and Phyllis Hensley of Batesville; five grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. Doris was preceded in death by her son, Marvin L. Stanley.
Visitation will begin 10 a.m. Thursday at Westbrook Funeral Home, Beebe.

Family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. Funeral will be 2 p.m. Friday at Roosevelt Baptist Church, Pleasant Plains with burial in Roosevelt Cemetery.

Esther Eubanks

Esther Louise Eubanks, 86, died June 11.

She was a member of First Baptist Church in Beebe. Survivors include two sons, Jim Eubanks and wife Sandra of Beebe and Gary Eubanks and wife Gloria of Jonesboro; one daughter, Marie Miller of Fort Smith; six grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; two sisters, Doris Armstrong of South Carolina and Sue Coclasure of Lonoke and one brother, Ken Nelson of Lonoke.

Funeral services were held Tuesday at Wattensaw Baptist Church with interment in Wattensaw Cemetery.

Pallbearers will be grandsons and nephews. Memorials may be made to Wattensaw Baptist Church. Funeral arrangements under the direction of Boyd Funeral Home.

Sara Berry

Sara Nichole Berry, 20, of Austin, passed away June 7. She was born July 26, 1984, in Jacksonville. She was preceded in death by her grandmother Carolyn Darlene Maddox.
Survivors include husband Chris Berry of North Little Rock; children Kaitlyn Michelle Berry and Allen Michael Berry both of Austin; mother, Rita Perkins of Austin; father and stepmother Dana and Marla Perkins of North Little Rock; two brothers, Philip Perkins of Cabot and Marlen Clark of North Little Rock; grandparents, Myrna Perkins of Sherwood, Philip Perkins of Bryant, Bob and Wanda Maddox of Moline, Ill.

Funeral services were held Tuesday at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, with entombment at Rest Hills Cemetery. Arrangements by Thomas Funeral Service.

Alma Leggitt

Alma Lee Leggitt, 79, of Jacksonville, died June 10. She was born on Sept. 25, 1925 in Des Arc to the late William and Bertie Tremey Dobbs. She was a homemaker and a member of the First Assembly of God Church in Jacksonville. She was also preceded in death by a brother, Charles Thomas Dobbs.

She is survived by her husband, Dewey Leggitt; step-children, Monty Leggitt of Conway, Ted and Jerry Leggitt both of Jacksonville, Joanna Rowley of Jacksonville and Shirley Henry of North Little Rock; brother, William Junior Dobbs of St. Louis, Mo.; sisters, Pauline Branham of St. Louis and Clara Sue Quinn of Brinkley and a host of step-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends.

Funeral services were held Monday at First Assembly of God Church in Jacksonville, Rev. Royce Lowe officiating. Interment will follow in Rest Hills Cemetery in North Little Rock.

Funeral arrangements are under direction of Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.

Bertha Ahrens

Bertha Odean Ahrens, 86, of Jacksonville died June 14 at Rebsaman Medical Center. She was born May 29, 1919 in Searcy to the late Oscar C. and Stella Emily Davis Lamb.

She was also preceded in death by two brothers, Vernon Lamb and O. C. Lamb and a sister, Edna Wortham. Ahrens was a Lutheran and a homemaker.

She is survived by her husband, Edward H. Ahrens; a daughter, Julia Frances Whitsell and a son, Robert Scott Ahrens, both of Jacksonville; sister, Ima P. Gridley; nine grandchildren, Julia K. Leistra, Paula G. Reshel, Sherry Lynn Alberson, Laura Griffith, Lisa Randals, Jeremy Ahrens, Dale Ahrens, Dacota Ahrens, and Lindsey Ahrens; five great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews. Memorials may be made to Jacksonville Care Channel. Private services will be at a later time. Arrangements are under direction of Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.

Melvin Tullos

Melvin Charles Tullos, 71, a long-time resident of Cabot, died June 8 at Springcreek Living Center in Cabot.

He was a member of Old Austin Baptist Church. He was preceded in death by his wife, Ruth, and parents Earl and Lela Tullos, a brother Faber, and sister Joyce Ogburn.
He is survived by one son Steve and two step-sons, Mark and Larry Free, five brothers, Eugene of Campbell, Mo., Dwight of Little Rock, Kenneth, Darrell, and Doyle all of Cabot, and three sisters, Marilyn Mahoney, Linda Gramlick, and Doris Brewster all of Cabot; and grandsons Joshua, Cody and Tyler Tullos. Services were held Friday at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Cabot.

