Friday, April 17, 2009

TOP STORY >> Project funds not done deal

Leader staff writer

Construction of the Lonoke-White water project this year using economic-stimulus money is far from a done deal.

To be financially feasible, all the players, especially the larger ones, must be willing to participate at a high enough level to repay construction loans.

Cabot, the biggest player in Lonoke County, doesn’t need the water except as a backup. Bill Cypert, secretary of the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, said this week his commission will not be rushed into a commitment simply to get the stimulus money.

Cypert pointed out that the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, which will pull together the funding, cannot say with any certainty that grant money is available to pay for as much as half the cost of the 24-inch waterline. Neither is there confirmation from the ANRC that the interest on borrowed money will be the rumored 1 percent.

Two of the three members who make up the White County part of the proposed project also are having second thoughts.

Beebe and Southwest White County Water Association are looking to Searcy as a possible long- term supplier of surface water.

Representatives from both Beebe and SOWCO said Wednesday before a meeting of the board of the Lonoke White Public Water Authority that participation in the estimated $65 million project might cost more than they are willing to pay. SOWCO already buys from Searcy which takes water from the Little Red River. Together, SOWCO and Beebe could build a pipeline that would supply both of their water districts, they said.

Dave Fenter, with the ANRC, told LWPWA members that he needs signed contracts for financing the project with the stimulus money by Feb. 17, 2010 or his agency loses the money.

But questioned by members of the LWPWA board, Fenter said in the worst-case scenario, the project could be funded later without stimulus money at 3.25 percent interest for a 20-year loan and 3.5 percent interest for a 30-year loan.

So even if the project doesn’t benefit from stimulus money which could mean a lower interest rate, losing the stimulus money would not necessarily kill the project.

Fenter said the ANRC was interested in funding the Lonoke-White project with stimulus money because it was bid for construction in 2004, which indicated that it should be ready for construction now. Only projects that are “shovel ready” can be started in the strict timeline the ANRC must follow.

When the project was bid five years ago, Community Water Systems, located on the lake, was in charge of the project. By the time the project was bid, it was already clear that the water would cost the project members more than they were first told it would cost.

Cabot, which was to be the biggest part of the customer base, had pulled out in favor of buying water from Central Arkansas Water.

But not only would the water cost more, it was to be delivered using part of the system CWS built for its customers in Faulkner and Cleburne counties.

Since the contract that Lonoke-White members signed said they would have their own system, members of Grand Prairie Water Association and Bayou Two Water Association sued and control of the project was eventually taken from CWS and given to members of the Lonoke White project ,which met for the first time as the Lonoke White Public Water Authority in July 2005.

New members, including Jacksonville and North Pulaski Water Association, joined the project and Beebe and Cabot came back.

In all, a dozen municipal and rural water suppliers in Lonoke, White, Pulaski and Faulkner counties could get water from Greers Ferry Lake, about twice as many as when the project started.

Although the plans for running a 24-inch pipeline from an intake site on Cove Creek is completed. Not all the easements have been purchased. There is some talk of making the line larger. And the smaller lines that will branch off the main line and feed into the members’ systems have not been engineered.

But Tommy Bond, the Jacksonville engineer who has worked on the project since it came under control of the LWPWA, said there is nothing that needs to be done that can’t done by August, the deadline that Fenter has set if he is to meet his Feb. 17 deadline.

Fenter told the LWPWA members that he didn’t know how much the interest would be for the stimulus money.

It would be lower than the 3.25 percent for a regular 20-year loan, but he said he didn’t know how much lower. Grants were tied to income, he said, so he didn’t know whether the project was eligible.

The cost of the ductile iron pipe that will likely be used in the project is down, but since the interest rates and the availability of grants are unknowns, Fenter said he couldn’t tell members how much they would need to charge themselves for water to be able to pay their debt.

He said he understood that the individual members of the LWPWA must look out for the interests of the customers they represent and he understood that no one wanted to buy “a pig in a poke.” However, he said he might know more in a month and he urged the members to keep working toward getting the project started.

“I need you to keep moving and eventually I’ll have answers,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Cost drops for schools in district

Leader senior staff writer

With a new high school in Maumelle nearly ready to go to bid, the Pulaski County Special School District still doesn’t know if it will have the money to pay for it.

