Friday, January 18, 2008

EDITORIAL>> Better ranking

School rankings come out by the dozens every year and Arkansas lands all across the spectrum, making it hard to draw much elation or sorrow from any of them. We have to look just as philosophically at the latest one, which ranks the quality of Arkansas public schools no lower than eighth in the country, but it offers at least some medium-sized encouragement.
The 12th annual Quality Counts report by Education Week, the Washington-based journal on American education, gave Arkansas a B-minus for the overall quality of its education, a little better than the nation as a whole, which got a C. Arkansas in the past has been down there with the below-average states. Neighboring Mississippi, our longtime ally in the basement, is still there. It was among six states with a D minus.

It is important to recognize what the Quality Counts ranking is and how Arkansas achieved its moderately exalted ranking. The states are graded on a variety of measures of educational policies and student achievement. Arkansas has always ranked among the lowest states in student achievement, measured by national norm-referenced tests, and, alas, in that category we are still 34th with a grade that is below the national average. That was one of the state’s lowest marks in all the ratings and, yes, it is the one that ultimately is of real value.

But here is why the report is encouraging: The measurements of education policies, such as standards, accountability and spending, where Arkansas has made dramatic strides in the past four years, ought to reflect the quality of future learning.
The high marks in many areas represent the school reforms enacted by the legislature in the aftermath of the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling in 2002 that the state had to take steps to meet the requirements of the state Constitution that it provide both quality and equality in its education programs.

Arkansas ranked highest, second among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, in teacher quality, a B plus. Arkansas teachers must follow a rigorous licensing process, compensation was raised sharply and the state provides mentoring programs and a variety of professional development opportunities. Only a few years ago Arkansas ranked 49th or 50th in teacher salaries but now only Texas of the surrounding states pays teachers more on average.

Since 2004, the legislature has raised the level of state aid to the schools by nearly $700 million annually and last year allocated another $456 million for school facilities, which put the state 16th in school financing and 14th in equity between schools in rich and poor areas.

Arkansas is still abysmal, 45th, in a category called providing students with a chance to succeed, but mainly because there are so many children living in poor households where parents have a low level of education. The legislature in 2004, 2005 and 2007 allocated $100 million a year to provide a pre-kindergarten education for poor children.

We must now wait and see whether that and the other systemic reforms make a real difference in the achievement of those poor children, whose failure is the source of the American education crisis and most of the domestic maladies of the land. For that, let’s check the student achievement rating in the Quality Counts report of 2015.

—Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL>>Reframing Constitution

The mortal danger to Mike Huckabee’s biblically driven campaign for president has been that he would go just too far in insinuating God as the pilot of his race and his own religious doctrines as the foundation for government policy. We had thought mistakenly that he had reached that point several times, and we had to wonder again Monday when he said that the U. S. Constitution had to be reframed to mesh with God’s wishes.

Huckabee has been alternating between campaign speeches and fee-driven sermons to churches and other religious gatherings, and his messages to both are becoming similar. Speaking to a cheering crowd of Republican evangelicals Monday before the Michigan primary, Huckabee chided candidates who were reluctant to amend the Constitution.

“But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God,” Huckabee boomed. “And that’s what we need to do is amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than trying to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.”
In other words, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights should be rewritten to match what the prevailing religious group — his, if he wins the presidency — thinks the Bible seeks to tell us.

Huckabee seemed to be referring specifically to the treatment of gays and lesbians and to abortion, both of which are the objects of proposed constitutional amendments that Huckabee says he would push as president. The specific parts of the Constitution that God wants to amend, at least according to Huckabee, are the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection of the laws for everyone in the land.

But there are those who believe that the 14th Amendment, and the First Amendment, too, for that matter, with all its freedoms, are perfect expressions of Jesus’ yearnings for mankind.

The truth is, however, that none of us, including Bro. Huckabee, knows what God wants a national Constitution or our own state Constitution to say. Apparently the former governor does not believe that the original Constitution and Bill of Rights were divinely inspired or else God would not want to amend them.

He has been saying, as late as Sunday, that the Declaration of Independence was divinely inspired because he interprets it as somehow opposing abortion, although it was written by the decidedly non-Christian Thomas Jefferson. It was Jefferson who worried most about the theocratic state and who wanted it on his tombstone that he was the author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Mike Huckabee would not like it at all.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

OBITUARIES >> 01-16-08

Mildred Berry

Mildred Lorene Berry, 87, of Ward was born Aug. 18, 1920, at Austin to George W. and Ida Cathey, and she died Jan. 14. She was an active member of Greenwood Missionary Baptist Church at Butlerville for over 55 years.

She was preceded in death by her husband of 63 years, Joe Berry; her son, Larry Joe Berry; her brother, G. W. Cathey, Jr. and her parents.

She is survived by her son, Richard and wife Carolyn Berry of Pine Bluff; daughter, Kathy and son, Jerry Yielding of Searcy; daughter-in-law, Mildred Berry of Sherwood; six grandchildren, Greg Berry of Sherwood, Scott and wife Sara Berry of Louisville, Ky., Melissa and husband Chris Davis of Bryant, Tiffany Sanders of Cache, Okla., Meredith Berry of Little Rock; Dillon Yielding of Fayetteville; two great-grandchildren, Brandon Davis and Andrew Berry; two sisters, Ruth and husband Raymond Berry of North Little Rock and Linda Burgess and husband Clarence of Austin; sisters-in-law, Mary Hicks of Cabot and Twila Cathey of Austin and brother-in-law Thomas and wife Christine Berry of Austin.