The family would like to express sincere appreciation to the staff at Springcreek Living Center for the excellent care provided during Melvin’s stay at the living center. Arrangements by Thomas Funeral Service.

SPORTS>> Jacksonville gets back on track with sweep of SH

By Ray Benton
Leader staff writer

Gwatney A team continued their winning ways Sunday afternoon, defeating Sylvan Hills 10-3. Sylvan Hills made the first strike by getting a walk, an error by Jacksonville, and a double to score one.

The Chevy boys came back in the second inning with two hits and two stolen bases, tying the score 1-1. Sylvan Hills responded by two singles, a walk, and a stolen base to go up 2-1 in the second inning. A single and a Sylvan Hills error tied the score in the third 2-2. The fifth inning blossoms for Jacksonville with a walk, a single, two doubles and a Sylvan Hills error to make it 7-2.

Sylvan Hills scored one in the fifth with a walk and a single. An error and two stolen bases to make it 7-3.

Jacksonville put the icing on the cake in the sixth with two walks, two hits and a stolen base by Zach Thomas to up the score 10-3. Devin Cole went the distance for the Gwatney win. The Chevy boys finished with nine hits and one error. Sylvan Hills had five hits and three errors. Head Coach Hickingbotham said again Sunday, “This club just gets better and better every game.”

Eleven hits by Gwatney and six by Sylvan Hills told the story in a 9-6 Jacksonville win Sunday afternoon.

In the first inning Sylvan Hills scored three unearned runs on Gwatney’s three errors. Jacksonville came alive in the second inning with four hits along with a Sylvan Hills error to take a 4-3 lead. Gwatney got two hits in the third only to leave three stranded.

A single, and a double by Sylvan Hills gave them two more runs to make it 5-4 in the third.

In the fourth inning, a single and a double by Gwatney evened the score 5-5. But Sylvan Hills rallied with a walk and a double to make it 5-6. The Chevy boys erupted in the sixth inning with three singles, an error on Sylvan Hills and a suicide squeeze play to make it 9-6. Sylvan Hills started a come back in the seventh inning with two hits only to be stranded, ending the game.

Gwatney’s Seth Boatman came in as relief pitcher to take the win. Jeremy Williams, Tyler Uptegrove and Tim Payne each had two hits. Randy Peeples was 2 for 5 for the game. Hickingbotham said, “the relief pitching staff of Matt Crane and Seth Boatman did a great job finishing up the game”.

Saturday’s slugfest between Gwatney’s A team and Maumelle’s A team produced 14 hits for Gwatney and eight for Maumelle. Nine innings of play used up three of Gwatney’s pitchers with Jordan Payer taking the 7-6 win.

Maumelle came back and made it interesting in the seventh by tying the score 6-6. Gwatney finally broke the stalemate in the ninth with two hits and a double to win 7-6. Zach James was 4 for 5 and Tyler Upptegrove was 3 for 5.

The AAA club didn’t fare as well, losing a close game to the Maumelle squad.

Three errors in the infield and three missed balls by the catcher gave the Maumelle AAA club two unearned runs which was enough to win 2-0 over Gwatney.

Brad Green of Gwatney pitched a magnificent game, giving up just two hits and striking out six.

Maumelle’s pitcher gave up four hits and struck out seven of the Jacksonville batters.

A single in the first inning, a walk and three passed balls was enough for Maumelle to score its first run. In the second inning, Gwatney came back with two hits only to be stranded.

The second inning started with an error by Gwatneys first baseman Brandon Clements. A single put a Maumelle runner on first and second.

But a base running error put an end to Maumelle’s rally and got Jacksonville out of a jam.

Gwatneys’ Kyle Clark led off with a single in the fifth but was left stranded. Two walks by Gwatney and two errors by Seth Boatman at shortstop gave Maumelle its’ second run to finish the fifth inning.

The sixth inning also left Gwatney stranded with Walter Winer singling to first base. The Chevy Boys held Maumelle to no runs in the sixth. Gwatneys’ final attempt at a comeback failed in the seventh, ending with a line drive to the first baseman doubling up the Gwatney runner on first.

Walter Winner was 2 of 3 for the game.

“We didn’t get the hits when we needed them,” Hickingbotham said.

SPORTS>> Panthers see better play with two twinbill splits

IN SHORT: Cabot takes one each from Jacksonville and Vilonia

By Ray Benton
Leader staff writer

The Cabot Panthers’ class AA American Legion team put together a few respectable performances over the weekend. After losing four straight games, Cabot earned doubleheader splits with Jacksonville’s AA team and Vilonia Friday and Saturday respectively.