The district expects to finance the high school, currently estimated at $65 million plus $8 million for outdoor sports facilities, from the proceeds of the $81 million second-lien bond that the state Board of Education rejected Monday.

Site preparation already has begun, said Bob Shell, president of Baldwin Shell, construction manager for the job.

Architect Bradley Chilcote of Wittenberg, Delony and Davidson showed the site plan to the board members and he and Shell told the PCSSD board Tuesday night that construction costs had dropped since the earlier estimate of $80 million for the high school.

They said they thought they could build for about $182 a square foot.

The new 1,500-student school at Maumelle would replace the decrepit 600-student Robinson High School. It is designed to serve 2,000 people in the cafeteria, allowing for future expansion.

Some board members questioned the need for such a large replacement school.

Deputy superintendent Beverly Ruthven said the district estimates that the Maumelle school would have an enrollment of 1,500 in about 10 years.

Board member Shana Chaplin asked why the school had to be so expensive.

Interim superintendent Rob McGill called the new projects “state of the art, by far the most technologically advanced 9-12 school in central Arkansas.”

The district is hoping that the state Board of Education will hear a revised application at its May meeting. Carey Smith, the district’s Stephens Inc. financial advisor, said, ordinarily the state Board wouldn’t consider bonds again until the June meeting.

Some members of the PCSSD board, as well as the state Board of Education members, didn’t feel the district had proven its ability to pay the bond off and also said they didn’t like the idea of paying for bricks and mortar by cutting jobs and teachers’ hours.

The school board voted to eliminate three positions, to cut two paid days a year off the teachers salaries and three days paid days a year off the contracts of some principals and administrators.

The 1-percent reduction in paid teacher days would save the district $951,000 a year. Teachers also would be asked to monitor bus loading and unloading free instead of being paid.

Those were among cuts McGill, working with board president Tim Clark, would implement to help pay for the 27-year bond at the rate of about $5 million a year.

A proposal to eliminate a dozen or more vice principal positions to save $1.9 million was not voted upon. The district would like to use that money to pay off the bonded debt, and then use federal stimulus money for a year or two to reinstate those positions.

The Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers told the board teacher pay cuts couldn’t be made without negotiating with the union and successfully insisted that the recommendation to cut two days a year include the phrase “subject to negotiation with PACT.”

“Is it a negotiation when one party says adamantly its not going to negotiate?” asked McGill.

The also board cut three positions for the 2009-2010 school year to save another $210,000.

Some school board members fear that PCSSD could end up back in fiscal distress, under the thumb of the state Education Department if it doesn’t consider its finances carefully before committing to the bond issue.

It appears that the bond-payment plan doesn’t take into account that the district would lose about $20 million a year after the desegregation case is settled and perhaps $36 million a year in minimum foundation aid if Jacksonville gets its own district with about one third of the students or the loss of revenues from the continuing decline in attendance.

It also doesn’t seem to include revenues lost when Jacksonville gets its own district and its patrons are no longer liable for a portion of that $80 million bond.

On Tuesday night, the board approved 5-2 a motion to exclude a new Jacksonville school district from debt service obligations on the $81 million second-lien bond when that proposed district is detached from PCSSD.

Voting against the proposal were Gwen Williams, who says she “doesn’t trust Jacksonville” anymore, and Charlie Wood, who says he’s not opposed in principle but thought it ill advised to give that up without getting something in return.

The three eliminated positions are the Cyber Academy specialist, one instructional technology specialist and the district’s director of community affairs.

Emotional and nearly in tears over the disrepair of PCSSD buildings, longtime teacher Risa Briggs urged district board members to repair most existing schools rather than build two new ones.

“We don’t have our priorities in order. We need to take care of the schools we have,” she said, pointing to leaky roofs and schools where there’s not even money for paper towels.

“Mr. Clark, I’m addressing you,” said Briggs, who said she had taught in PCSSD schools for 30 years.

Alluding to the $81 million second-lien bond issue sought by the district to build a new high school at Maumelle and a new Sylvan Hills middle school, “I challenge you to accomplish that without exchanging personnel for bricks and mortar.”