Family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 16 at Westbrook Funeral Home, Beebe. Funeral will be 2 p.m. Jan. 17 at Greenwood Missionary Baptist Church, with burial in Butlerville Cemetery. The Rev. Freddie Crook will officiate.
Memorials may be made to Greenwood Missionary Baptist Church, 11228 Hwy. 38E, Ward, Ark. 72176.

Sonny Yarbro

Edward James “Sonny” Yarbro, 61, of Beebe died Jan. 13. Sonny was the owner of S & Y Auto Sales and a member of the Beebe Masonic Lodge 145.

He is survived by his wife, Chorlotte; a daughter, Dana Cuccia and her husband Ross of Beebe; a son, Danny Yarbro and his wife Kim of Beebe; three grandsons, Vincent Cuccia, Harold William “Highway” Yarbro, and Dakota Yarbro, all of Beebe; a sister, Dorothy Gean Pinkston of Petosi, Mo.; a half-brother, Gus Riley Carter of Petosi, and a host of nieces, nephews and other family and friends.

Yarboro was preceded in death by his parents, Edward James Yarbro, Sr. and Dorothy Lavina Hill Yarbro, and his stepfather Ezekiel Carter.

Funeral will be 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16 at Westbrook Funeral Home, with burial in Stoney Point Cemetery. Memorials may be made to Hospice Home Care, 106 S. Spring St., Searcy, Ark. 72143.

Catherine Turner

Catherine Turner, 35, of St. Louis and formerly of Cabot left this world to be with the Lord Jan. 9.

Ms. Turner was preceded in death by her cousin, Patrick Pisanello of Cabot, her sister, Michelle Owens of Sheridan and her father, William Turner of Little Rock. She leaves behind five children, four grandchildren, four sisters, two brothers, two sisters-in-law and her mother, Terrell Turner of Beebe and several nieces and nephews.

Ms. Turner wished to be cremated and returned to her mother for burial. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the National Heart Association.

EVENTS >> 01-16-08

Jacksonville will hold home-buying seminar

Jacksonville’s Community Development and Consumer Credit Counseling Service is sponsoring “The Nuts and Bolts of Home Buying,” from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26 at First Electric Cooperative, 1000 JP Wright Loop Road in Jacksonville. The class offers a wealth of information to first time and potential homebuyers interested in preparing to buy a home for the first time.

Upon completion of the classes, a certificate will be issued to all qualified participants. The certificate will be valid for one year and can be used when purchasing a home anywhere in the state. The certificates range from $1,000-$3,000, depending on the cost of the home. Attendance is required for the entire session to qualify for assistance.

If buying a home within the city limits of Jacksonville, assistance through the Community Development Department for a Home Buying Assistance Grant may be available. For more information and to register for the class contact Vicky Reeves at 501-982-0026.

Sherwood hosts Gravel Ridge annexation meeting

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman will hold a public meeting on the annexation of Gravel Ridge at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 21 at First Baptist Church in Gravel Ridge. This is the first meeting held by Sherwood regarding the city’s attempt to annex Gravel Ridge.

ASU-Beebe will hold double-feature music night

Baptist Collegiate Ministry will hold a double feature featuring Cabot band After the Tragedy and Kingsdown with special guests Another Day’s Journey, Karniam and The Weeping Gate beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19 at the ASU-Beebe Student Center, 610 Pecan St. Admission is $7. For more information, call Zach at 827-8006.

Parade honoring Confederate general is in Cabot

General Robert E. Lee’s birthday is a state holiday. A parade will be held in Cabot on Saturday to honor his 201st birthday. Everyone is invited to come and honor one of America’s great generals.

The celebration will begin at 11 a.m. and the parade will start at 1 p.m. at 1113 S. Second St. (367 South) and end at 401 S. Second St. (367 South) in downtown Cabot. For more information, call Col. E.J. Hart at 501-743-8315.

Deadline for Miss Jacksonville pageants is Feb.15

The Miss Jacksonville Pageant and the Miss Jacksonville Outstanding Teen Pageant have been set for Saturday, Feb. 23 at the Jacksonville Community Center. These pageants are preliminaries to the Miss Arkansas and Miss Outstanding Teen Pageants to be held in Hot Springs in July.

Candidates must be residents, college students or full-time employees of Pulaski or Lonoke counties for at least the last 6 months to be eligible. Miss contestants must be at least 17 years old on Feb. 23 and no older than 24 as of Sept. 30.

Outstanding Teen contestants must be at least 13 and no older than 17 and not be a senior by Feb. 23.

The winner of the Miss Arkansas title will represent Arkansas in the Miss America Pageant. The winner of the Miss Arkansas Outstanding Teen will represent Arkansas at the national pageant.

To be held the same day, categories for the younger contestants are: Baby Miss, 12 months and under; Toddler Miss, 13-35 months; Wee Miss, 3-4; Tiny Miss, 5-6; Little Miss 7-9; Petite Miss, 10-12. These contestants will compete in beauty, with optional areas of competition in talent and photogenic. Deadline for entries is Feb. 15. For more information and applications for all categories, call Sharon Boyd or Martha Boyd at 982-3898 or 982-2222.

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Huck’s main adversary is not running

Mike Huckabee’s most formidable opponent is not running for president.

Her name is Lois Davidson, and she could knock him out of the running faster than any of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination.