Friday’s win was particularly pleasing for two reasons. The main reason is that it snapped a losing streak that saw the Panthers beaten badly three times.

A secondary reason was the fact that some of the Panther legion players’ high school teammates were in the opposite dugout on Hickingbotham Field.

“They were definitely aware of that,” Cabot coach Paul Fuller said. “I think that probably did give them some extra motivation.”

That motivation did little to help Cabot through the first four innings. Jacksonville pitcher Trey Smith was on fire. Smith gave up just two hits, only one of which got out of the infield, and struck out eight Cabot players over the first four innings.

The good news for Cabot was that its pitcher, Justin Haas, was throwing just about as well as Smith, and held Jacksonville scoreless through four also.

Jacksonville sent Seth Boatman to the mound in the fifth inning. Boatman had not pitched in over a month, and his rustiness showed. He walked Haas with one out, then hit Mitchell Durant. A perfect sacrifice bunt by Chad Bryant moved the runners up for Logan Lucas, who hit an infield single to score one run.

Jacksonville answered with two in the bottom of the same inning. Gwatney first baseman Brandon Clements hit a high pop-up to shallow centerfield, where no one claimed the ball and it dropped between three fielders.

Zach Thomas followed with a single to right field and Tyler Uptergrove reached safely on a perfect bunt to load the bases.

Clements then scored when Haas was called for a balk. A sacrifice by leadoff hitter Josh Mansfield scored Thomas to put Gwatney ahead 2-1.

Another infield single and a series of errors led to five Cabot unearned runs in the top of the sixth inning.

Shawn Trammel started off with an infield single and Shayne Burgan reached on an error by Uptergrove. Uptergrove’s throwing error led to Trammell being caught in a rundown between second and third, but third baseman Kyle West overthrew his teammate and sent the ball into right field, allowing Trammel to score on the play.

Kaleb Killough lined out to left field for the first out of the inning, and Justin Free followed that with an RBI single to left to score Burgan.

Boatman then issued back-to-back walks to Haas and Durant to load the bases. Boatman then struck out the next batter, but leadoff hitter Lucas singled to right field to drive in two runs. An error at shortstop off the bat of JC Weir brought in the final run of the inning for Cabot.

Jacksonville scored one in the bottom of the sixth. Randy Peeples doubled to lead off the inning and scored two batters later on an error at second base to set the final margin.

Jacksonville pulled out game two with a run in the bottom of the seventh inning to win 3-2, but Fuller was still pleased with how his team played.

“That second one was just a hard-luck deal,” Fuller said. “I thought we played pretty well and really had ‘em where we wanted ‘em. But we made some mental errors on the base paths and that just killed us. We’re starting to come together a little bit though. It helps that we’re finally playing other AA teams. We’d been playing teams that just out-manned us. We’re getting better and gaining some confidence.”

Trammell went 3 for 4 in the game one win, including a double in the seventh inning.
Lucas went 2 for 4 and was the only other player with multiple hits in the game.

Chris Goss went 2 for 3 to lead Cabot in its 5-2 victory over Vilonia Saturday. Killough got the win on the mound, giving up just two hits and zero earned runs.

Cabot picked up five hits in the win.

The Panthers host Stuttgart at Brian Conrad Complex Thursday. Game one of the scheduled doubleheader begins at 6 p.m.

NEIGHBORS>> Learning to swim

IN SHORT: Cabot Parks and Recreation offers lessons to kids of all ages

By Sara Greene
Leader staff writer

From the doggie paddle to the butterfly stroke, Cabot Parks and Recreation’s aquatics programs offer swimming lessons for all skill levels.

“I’m estimating we have about 300 children signed up for swimming lessons,” said head swim coach Debbie Skidmore. “We have 120 signed up for the Cabot Piranhas swim team right now.”

The Learn to Swim program starts out with a Mom and Tot course for 4 year olds and their mothers. The course focuses on familiarizing parents and children with swimming and survival skills.

Level I teaches non-swimmers ages 5 and 6 on survival swimming and getting used to the water.

Level II is for the same age group and focuses on learning freestyle swimming and underwater maneuvers.

Level III is for swimmers ages 7 and 8 to develop stroke technique, diving and underwater swimming. Level IV focuses technique, diving and underwater swimming for swimmers age 9 and above.