TOP STORY >> Two women to lead new charter school

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School board at a special meeting on Thursday elected Keri Urquhart, wife of mayoral candidate Jody Urquhart, its new president.

She was elected after former parks director George Biggs resigned following public disclosure of his felony conviction in the shooting death of a man in 1990, as well as his involvement in an extramarital affair, sometimes during work hours, from 2007 to January of this year.

The news was a blow to those who had worked with Biggs over the many months of planning for the charter school, which is slated to open in August. On recommendations from the community, Biggs, who was active in civic affairs and worked as the director of parks and recreation for Jacksonville, was elected to the school’s board of directors last June and soon after was elected president.

The board learned of Biggs’ resignation after its regular monthly meeting Tuesday evening, which Biggs did not attend.

Lighthouse Academies Inc. chief executive officer Michael Ronan said that board members and employees of the organization’s local and national offices that knew Biggs “felt sadness over the turn of events, for George as a human being, and also felt that it was appropriate for him to step down from the board.”

Lighthouse Academies is a national organization that assists in the establishment of charter schools and has been instrumental in formation of the one in Jacksonville.

Ronan had only praise for Biggs’s performance as the school’s board chair.

“His work as board chair was everything it should be and represented a significant time commitment,” Ronan said. “He did (it) on time and willingly, reflecting his commitment to the school.”

Ronan said that Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School complies with state law governing background checks for teachers and others employed at public schools. All must submit to state and national criminal background checks through the state police and FBI.


The board accepted the resignation of not only Biggs but also board member Robert Alton, who cited scheduling conflicts as the reason for stepping down. The board voted in Jacksonville Alderman Kevin McCreary and businessman Roger Sundermeier as new members.


The board voted to hire Nigena Livingston. She is the current principal of a Cleveland Lighthouse community school in Cleveland, Ohio, which opened in 2005.

Livingston’s educational career began in Detroit, where she taught middle school science for two years, then one year at Rochester Leadership Academy, in Rochester, N.Y.

After that, she served one year with Teach for America, a national teacher corps, as a program director and team leader. She holds a bachelor’s degree in health and human services from State University of New York, Buffalo.


At the regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Ronan reported that work on the school building is now just a week behind schedule and for now, the school is slated to open on Aug. 17 – or “very close to that date.” Construction was delayed a month due to complications in arranging funding, a result of havoc in the financial markets. The groundbreaking took place March 24.

“This is spectacular, given the fact that (the project) was four weeks behind,” Ronan said. “This is a great testament to (the general contractor James Green) and his organizational skills and all other contractors working on this project.”


At the meeting Thursday, the board approved the hire of the school’s first teacher, J. Evan McGrew of Mountain Pine to teach fifth- and sixth-grade math and science. McGrew currently teaches fifth, seventh and eighth grades in the Magnet Cove School District in Malvern. He has a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a master’s degree in sports administration from Henderson State University. He is middle school certified in all core disciplines.

This Saturday, 20 teaching applicant finalists will demonstrate their teaching skills before groups of children volunteers and a panel of reviewers and board members. Each teacher must conduct a 20-minute lesson, which will be followed up by a briefing with reviewers. The applicant pool for the school’s 14 teaching slots – two per grade – numbered around 50.The charter school organization continues to seek applicants from staff at other Lighthouse schools around the country, so as “to help build the culture of the school and get the school off to a quick start,” Ronan said.


The last day to submit an application for the 2009-10 school year is Monday. So far, 594 applications have been submitted for 344 available seats at the school.

The number of applications for every grade – kindergarten through sixth – has exceeded the number of seats, so all students will be selected by lottery. The lottery will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 23, at the Jacksonville Community Center. The name of every child who has applied will be drawn to compile each grade’s roster. Names of children not selected will go on the waiting list in the order they are drawn. Applicants are not required to attend the lottery, but the public is invited.

“You are all welcome to attend and be part of this historic event for Jacksonville,” Ronan told the roomful of parents, many with children in tow, who attended the meeting Tuesday night.

Ronan told the group that in more than a decade in helping organize charter schools around the country, he found Jacksonville to be “the most supportive community I have been a part of. I am very impressed with the civic officials and trades people who have made this happen in so short a time.”