Davidson is the Missouri woman who says — truthfully — that Huckabee is responsible for her daughter’s death because he let Wayne Dumond out of prison and let him move to Missouri, where he raped and murdered Davidson’s daughter, Carol Sue Shields. Dumond, who was convicted in the Shields case, almost certainly raped and murdered another woman, but he died in prison before he could be tried for that case.

Davidson appears in a TV commercial being aired in primary states — but apparently not in Arkansas — criticizing Huckabee for favoring Dumond’s release, and that has upset the former governor. He says he’s “appalled” that she went public with her grief and that she is being “exploited” by his opponents who’ve distorted his role in the case.

Huckabee, who never bothered to read the trial proceedings, has tried to hide his complicity in the Dumond fiasco for years, but Davidson wouldn’t let him insult the memory of her precious daughter.

“I assure you, Mr. Huckabee, I am not being exploited,” she answered back. “I am fully aware of the actions I have taken in attempting to inform the public of your role in my daughter’s rape and murder. I have spent over seven years thinking about this. I am not a dupe. But you, Governor Huckabee, were duped time and again by convicted felons who once released from prison by you began hurting people again.”

The facts are these: Huckabee thought Dumond was railroaded by the Clinton “machine” and lobbied publicly and behind the scenes in Dumond’s behalf.

Former governor Jim Guy Tucker had reduced Dumond’s sentence from life to 39 years, but Huckabee thought that was still excessive.

At a highly unusual meeting with the parole board — no other governor had made an appearance there in recent memory — Huck said Dumond had gotten a raw deal and pushed for his earliest release, saying Dumond had been in prison too long.
Parole board member Charles Chastain disagreed, telling the governor, “That’s what happens when you rape a cheerleader in a small town.”

As far as Huckabee was concerned, Dumond was the victim, not the woman who claimed she was raped.

Huckabee believed Dumond deserved a new start in Missouri and convinced the parole board to let him go. Only Chastain voted no.

Huckabee thought justice had been served. Lois Davidson doesn’t think so. Addressing Huckabee, she said her daughter was “raped and murdered by a serial rapist that you wanted freed from prison. Please be honest about the role you played in releasing my daughter’s killer.”

Although Huckabee may have felt let down when his man was arrested again, no ambitious politician will admit he has blood on his hands — unless he still believes in Dumond’s innocence.

Maybe he thinks Dumond was unfairly convicted in Missouri, too, a victim of another political machine that had spread from Arkansas into Missouri.

But any sensible jury would reach this verdict on Huckabee: Guilty as charged.

TOP STORY >> City still hopes to annex its neighbor

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s second meeting Monday night about annexing Gravel Ridge covered the gamut from drainage to streetlights to coyotes.

The crowd was about as large and lively at the second round of Gravel Ridge annexation talks as the first, but a little more accepting of the fact that the rural community will become either part of Jacksonville or Sherwood.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim hosted a meeting Jan.7 at First Baptist Church in Gravel Ridge to catcalls of “leave us alone.”
Monday night’s meeting at the Jacksonville Community Center had many of the same people there who were at the first meeting, but more of the questions focused on what Jacksonville had planned for Gravel Ridge and what could it do for the 2,500-acre community of 3,500.

“I think we were able to clarify some concerns,” Swaim said. “There’s no way we can cover everything, and we were careful not to promise what might not be.”

He said patience would be important. “There are some things we can take care of quickly right after annexation, but other concerns could take years,” he said.

Gravel Ridge resident John Mason said he’s been pleased with assistance he’s already received from Jacksonville and believes the annexation would be good. His concern was that he didn’t want either Jacksonville or Sherwood coming in and clear cutting the area. “I want us to remain a community of green spaces,” he said.

Another resident Kenny Gray wanted assurances that the community’s tax money would be spent on good causes.
Streetlights were one of those causes many residents brought up. “We can’t put a street light on every corner, but would work to put them at major intersections,” the mayor said.

Mark Aloway was worried that Jacksonville might come in and force people like his brother-in-law, who lives in a mobile home, to update or improve his lot. It was explained that most structures, signs and streets would be grandfathered in, but definite health or sanitary issues would have to be dealt with.

Did the city’s animal control department just deal with cats and dogs was another question as one resident had concerns about the coyote, deer and snake population in Gravel Ridge. The mayor said the animal control officers respond to calls about all kinds of animals.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman has set an annexation meeting for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 21 at First Baptist Church in Gravel Ridge to explain why Gravel Ridge should become part of Sherwood instead of Jacksonville.

Jacksonville and Gravel Ridge residents will go to the polls to vote on whether or not Gravel Ridge should become part of Jacksonville on Feb. 5. The vote ties in with the state’s primary election.

Sherwood and Gravel Ridge residents will go to the polls to vote on whether or not Gravel Ridge should become part of Sherwood on March 11.

If both votes are no, then Gravel Ridge remains an independent community. If one of the votes is yes and one is no, then Gravel Ridge belongs to the city that voted yes.

If both cities say yes, then April 1 has been set aside for a third vote involving only Gravel Ridge residents. The residents will only have two choices on the ballot—to become part of Jacksonville or Sherwood.

TOP STORY >> Candidates for state seats increase

Leader senior staff writer

Arkansas may have moved the date of its presidential primaries up to Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, this year, along with 23 other states, but locally, those seeking state, county and city offices will square off in primaries May 20.