Level V is for 7 year olds and up. It teaches competitive strokes for recreation and members of the Cabot Piranhas swim team.

Skidmore says teaching swimming is a passion that all five swim coaches share.
“We see so much progress in two months,” said Skidmore.

“The students go from being scared of the water to swimming laps.”

The Cabot Piranhas swim team was started in 1999 and is for children ages 5 to 18.
The program emphasizes learning proper stroke techniques, increasing endurance and having fun. The team has three skill levels, bronze, silver and gold.

The Cabot Piranhas compete in swim meets each weekend culminating with a competition July 29-31 at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

To become a Piranha, children under 6 must be able to swim the length of the pool aided by a kickboard.

Children age 7 and 8 must be able to swim the length of the pool. Children age 9 and above must swim the length of the pool twice.

“We really need a bigger pool, we’ve outgrown this one,” Skidmore said.
Skidmore says many swim team members join swim teams in Little Rock to swim year round.
Year-round access to a swimming pool is one of the biggest challenges for swim team members.

“The children get out of shape when they don’t swim in the winter,” Skidmore said.
“Swimming is just as physically demanding as football.”

The Cabot Piranhas’ next swim meet will be at 5 p.m. Friday at the Lonoke Community Center’s pool.

TOP STORY>> Voters will decide on Jacksonville's library

IN SHORT: Voters will decide July 5 whether or not Jacksonville is to have a new multipurpose building to replace the 36-year-old library, which is the oldest in the Central Arkansas Library System.

By Brian Rodriguez
Leader staff writer

A Little Rock architectural firm on Monday unveiled designs for a new Jacksonville library that would cost about $2.5 million. Voters will decide whether to fund the library during a special millage election on Tuesday, July 5.

The architectural firm of Witsell, Evans and Rasco showed their plans during a meeting in the Esther Dewitt Nixon Library in Jacksonville, featuring a multi-purpose section for use after library hours, a larger workspace for library employees, study rooms and reading alcoves.

"We’ve got some really, really exciting things going on here in Jacksonville," said Mark Wilson, the Jacksonville representative on the Central Arkansas Library System board. "I think the architects have a lot of passion for their project."

The architects said it would cost about the same to build a new library than to renovate the existing building.

The most discussed part of the presentation was the proposed roof shown in the color renderings — an architectural rarity with the roof sloping from the front and back toward the center of the building.

Charles Witsell, a partner in the WER firm, said the design was used for the triple purpose of imposing monumental size to the side facing Main Street, giving the reading room and the library shelves a high roof, and allowing more window space for reading light.

“When you look outside of the building, it may look a little odd, but when you go inside of the building and there’s light, it’s great,” Wilson said. “With a library, I feel like that’s the bigger issue, how you feel inside the library.”

The pitch would drain the water to the center, said Witsell, and downspouts would then move the water out toward a sewer or drainage ditch to carry the water away from the building.

Most of the argument against the roof came because the center of the proposed roof seemed to have a flat section that reminded the crowd of flooding problems last fall, when the drainage system in the current flat roof leaked and closed the library for about 40 days.

Witsell said Tuesday afternoon that the firm was still in the design stages and other roof designs would be considered to ensure the city is happy with the plans for a new building.

"We certainly saw that it had a negative response so we are indeed going to be looking at different designs," he said. "We listened to the community last night and we certainly will do that."

"Keep in mind I asked the architects to do something very difficult," said CALS director Bobby Roberts, "to draw up a plan with no lot."

An earlier report by the architects showed that not counting land purchase, it would cost more to completely renovate the current building than to build a new one.

The report showed, including the cost to move and rent a temporary location while work was done, expanding and renovating the current building would cost just under $2.5 million.

The cost comparison was broken down to $185 per square foot to expand and renovate the current building, or $170 per square foot to build a new one. Witsell said land purchase was not added to the building cost because a site has not been chosen to get a cost estimate, and if the city is lucky, a site could be donated.

The current library was built in 1969 with 9,265 square feet and was renamed the Esther D. Nixon Library in 1992.

"This is a building that I think has served the community well, but it has worn out," Roberts said. "It’s just simply outlived its usefulness."

The average CALS library building, excluding the Nixon Library, is five years old and has about 14,000 square feet.

"This is like a baseball game – you get a win or you don’t," Roberts said, referring to the millage election. "There’s not going to be a second chance on that."