TOP STORY >> Interim director appointed

Leader staff writer

The city of Jacksonville is looking into retroactive background checks on its current employees after parks director George Biggs resigned on Tuesday.

City officials learned that he served prison time for the shooting death of a man in 1990 and had been involved in an extramarital affair, sometimes during work hours, from 2007 to January 2009.

Kristen Griggs has been appointed interim director of parks and recreation until a new hire is made to fill the position. Griggs started working part time for the city in parks and recreation in 2002, left to return to college in 2003, then returned in 2005 to work as a fitness specialist. Since 2007, she has been the department’s assistant program services manager.

“She has been an ideal and loyal employee of parks and recreation for more than six years,” said Jill Ross, director of human resources for the city of Jacksonville.

Besides conducting a search for a new director for its parks and recreation, the city is also looking into what it needs to do to be sure all its employees have been properly screened. According to Ross, she is not sure how consistent background checks on all prospective employees actually were prior to her coming on board in June of 2007. It is difficult to know which employees hired before then were properly screened. Before, checks sometimes were done without printed documentation.

“We’re looking into running background checks on all department heads,” Ross said, and as for the rank and file, “we’re looking into processing those as well.”

According to Ross, only since last May has the city routinely conducted background checks. The city contracts with a screening service to conduct various types of background checks, which tap state and FBI data bases.

An educational background check is ordered for positions requiring a college degree. The names of all prospective employees – part-time, full-time and seasonal workers – are run through the national sex offender registry.

Criminal background checks are conducted for all part- and full-time positions in jobs involving public safety and finances, and extend to the year 1990, the year that Biggs was arrested in Texarkana, Texas, for murder. He was later convicted on the reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter and served less than six months of a five-year sentence.

Biggs started working for Jacksonville parks and recreation in 1995 as a fitness specialist and in less than four years was tapped to be the department director. He had a reputation for getting things done and is credited with spearheading creation of the Splash Zone water park, dog park and the disc golf course. He has been active in local civic affairs. His community service roles have included membership on the board of the Jacksonville Senior Center, Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Jacksonville Community Bank, the presidency of the Jacksonville Sertoma Club, vice president of the Jacksonville Hometown Health Coalition and an honorary commander for the 314th Airlift Contracting Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base.

His reputation in the community led to his selection last year as the first president of the board of Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School, which is to open in August. He also is a member of the governor’s fitness coalition. Prior to coming to Jacksonville, Biggs was a teacher, coach and athletic director at Arkansas Baptist College.

TOP STORY >> Water rates will go up 56 percent

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville City Council by an 8-1 vote Thursday night approved a 56 percent hike in the city water rates, which will raise the average monthly bill from $25.12 to $39.15 by 2012.

The rate hike goes into effect immediately — 13 percent this year, another 13 percent in 2010, 13 percent again in 2011 and 8 percent in 2012.

The rate increase applies to residential, commercial and wholesale customers of Jacksonville Water Department and includes three years’ worth of increases announced by Central Arkansas Water.

That 13 percent, or $3.62 monthly increase, makes Jacksonville the third most expensive place to get water in the area. Only Cabot and north Pulaski County are higher.

Water department manager Mike Simpson, along with two engineers, spent about 45 minutes explaining why the increase was needed, but Alderman Terry Sansing, the lone dissenting vote, didn’t buy it.

“This is a very large wish list,” Sansing said. “Is it 100 percent necessary? What can be trimmed? I’m sure it can be tweaked.

You are talking a few dollars here and a few dollars there, like it’s nothing, but people are going to feel it,” he said.

The few dollars that Simpson and engineers Shawn Koorn and Kirby Rowland were talking about were more than $38 million, most of which would be spent in the next four to five years.

Alderman Marshall Smith said, “None of us want this increase during these economic times, but it’s something we need to pass.”

According to Rowland, Jacksonville currently gets its water from nine wells, of which one is about dry, and from Central Arkansas Water. The city gets about 3 million gallons of water daily from its wells and the rest from CAW. Rowland expects all the city wells to become unusable within 10 years.