Statewide, at least 35 House seats are up for grabs—29 because of term limits, three—so far — where incumbents are expected to be challenged, two where representatives are leaving to run for the state Senate and one because of retirement.
While state Senators Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle and John Paul Capps, D-Searcy, will finish out the final two years of their terms, virtually every state representative in this area is finishing their eligibility.

The filing deadlines for state office are noon March 3 until noon March 12, so there’s plenty of time for other candidates to join the fray.

The area is losing a wealth of competence and experience in the House with the departure of Bond; Sandra Prater, D-North Pulaski County; Jeff Wood, D-Sherwood; Susan Schulte, R-Cabot; Lenville Evans, D-Lonoke; Mark Pate, D-Beebe, and David Evans, D-Searcy.


Former state Rep. Randy Minton and Cabot attorney Davy Carter both have announced their intention to seek the Republican nomination for Susan Schulte’s Dist. 48 position. Minton left that position four years ago to run for state Senate against Glover.

Now he says he wants it back for the final two years of his eligibility and will then run for the state Senate position from which Glover will be barred by term limits in the 2010 election. Minton is the only announced candidate among locals seeking a state representative seat so far with legislative experience.

Minton is a farmer and commercial and agricultural appraiser who likes to say he’s in “the Republican wing of the Republican party.”

Carter, former vice president and general counsel for Community Bank in Cabot, pledges to work in unison with leaders of all political backgrounds.


Seeking Sandra Prater’s north Pulaski seat in the House are Val Yagos, a Democrat, and Republican Jane English.

Yagos says she wants to continue along the path Prater was on, working on healthcare and educational issues. “I’m working with the Jacksonville World Class Education Organization,” she said. Her background is in computer programming.

English is a retired executive who worked more than two decades in government and the private sector to bring more jobs to Arkansas and to strengthen the economy. She is a volunteer liason between the military and private sector employees.


In Dist. 43, Jeff Wood, whose district includes parts of Jacksonville, Sherwood and North Little Rock, is termed out and will be in Iraq as a captain in the 39th Infantry Brigade.

Seeking his position are Jim Nickels, a Democrat, who is a college professor, lawyer and veteran.

He is opposed by Tom Raley, a Republican, who is campaigning as an advocate for foster children. He and his wife have been foster parents and are in the process of adopting their fourth child from the system.


In Dist. 44, state Rep. Will Bond was very active on a number of issues and authored legislation to help move Jacksonville toward an independent school district and to help end the decades old school desegregation agreement by encouraging PCSSD, Little Rock and North Little Rock districts to apply for unitary status and release from court oversight.

Seeking to replace Bond is Mark Perry, a Democrat and an insurance salesman.

Perry has been active in improving Jacksonville area public education, was a force behind the new Jacksonville Middle School field house and is among those working to get a new Jacksonville Middle School built.


Running to replace Lenville Evans of Lonoke, the Dist. 15 representative, are Republican Doug Hatcher of Ward, Democrat Walls McCrary of Lonoke and independent Trent Elits.

Hatcher, who lost to Evans in 2002, will run on a platform of tougher sentences and more prison beds. His son Jason Hatcher was murdered by four gang members in 1993 after a parking-lot fight. Hatcher is a Union Pacific engineer.

McCrary is city treasurer, a community leader and retired businessman in Lonoke. He says he will focus on education and economic development. He also owns and manages farm land.

Elits, a Kodak manufacturer’s representative, has a degree in industrial technology and deployed for Desert Storm and to Somolia. He’d promote alternative fuels and high-speed Internet.


Dist. 49 Rep. Mark Pate is term limited. Former Beebe School Superintendent Kieth Williams has announced he will run for the position as a Democrat.

Jonathan Dismang, a Republican, who is chief financial officer for a real estate investment firm, is also running. He would promote education, job growth and public safety.

TOP STORY >> Board votes 10-year plan for facilities

Leader staff writer

The Cabot School Board on Tuesday night approved a 10-year facility plan that if accepted by the state will cost the school district and state together $50.5 million.

Of that amount, the state would pay $27.7 million and Cabot School District would pay $22.8 million, money the district doesn’t have now but will have if voters say “yes” March 11 to a 3.9 mill increase to their property taxes.

Included in the 10-year plan are a health, physical education and recreation center and cafeteria at the high school; a new elementary school; four classrooms and a new parking lot at Westside Elementary; HVAC units in PE facilities on eight campuses and remodeling of the cafeteria and amphitheater at the high school.

Also on the list are new restrooms, a concession stand and bleachers at the stadium to make them ADA compliant; HVAC units for 10 kitchens, none of which now have air-conditioning; auditorium renovation at the high school; new science labs at Junior High South; renovation of the 15-year-old science building at the high school; and construction of a charter school facility.

If ninth graders are moved to the high school, more space will be needed, so 40 more classrooms would have to be built.
The district also has proposed construction of a pre-kindergarten building. The state does not currently help finance any pre-K education buildings.

Among other projects on the facilities plan the state will not help finance are the purchase of land for a new elementary school, a new roof on Eastside Elementary and paving Stagecoach Road. If voters agree to tax themselves more to pay for school improvements, the additional cost per year would be $78 for a house valued at $100,000; $117 for a house valued at $150,000; and $156 for a house valued at $200,000.

The district also has asked the state for half of the $5 million budget gap needed to rebuild Cabot Junior High North. The total cost of the new building will be $12.5 million, of which insurance has reimbursed $10 million.

The $5 million budget gap is a combined $2.5 million shortfall in construction cost and a $2.5 million gap in the district’s operating fund.