A positive vote in the election would fund a one-mill tax increase that would generate about $165,000 per year to fund up to a $2.5 million bond for a new library building.
The bond would include paying for a land purchase, equipping the land, and constructing a new library building.

Under the one-mill increase, a home appraised at $100,000 is assessed at 20 percent, or $20,000.

Millage increases are 1/1,000th of the assessed value, so a one-mil increase on that home would cost 1/1,000th of $20,000.

Millage increases are collected once a year, so a $100,000 homeowner would pay $20 per year until a bond was paid.

"I think all you can do is tell people it’s a value to the community," Roberts said.

TOP STORY>> School board upholds cuts

IN SHORT: PCSSD employees lose their plea Tuesday to have their step pay increases and paid holidays restored, but they threaten a possible lawsuit.

By John Hofheimer
Leader staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District employees failed to convince the school board on Tuesday to reject the administration's freezing of step pay increases and elimination of paid holidays. The board stuck with the new fiscal distress improvement plan, approved unanimously by the board in special session on Monday, to cut spending for the next school year by $8.5 million while restoring—without any discussion in public—the 11 assistant principal positions the board cut in its original improvement plan April 20.

The state Board of Education designated the district as being in fiscal distress April 11, based on its calculation that the district’s operational fund balance would be $5 million in the hole at the end of the next school year.

The district has two years to remedy to the problem or face measures including consolidation, replacement of the superintendent or takeover by the state.

In the April version of the improvement plan, the board thought it reduced expenditures by $11.7 million, only to discover this month that the calculations and projections were inaccurate and the actual reduction would be closer to $8.5 million.

The cuts reduce the projected 2005-2006 school budget from $143.5 million to $135 million, with a projected fund balance June 30, 2006 of about $8 million.

“This allows us a thin cushion,” said interim Superintendent Robert Clowers.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the district will have about 5.9 percent of its budget in its fund balance at the end of the next fiscal year, but there is no state-recommended or mandated percentage. Balances in Arkansas range from about 3.6 percent to 52 percent, according to John Archetko, acting chief financial officer for the district.

Archetko, who met with Education Department representatives, said the state wants the district to live within its means, avoid debt and create a plan that’s doable.

The largest savings are from freezing step pay increases and eliminating paid holidays.
There was great support among board members for restoring paid holidays and unfreezing step increases as soon as the district is back on solid financial footing, but Archetko warned that only if voters approve a maintenance and operations bond issue is the district again likely to have the kind of money it needs.

Because the savings were recalculated to be about $3.5 million less than originally projected, because the board fired Superintendent Donald Henderson and appointed Robert Clowers interim superintendent and because it wanted more explanation about proposed cuts, the state Education Department gave the school district until June 15 to submit an amended fiscal distress improvement plan.

That revised plan, approved after considering board member Jeff Shaneyfelt’s amendments to restore some paid holidays to non-teaching staff and to bolster discipline by keeping the director of student services and athletics position, spared the 11 assistant principal positions, which were slated to be cut by the original improvement plan.

The largest among the cuts in the plan being submitted to the state Education Department is $3.3 million saved by freezing all step increases to teachers and others.

Eliminating the 11 assistant principals, a suggestion of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, would have saved the district an additional $850,000. Apparently Clowers discussed keeping the assistant principals in individual meetings or telephone calls with board members, because cutting the assistant principals was not among cuts proposed and adopted Monday night.

Elimination of all paid holidays to all employees saved $1.9 million and another $1 million by paying off the early-retirement incentive. Hiring substitute teachers instead of contracting that to Kelly Services was projected to save another $500,000.

Purchase of new textbooks was reduced $500,000, reductions to the transportation department will save $248,507. The maintenance budget was trimmed by $124,000, $116,000 was saved by reverting Harris from a year-round school to regular schedule and cutting the director of student services and athletics saved the district $101,854.

TOP STORY>> Cabot sets tax vote for new center, overpass

IN SHORT: Lonoke County Election Commission approves July 12 balloting on millage hike.

By Joan McCoy
Leader staff writer

The Lonoke County Election Commission has approved a July 12 special election in Cabot to increase the city millage to pay for a railroad overpass and build a community center.

Voters will be asked to vote for or against increasing the millage from 3.5 to 4.5 to raise $700,000 for the city’s part of the federally-funded $5 million overpass and for or against increasing the millage to raise $2 million to help pay for the community center.

The overpass, to be built north of the Polk Street railroad crossing, is touted as the only means of keeping buses off the tracks and as the first step toward a north interchange that would connect Highway 38 to Highway 5.