He said the city, as a member of the Mid-Arkansas Water Alliance, is also allowed to use 1.24 million gallons a day from Greers Ferry and 1.2 million a day from Lake Ouachita but has no means to get the water from those sites to the city.

The water study and rate hike is based on the city using up to 12 million gallons of water a day, according to Rowland.

Rowland said that the city is also a member of the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority, which is working, with the federal government’s permission, to pump 15 million gallons of water out of Greers Ferry on a daily basis for use by its members.

The main line from Greers Ferry to Jacksonville could be completed within the next few years using stimulus money. The Lake Ouachita water, 20 million gallons daily, will be funneled out by CAW. “That’s still about three years away,” Rowland said.

Currently, CAW supplies Jacksonville and other area cities with water from Lake Maumelle and Lake Winona. “Those water sources will be good through about 2040,” Rowland explained. After that, CAW will start drawing from Lake DeGray.

Developer Mike Wilson told the council that the city should look at conservation and recycling before it starts jumping from lake to lake for its water. “Jacksonville could become a leader in this area rather than running around half-baked,” he told the council during the public hearing.

Only four residents spoke up at the hearing. All voiced concern about the need for such a large increase in rates.

Rowland, who helped with the city’s 2003 master water plan, which looked at water sources for the city through 2020, called the 2008 study an update.

In his presentation, Rowland said over the past five years, the water department has spent $5.4 million in capital improvement plans, but will need to spend about $38 million between now and 2011 to ensure the city has a stable and reliable water source through 2050.

The study shows another $13 million will be needed between 2015 and 2040 to maintain and expand the city’s water infrastructure.

Over the next two years, the city needs to cover the cost of the CAW water line being built across the Arkansas River to Crystal Hills, then to the North Little Rock Airport and finally to Gravel Ridge for Jacksonville to tie into it. The city’s portion of that major water line is about $14 million.

The largest single expense is $9.9 million for a new three million gallon water tank to hold the nearly 2.4 million gallons a day that the air base needs.

There is a possibility that the military will share in that cost, but the rate increase includes the entire cost. Other tanks and expanded and improved water lines will also have to be built, according to the engineers.

During the council vote, Sansing reiterated that the city was approving a “Christmas wish list.”

“Some of this can be postponed, modified or cut. It needs to go back to the water commission for review,” Sansing said.

EDITORIAL >> District seeks a ‘liar loan’

If the state Board of Education were a subprime lender, then Pulaski County Special School District’s slapdash application to float an $81 million bond would be the equivalent of a “stated income loan.” The money would be used to build a new high school in Maumelle and a new Sylvan Hills middle school.

The state board voted the application down 3-4 Monday, but it’s scary that it even got that close, no more documentation — no better repayment plan — than the district presented.

A stated income loan — in case you’ve missed the national mortgage scandal — is a mortgage where the lender does not verify the borrower’s income. These loans are sometimes called “liar loans,” and result in people getting mortgages they can’t afford to pay off, then losing their homes to foreclosure.

Liar loans from subprime lenders contributed to the collapse of housing prices, thousands of foreclosures, the collapse of mega banks and the economic crisis that now grips the world.

What we don’t want to see is the financial collapse of PCSSD if it gets a loan it can’t afford.

If PCSSD defaulted on the $5 million-a-year payments, the institution that bought the bond could get payment directly from the state Department of Education. The state would deduct that money from its annual state minimum foundation aid to the schools, according to one expert in the field of school finance.

The district could find itself right back in fiscal distress, where its every move would again be scrutinized by the state.
In the current economic environment, it is unlikely that any financial institution would buy PCSSD’s $81 million second-lien bond without due diligence — a thorough inspection.

If the board has a firm grasp on its projected revenues and expenses, it hasn’t shared them publicly.

The process — like many other issues the board has faced since Tim Clark became board president — has been conducted largely behind closed doors, in improper executive sessions. Even some board members say they are kept in the dark — but that’s an editorial for another day.

Former Superintendent James Sharpe and former CFO Larry O’Briant, both of whom “resigned” in March, warned the board that the district might not be able to make its $5 million annual payment after the first couple of years.

Some members of the PCSSD school board, most notably Clark of Maumelle and Charlie Wood of Sherwood, are doing all in their power to build the new schools, which had been promised and on the 10-year master-facilities plan for several years.