Dr. Tony Thurman, school superintendent, is asking the state to reimburse the district for the operating costs. The additional revenue from the millage would make up the shortfall in the insurance reimbursement, he said.

TOP STORY >> Congestion get worse

Leader staff writer

The Arkansas State Highway System, at 16,440 miles, is the 12th largest state highway system in the country.

Of those 16,440 miles, about half or 8,447 miles has been designated as part of the state’s primary highway network and carries 92 percent of all the traffic in the state and, if sometimes it feels like all that traffic converges into central Arkansas, there’s a reason for it.

Based on the latest traffic counts by the Arkansas Highway Department, more than 75,500 vehicles crowd Hwy. 67/167 near McCain Mall on a daily basis—that’s 52 cars per minute all day and night. By the time a driver has reached the southern limits of Cabot, that traffic count falls to 56,400 cars on a daily basis. Near Austin, that total falls to 21,700 vehicles daily, or just 15 cars per minute.

But don’t forget where I-440 converges into Hwy. 67/167, more than 23,000 cars either exit or enter Hwy. 67/167 at that point.

In Cabot, the intersection of Highways 38 and 31 sees about 23,000 vehicles a day, according to highway department traffic figures. Hwy. 107 at Kiehl in Sherwood is slightly busier at 26,800 vehicles a day.

These traffic counts and other information were used by Metro-plan to determine what major roads in central Arkansas were congested.

Metroplan’s 70-page draft report on central Arkansas’ interstates, highways and main roads calls Hwy. 67/167 from Cabot to Little Rock and the reverse seriously congested.

Metroplan puts a lot of the blame for traffic jams on high traffic and construction, but more lanes will be needed even after construction is done. The group has also designated parts of Highways 89 and 107 as congested.

Metroplan, which has been monitoring traffic growth and patterns on central Arkansas roads since 1996, considers a roadway to be congested if the average speed in a 55-mph zone hits 40 mph or less. Roadways where the speed limit is 60 mph, an average speed of 50 mph or less is considered congested.

Roadways segments are rated as mildly, moderately, seriously, severely or extremely congested based on the average speeds.
Five freeway segments are extremely congested including I-440 from Hwy. 161 to Hwy. 67/167 and I-40 from Hwy. 67/167 to I-30.

During peak travel times the average speed on these segments range from 11 to 15 mph, according to the 2007 report.
Of the nearly 337 miles of roadway surveyed by Metroplan, almost 192 miles, or 57 percent, are considered congested and slightly more than half of those miles are classified as severely or extremely congested.

The report says that the morning traffic flow on Hwy. 67/167 from Cabot to Little Rock starts to bog down just north of Jacksonville, around Hwy. 321 and gets progressively worse as traffic makes its way through Jacksonville, but lightens up south of I-440, becoming severely congested again around the McCain Boulevard exit and remains very congested right into Little Rock.

The noon and afternoon surveys show extreme congestion on I-30 just south of the Arkansas River, moderate to mild congestion on I-30 north of the river and along I-40 and up along Hwy. 67/167 until about the Kiehl Avenue exit when traffic become severely congested through Jacksonville, loosening up again about the Lonoke County line south of Cabot.

Metroplan recommends widening I-30 and I-40 to 10-lanes from I-630 to Hwy. 67/167 and making Hwy. 67/167 six lanes from Jacksonville to Cabot.

Hwy. 89, going through Cabot, is listed as seriously congested in the mornings and afternoons.

The 12-mile stretch of Hwy. 107 from Jacksonville-Cato to Third Street in Little Rock is considered to be moderately congested in the mornings. The report says at 7:30 a.m. the average speed on that segment of the highway is 26.5 mph.

At the same time in the morning the average speed on the 13.3-mile stretch of First Street-Hwy. 161-Broadway Avenue from Hwy. 67/167 in Jacksonville to the Broadway Bridge in North Little Rock is borderline congested at 32.5 miles per hour.
Main Street in Jacksonville during the morning rush is considered seriously congested. The average speed on the 1.04-mile stretch from First Street to Hwy. 67/167 is 16 mph.

The 2.3-mile Brockington-Brookswood route from Hwy. 107 to Hwy. 67/167 is seriously congested during the morning rush, according to the report, with an average speed of 19.2 mph.

The highway department projects that it will take $19.1 billion over the next 10 years to maintain and improve the state’s highway system. The state projects funding of $4.1 billion, leaving a $15 billion shortfall which will force the state to pick and choose its highway projects carefully.

TOP STORY >> Cabot takes stand to ease traffic jams

Leader senior staff writer

The Cabot Planning Commission took a stand against traffic congestion in 2007 when it turned down a second driveway into a new commercial development on highway 321.

Now the commission has approved a draft of a proposal to manage the traffic on highway 321 by limiting breaks in the medians with traffic signals to quarter-mile intervals and not allowing new driveways to be built closer than 245 to 440 feet apart.

At the same time, the commission approved a draft of the access management plan that was proposed for highway 5 when improvements to that road were started about three years ago. That draft also shows no new median breaks closer than one-quarter mile apart. All existing driveways on that road would be grandfathered in.

Richard Magee, deputy director of Metroplan, which prepared the drafts, said the plans only set the broad parameters under which to manage traffic. Currently, there is design plan, for Hwy. 321 with elements such as raised medians. That will come as the highway develops commercially. But in the meantime, if the city council adopts the draft, the planning commission will be able to prevent developers from creating traffic problems in the future with the poorly placed driveways they build now.