The community center was expected to cost $3.5 million, including $500,000 for site preparation. But last fall the low bid came in at $4.2 million and the price could be even higher now.

If approved the millage increase would add about $20 to the tax on a $100,000 home. The ordinance calling for the election says the millage will be rolled back when the bonds that will pay for the construction projects are retired.

The millage increase is expected to raise about $160,000 a year.

If voters turn down the increase in taxes, the city will not be able to build the community center, and the overpass will have to wait at least until 2008, said Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh.

The council has the authority to raise the millage without voter approval, but if they did, city voters could always bring a petition for referendum and force an election.

A year ago voters approved paying for the community center with existing taxes, saying overwhelmingly that 1 percent of the city’s 1.5 percent hamburger tax and an existing half-mill should be used to pay for the center.

“I think this [upcoming election] is an opportunity for city residents to say we want the center and we’re willing to pay for it,” he said.

Early voting will be from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, June 27 through July 11 at the Lonoke County Courthouse.

On election day, polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the following polling sites:

Cabot City Ward 1 – Richie Road Gym, 432 Richie Road.

Cabot City Ward 2 – Cabot First Baptist Church, 306 W. Pine.

Cabot City Ward 3 – Victory Baptist Church, 501 N. Lincoln.

Cabot City Ward 4 – Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, 3105 Hwy. 89 S.

If voters approve raising the millage for one project, but not the other, all the new revenue would be applied toward the selected project.

TOP STORY>> Air base gets top planners' attention

IN SHORT: The staff at Metroplan is looking at ways to accommodate an influx of new jobs and personnel at Little Rock Air Force Base. Ideas include widening Hwy. 67/167 from Jacksonville to Cabot, as well as parts of Hwy. 89.

By John Hofheimer
Leader staff writer

Widening Hwy. 67-167 between the North Belt Loop and Hwy. 89 at an estimated cost of $124 million will be a high priority if 4,000 new jobs come to Little Rock Air Force Base over the next few years, according to a recommendation of Metroplan staff on Tuesday.

“We’re pleased that they are looking and making sure that the air base is covered,” said Jacksonville Engineer Jay Whisker, who serves on the Metroplan technical coordinating committee. “Its nice when communities get together and we can all benefit from having the air base.”

He said he was pleased Metro-plan was considering the widening of Hwy. 67/167 between Vandenberg Boulevard near the air base and Hwy. 89 in Cabot. One accident or one small problem can back up traffic to Cabot, he said.

No one expressed serious opposition during Metroplan’s transportation advisory council meeting to consideration and reordering of a dozen projects that could be affected by the expected increase in jobs at the base, but the council stopped short of sending the plan on to the Metroplan board of directors.

It would cost an estimated $197 million to complete all 12 projects, with only $48 million currently projected to be available, according to Casey Covington, a Metroplan traffic planner. Most of the proposed changes involve increasing traffic capacity to and from the front and back gates at the base.

“Getting people to the back air base gate is just as important for folks moving into the west side of Jacksonville,” Whisker said, noting growth at Forest Oaks and Base Meadows subdivisions and the approval by the Jacksonville Planning Commission Monday night of the Lost Creek subdivision.

Broken up into three separate projects to meet increased traffic use with additional base personnel, an estimated 2,000 vehicles a day would be projected to travel on each if the new jobs materialize as a result of the base realignment and closure process.

Ten million dollars already is committed to widen the highway to six lanes from the North Belt Freeway to Redmond Road. An additional $32 million would be available to widen it from Redmond to Vandenberg if the Metro 2030 long-range transportation plan is adopted in August.

The segment from Vandenberg to Hwy. 89 would cost $82 million and the staff has recommended that as a high priority should the jobs materialize.

The Metroplan/Highway De-partment plan already calls for widening Hwy. 107 from Jack-sonville/Cato to General Samuels at a cost of $3 million and the widening of Graham Road from Main Street to Loop Road, also $3 million.

If money is available, the widening of Hwy. 107 from General Samuels to the air base would be a high priority and cost about $4 million. A lower priority would be the widening of Hwy. 107 from the air base to Republican Road—a $10 million project.

The widening of Hwy. 89 from U.S. 67/167 to Hwy 367 in Cabot also is rated a high priority if there is air base expansion, at a cost of $4 million.

The widening of Hwy. 321 from Hwy. 67/167 to Hwy. 89 is rated a low air base priority, but improvement of the interchange is considered important in the context of the air base.