In the process, Clark has alienated at least two other board members—Shana Chaplin, who represents the Robinson High School zone, and Danny Gililland, who represents a part of Jacksonville.

In a special board meeting last Saturday, Chaplin accused Clark of being secretive, high-handed and making decisions and authorizations that actually require approval of the board, not of the board president alone.

Clark responded by accusing Chaplin of similar measures, then got so loud and aggressive-sounding that Chaplin’s face turned ashen and she refused to leave the boardroom Saturday night until Clark was off the premises. She finally left with a security guard as an escort.

“Mr. Clark is holed up in Mr. McGill’s office,” Gililland said Tuesday morning, referring to interim Superintendent Robert McGill, but that Gillilland and the other board members were out in the cold.

To get permission to float the bond and to convince lenders that they can repay it, the board must show it can deal with the likely loss of $20 million a year in deseg funds from the state as well as the loss of about 6,000 students to a likely Jacksonville school district—that’s a loss of about $36 million a year in state minimum foundation aid.

Those are just two of the larger current revenue sources that could dry up five to seven years into the 27-year bond payment schedule.

There will be reduction in some costs when the district is released from the desegregation agreement and again when it is no longer responsible for all 34 school buildings it currently has spread across the county or for the cost of transporting

Jacksonville students to school.

If the district can afford the $81 million bond, we’re in favor of it.

But to paraphrase the character played by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the movie “Jerry McGuire,” “Show us the money.”

SPORTS >> Devils bounce back to gain split with JB

Leader sports editor

JONESBORO — Despite having its 12-game winning streak come to an end, the Jacksonville baseball team was able to bounce back to pick up a crucial win and a split of a doubleheader with Jonesboro on Wednesday.

After falling 6-3 in the opener, the Red Devils received an outstanding performance from pitcher Seth Tomboli in winning the nightcap by a score of 6-0.

“I was so happy with Seth coming back like he did after we lost,” said Jacksonville head coach Larry Burrows. “He just wasn’t going to let us lose. He is always going to compete and he had some of the best stuff he’s ever had.”

The second-game victory allowed Jacksonville (16-6 overall) to remain alone in second place in the 6A-East with a 9-3 mark, two games ahead of the Hurricane and a game ahead of Marion. Jacksonville closes out conference play when it hosts Marion next Friday. A split will earn them the No. 2 seed out of the East.

Tomboli went the distance, striking out seven and scattering seven hits. He also allowed three walks but was able to pitch out of some early jams.

“He had some big strikeouts to get out of trouble,” Burrows said. “And we made the defensive plays when we had to. We needed it.”

Tomboli helped his cause at the plate, driving in two runs with a double. Jacob Abrahamson continued his torrid hitting with a two-run triple. Abrahamson not only had two hits and an RBI in the opener, he went 3 of 4 with a home run in a 13-4 win over Fort Smith Southside a week ago Friday.

“He’s just on a tear,” Burrows said.

In the first game, Jonesboro broke open a 3-3 tie in the fourth and carried a 6-3 lead into the final inning. Jacksonville got its first two on and Caleb Mitchell sent a long shot to the fence.

“Everybody thought it was gone and a tie game when he hit it,” Burrows said. “But they caught it right up against the fence.

Then (Patrick) Castleberry hit it as hard as he could hit it, but right at the center fielder.”

Michael Harmon struggled through five innings in the loss. Harmon is still trying to bounce back from early season injury.

Devon McClure’s RBI single tied the game at 1-1 in the second and Abrahamson’s RBI single brought in Tomboli to tie the game 3-3 in the fourth. Tomboli and Abrahamson each had two hits. McClure had a pair of RBI.

The Red Devils played Cabot last night in a game concluded after Leader deadlines. They travel to Sheridan on Monday before closing out the regular season with Marion next Friday.

“We were glad to get the split,” Burrows said. “I don’t like to lose, but we didn’t give it to them (in the first game). They earned it.”

SPORTS >> Jacksonville cruises past Parkview

Leader sportswriter

It was quick work for Jacksonville softball on Tuesday. The Lady Red Devils posted 10 runs in the first two innings on their way to a 13-0 blowout win over Little Rock Parkview at Dupree Park.