The commission, which met last week, voted unanimously to send both drafts to the city council for approval. The commissioners agreed that the last thing they want is for traffic congestion on Hwy. 321 to mimic that on Hwy. 89 West.
In other business, the commission heard a proposal by Verizon to put a cellular phone tower in a mini-storage building at Hwy. 89 and Campground. The tower would protrude through the top of one of the storage buildings and stand 120 tall.

Sonny Yemm, an attorney for Vorizon, told the commission that the tower, which would not have support wires, would look much like a flagpole without a flag.

Yemm said the tower was the type generally placed in residential areas because it is the least intrusive. He said the towers were stable and unlikely to fall. Even Hurricane Katrina didn’t knock them down in Louisiana.

“It would take something pretty drastic to make one of these things come down,” he said.

Several residents from the area of the proposed tower objected, saying it would lower property values.

Yemm asked the planning commission to table the proposal for 30 days after commissioners pointed out that he only needed a special-use permit for two of the storage buildings and the legal description they had before them was for the whole property where the storage buildings are located.

The commission also turned down a variance request from a developer who wanted to build a mini storage on Campground Road between Linda Lane and Krooked Kreek Circle, which is outside city limits but inside the city’s planning area.

The 10-acre lot where the proposed structure would be built is surrounded by houses of Cabot residents who don’t want a mini storage in their neighborhood. The planning commission does not have the authority to keep the structure out, only to deny the request for smaller back and side yards, which they did, saying variances were for hardship cases and developer Preston Robinson had not convinced them that not getting the variance would create a hardship.

Robinson told the commission that unless the back and side yards could be 25 feet deep instead of the 40 feet required for commercial buildings, he would have to cut back on the number of units he could build. And if he cut back, it might not be financially advantageous to build on the property.

Asked after the meeting if he would still build even though the commission turned down the variance request, Robinson said he had not decided.

TOP STORY >> Auditors press JHS to reach standards

Leader managing editor

Jacksonville High School is undergoing a scholastic audit by the state this week for failing to meet benchmark standards for four consecutive years.

The school is in year four of a state improvement plan because of the lower-than-standard scores according to the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing, Assessment and Accountability Program, or ACTAAP. JHS was put on improvement status by the state in compliance with No Child Left Behind legislation.

There are nine points of focus under three categories that are being audited, and parents are being asked to complete surveys and participate in interviews with the state auditors.

Jacksonville High principal Kenneth Clark welcomes the auditors, who arrived Monday morning and will be at the school through the end of Friday’s classes.

“We need to get better and they’re here evaluating and trying to find ways that will help us do that,” Clark said. The first category being looked at is academic performance. Under that heading are curriculum, classroom evaluation and strategy assessment, and instruction quality.

The auditors make sure that Jacksonville’s curriculum is in line with local and state department requirements.

Classroom evaluation means that each teacher will be visited twice during the week and evaluated on how well the students are instructed and how well engaged the students are in classroom activities. The auditors will also study student-teacher relationships.

Learning environment is the second category.

The first item under that heading is school culture, where auditors will evaluate the school’s diversity values and the effectiveness of its practices of higher achievement.

They also look at family and community support, which Clark believes will receive high marks.

“That’s one area in which I certainly believe we excel,” Clark said. “We have staff that works hard to generate support from the community, and we have parents and community leaders that are always willing to lend of hand.”

Professional growth and development, the third item under learning environment, simply means the auditors will make sure that staff has stayed up-to-date with all the classes and workshops required by the state.

The final category being audited is efficiency. This is the area in which the school’s leadership is most closely evaluated. In fact, item one under the efficiency category is leadership.

“They take a close look at the decisions I have to make,” Clark said. “They want to make sure that my decisions, and the decisions of my assistant principals are generally focused on student learning. I also need to be looking for any avenues where I can improve high performance of achievement. They also want to make sure that we all understand that everyone on staff here is a leader.”

Part of that task is covered under item two of the third category, which is organizational structure and resources.
“They want to make sure that we (the administration) do our part in maximizing time and resources through proper organization,” Clark said.

The state also looks at the effectiveness of the counselors in making sure students get in the right classes to stay on pace to graduate.

With the new credit requirements for graduation, there is little room for oversight in this area. For example, tutoring is made available to help students who have fallen, or are falling off graduation pace, get back on track.

However, tutoring costs money and proposals have to be written to the district requesting money to pay for the tutoring.
The auditors are looking at how rigorously and effectively the school is pursuing these types of avenues.

The final category is comprehensive and effective planning, which mostly evaluates how well Jacksonville High School aligns with the plans and goals of ACSIP, the Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Plan.

It is uncertain when the findings of the audit will be complete and available.

TOP STORY >> Schatz sees progress on base

Leader senior staff writer

Despite an overall reduction in the Air Force, Little Rock Air Force Base continues in growth mode, Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz told about 20 people at the Cabot Rotary meeting Tuesday.

Schatz is base commander of the 314th Air Education Command at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Overall, in recent years, the number of Air Force members has dropped from 34,000 to 32,000, but the most recent round of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) will have redirected between 200 and 400 additional personnel to the base by over three years, he said, along with 15 additional C-130s.

Virtually all C-130 crews in all U.S. forces and in 31 allied nations are trained at Little Rock Air Force Base, he said.

“This is pretty special,” he said. Every C-130 flying in Iraq—all tie their roots back to (the base,)” according to the general. “That includes those flown by Iraqi crews.”

In addition, the base is in the running to provide training for the new, shorter, joint-military transport plane, a new generation of airlifter.

Schatz said the Defense Department had changed course on the C-130J, opting to continue replacing the 1962-1963 C-130Es still in use. “I don’t even think Eddie Joe’s Chevelle’s that old,” he said, referring to the Cabot mayor’s car.

C-130s have flown enough personnel and material to and in Iraq to have moved every man, woman and child in Cabot and their belonging to Iraq and back twice in the last year.

“The secretary of the Air Force has called Little Rock the Center of Excellence for tactical airlifters and that any changes (diminishing its role) must go through him,” Schatz said.

That keeps convoys off the roads and away from improvised explosive devices. In addition, the 463 Airlift Wing of the Air Mobility Command, which is now permanently billeted at the base, has grown from two wings to three and should stand up its fourth wing by next fall, he said.

The Arkansas National Guard’s 123rd Intelligence Unit, stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base, is literally flying the unmanned predators over Iraqi and Afghan combat zones, downloading the data at LRAFB, doing target analysis and passing the information “back to theatre,” Schatz said, where decisions may be made to attack identified terrorists with bombs or ground troops.

All that’s via satellite feeds. Then they can go to their central Arkansas homes and be with their families.
“That keeps them out of harm’s way,” he said.

Schatz also said that the recent military construction budget had identified about $10 million to spend on repairing and updating runways at the base, and a like amount to proceed with the long-sought LRAFB/Jacksonville joint education center.
Several colleges will offer classes at the new facility, which will be built on base land, but outside the main gate and the fenced perimeter, making it more accessible to civilians in the Jacksonville and Cabot areas.

Schatz announced that both the Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team and the Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team would participate in the annual Air Power Arkansas celebration, slated for the base on the third weekend of October.

SPORTS >> Shoddy free-throw shooting takes down Cabot at North Little Rock

Leader sportswriter

An 11-of-21 performance at the free-throw line proved the difference between victory and defeat for Cabot on Friday night at Wildcat Arena in North Little Rock. The Panthers had a chance to reclaim a one-point lead in the final minute, but two missed clutch foul shots that allowed the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats to hold on for a 59-56 win.

The scoring was balanced for the Panthers, but work at the charity stripe left a little to be desired. North Little Rock gambled on its outside game to payoff on Friday, hitting 8 of 20 shots beyond the arc during the win.

Cabot coach Jerry Bridges said the spotty free-throw shooting was a setback, but that his Panthers looked better in every other aspect on Friday.

“I wasn’t at all disappointed with our effort,” Bridges said. “Our team defense was better all the way around. Give North Little Rock credit, they hit some big three-point baskets when they needed to. Our guys have been working a lot harder in the practices, and it’s going to pay off with a win. If we can just get that first win, it can snowball into something bigger.”

The Panthers held a two-point lead heading into the final minute, but a basket and free throw put North Little Rock up by one. Cabot had a chance to take the lead once again with a trip to the foul line on the ensuing possession, but missed both free throws.

Adam Sterrenberg led the Panthers with 24 points. Post player Miles Monroe added 13 points, and senior post Sam Bates added nine points for Cabot.

The win improved the Wildcats’ records to 11-5 overall and 2-1 in league play, while the Panthers fell to 11-6 and 0-3 with the loss.

The Lady Panthers suffered their first setback of the conference season with a 65-58 loss to North Little Rock on Friday. The Lady Wildcats held a four-point lead at halftime, but turned up the heat on the Cabot girls in the second half to pull ahead for good.

Guard Leah Watts led the Lady Panthers with 17 points. Junior Shelby Ashcraft added 13 points, while Lauren Walker finished with 10 points. For North Little Rock, Lashoia West and Dominique Smith both finished with 16 points to lead all scorers.
The win improved North Little Rock’s record to 11-5 overall and 2-1 in the 7A-Central Conference. Cabot fell to 12-6 overall and 2-1 in conference play.

The Cabot teams took last night off, and will host Bryant on Friday night, followed by a Saturday evening home game against Little Rock Central.

SPORTS >> Lonoke boys, girls cruise on

Leader sportswriter

It was a conference road sweep for Lonoke on Friday at Heber Springs, when both Jackrabbit teams held on to their respective places atop the 2-4A standings. The ’Rabbits kept themselves in a three-way tie for first place with a 66-39 win over the Panthers, while the Lady Jackrabbits kept their league record perfect with a 41-31 decision over the Lady Panthers.

The Jackrabbits (15-5, 7-2 in league play) rushed out to a 19-9 lead over Heber (5-13, 2-6) in the finale, and allowed the Panthers to score in double digits in only one quarter.

Less than 40 points allowed may seem like a solid defensive effort, but Jackrabbits coach Wes Swift says it’s the unity, not the end result, that he would like to see improved.

“All five players should move whenever the ball goes to a different area on the court,” Swift said. “And we haven’t been doing that. I don’t feel like they are playing defense as a complete unit — whether it’s people not talking, or helping out on screens. There always seems to be one or two who are not in it. We need to be playing more as a unit as opposed to five individuals, where everybody helps everybody.”

Despite a strong third period for the Panthers, Lonoke was still able to carry a 49-32 lead into the final quarter.

Senior Tyrone Dobbins led the Jackrabbits with 24 points. Bradley Spencer added 10 points with a 3-for-3 performance from the three-point line. Junior guard Michael Howard also added 10 points for Lonoke.

Lonoke girls 41, Heber Springs 31

The Lady Jackrabbits made it nine conference wins in a row on Friday with a 41-31 win over Heber Springs. Hayley O’Cain led Lonoke (16-4, 9-0 Conference) with 14 points, 12 of which came on three pointers. Senior post Carrie Mitchell added 10 points for her first double-digit scoring effort of the season. The Lady Panthers put plenty of pressure on sophomore post Asiah Scribner, which allowed some easy looks for Mitchell on the weak side.

“She’s capable of hitting the 10- or 12-footers if we need her to,” Lady ’Rabbits coach Nathan Morris said. “But why do that when she can get an open shot right under the basket like that?”

Scribner’s shooting looks may have been somewhat limited, but she still contributed seven rebounds, six assists, five blocks, and four points.

The Lady ’Rabbit defense continued to look impressive. Strong defensive efforts resulted in big wins over Bald Knob and Stuttgart. Friday, Lonoke held HS standout Katlyn Mullins scoreless. Mullins, who averaged close to 14 points per game before Friday, could not find a way around Lonoke point guard Michaela Brown, who used her quickness to hold the Lady Panthers’ biggest scoring threat at bay.

SPORTS >> Lady Badgers hang on

Leader sportswriter

The Beebe Lady Badgers needed every bit of their 14-point cushion heading into the fourth quarter against Nettleton on Friday. The Lady Raiders (6-8, 0-2) struggled against the Beebe press most of the game, but made a game of it late before the Lady Badgers held on for a 50-47 win on Friday night at the Badger Sports Arena.

Beebe (11-2, 2-0) led 35-21 after three, but the Lady Raider offense finally came to life and nearly pulled off what would have been the biggest 5A-East upset of the early season.

Junior guard Ty O’Neill turned in a 26-point performance to lead the Lady Badgers, but it was the defensive alertness of senior Bailey Thomas and junior Neshia Upchurch that prevented the Lady Raiders from stealing the win.

Erica Sharp tied the game with a pair of fouls shots with 1:12 left in the game. O’Neill then scored her final two baskets of the night with a pair of layups, the second of which was set up by a mid-court steal by Thomas.

That put the Lady Badgers up by four, but Hannah Chambers quickly took the ball down court and hit a three pointer for the Lady Raiders to make it 48-47 with 24 seconds left in the game.

Sharp almost made the play of the game when she tried to pick O’Neill in the backcourt on the near sideline. She got the ball free and made the save to stop the ball from going out of bounds, but Upchurch scooped up the ball and headed back the other way, picking up a foul with only 11 seconds left to play.

Upchurch delivered with two perfect tosses from the stripe that put Beebe back up by three. The Lady Raiders’ game-tying attempt fell short.

“We pulled through,” Lady Badgers coach Lora Jackson said after the game. “It just wasn’t the performance we should have had. We missed a lot of easy shots. Defensively, we let them do the easiest things. They ran set plays over and over and over, and we weren’t defending them.”

Jackson hopes her team learned a lesson from the near-misstep.

“There are things you have to do, no matter who you are, or you’re going to find yourself not where you should be,” she said. “You have to play all the time, not just to where you feel like things are comfortable for you.”

The Lady Badgers utilized their defense well in the first half on their way to 11 steals. That led to an 8-4 lead for Beebe after one quarter, and a dominating second frame by O’Neill allowed the Lady Badgers to coast to a 17-10 halftime lead.

O’Neill started the second quarter off with a steal that she converted into a layup for a 10-4 lead, and followed that with another layup and a foul shot to put the Lady Badgers up by nine.

She added the last of her first half points at the 2:57 mark when she hit a pair of free throws that put Beebe up 15-10.

Seniors Emily Bass and Thomas got in the mix during the third quarter. Ashley Watkins was the first senior to score with a putback to start the frame, but Thomas added to the lead with a 12-footer at the 6:48 mark that put the Lady Badgers up 23-11.

Bass and Thomas then combined for four straight points before Upchurch got back on the board with a shot assisted by Bass.
The steals didn’t come as frequently forBeebe in the third quarter, but Nettleton’s inability to hit from the floor enabled the Lady Badgers to take a 35-21 lead at the end of the third quarter.

O’Neill led the Lady Badgers with 26 points. Upchurch and Thomas each added seven points for Beebe. For Nettleton, Sharp led with 16 points, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter.

Nettleton 55, Beebe Boys 43

The Badgers played well on Friday, but couldn’t hang on during the final four minutes of the game. Over that period, Raiders post player Otto Collins bulled his way inside for eight of his 23 points.

The Raiders had defensive issues of their own throughout most of the game. They struggled to contain senior Charlie Spakes, who turned in a solid offensive performance with 22 points.

“We played well for two-and-a-half quarters,” Beebe coach Bryan Martin said. “We just didn’t do any of the things we needed to do in the fourth quarter to give ourselves a chance. The bottom line is that they made plays late and we didn’t. A good team always finds a way to score in a close game, and tonight, they were that team.”

Zach Kersey added nine points for Beebe off two three pointers and three free throws despite the use of a mask to protect a broken nose sustained last week in practice. Trey Smith added five points.

Beebe fell to 6-7 overall and 0-2 in the 5A-East Conference with the loss, while Nettleton improved to 12-2 and 2-0. Beebe hosted Wynne last night after Leader deadlines.