The Lady Red Devils improved to 9-6 overall and 6-4 in the 6A-East.

Junior starting pitcher Jessica Lanier saw only two innings at the mound before giving way in the third inning to freshman hurler Alexis House, who made an impressive varsity-pitching debut.

“One thing we usually do is start Alexis Oakley at first, but we put Alexis House at first and Lanier at the mound so we could switch them and keep both of them in the game,” said Lady Red Devils coach Tanya Ganey. “We were very pleased with her effort. She has improved a lot, but she still has a lot of improving to do. She held her composure well for her first varsity pitching and did a good job.”

House surrendered Parkview’s only hit of the game, but that runner was forced at second on a groundout. House struck out two more batters to start out the fourth, and forced groundouts to retire the final four batters she faced.

“It was a good night; everybody got to play,” said Ganey. “We got to put some people in some new situations to try and add some depth as we’re getting closer to the state tournament.”

The Lady Devils scored a pair of runs in the second inning before blowing the game open in the third with an eight-run frame.

They added three more runs in the top of the fifth inning (Jacksonville was the visitor on the scoreboard) despite endless substitutions.

Jacksonville plated two runs in the second inning on a single by Lanier that brought in Raven Pickett and Brandi Holder.

Tyler Pickett led off the top of the third with a walk, followed by a single from sophomore Chyna Davis. Pickett scored on an RBI single by shortstop Baylee Herlacher, who came around to score along with Davis on a Jennifer Bock single.

Jacksonville loaded the bases again when Raven Picket reached on an error and Holder walked. Lanier drew a base on balls to score Bock and make it 6-0.

House singled to score Raven Pickett, but Holder was out at the plate on Tyler Pickett’s fielder’s choice bunt. A walk to Davis scored courtesy runner Aja Poole to give the Lady Red Devils an 8-0 lead.

Herlacher had the final hit of the frame when she blooped the ball to right field to score House and Tyler Pickett.

The Lady Red Devils added another run on House’s RBI triple in the fifth. Though House was out at the plate trying to score on Sharee Washington’s grounder, Jacksonville was able to reload the bases on walks to Davis, Tyquia Robinson and Skyler Crafton. Alexis Oakley set the final score when she singled to right center.

House was 3 of 3 batting with a triple and two RBI. Lanier and Herlacher were each 2 of 4 with three RBI

SPORTS >> Panthers back from brink

Leader sports editor

A few timely hits, some great defense, a little luck and two outstanding pitching performances have the Cabot Panthers back from the edge of extinction.

Cole Nicholson and Andrew Reynolds pitched lights out on Tuesday and Thursday nights as Cabot bounced back from a three-game losing streak to post critical wins over North Little Rock on Tuesday and Little Rock Central on Thursday. Cabot beat the Wildcats 2-0 and the Tigers 3-2.

“We were a little confused because our pitching had been burning us for a couple of weeks,” said Cabot head coach Jay Fitch.

“We thought hard and heavy about who to pitch. I figured if Cole throws like he did against White Hall earlier this year, we had a good chance of winning.

“He threw a great game and Andrew (Reynolds) closed it out. Then Andrew threw a gutsty win (Thursday).”

Drew Burks’ two-out single brought home Joe Bryant with the game winner against Central on Thursday as Cabot improved to 5-5 in 7A Central play, a full gameahead of Central at 5-7. The Panthers are now right in the middle of a muddled race that has Bryant in first place, but with only eight wins, Cabot, Central, Van Buren, Catholic, North Little Rock, Conway and Bryant are all bunched up together. Only Russellville has been eliminated from one of the six postseason slots.

Cabot has another critical week starting on Monday when it hosts North Little Rock, followed by a trip to Bryant on Tuesday and a home engagement with Van Buren on Thursday.

“If we play great next week, we could be anywhere from first or second,” Fitch said. “Or we could not make it at all.”

That latter scenario was beginning to look like the more likely one after Cabot followed up a big comeback win against Bryant and a romp past Russellville with dismal showings in losses to Conway, Catholic and Van Buren, leaving the Panthers at 3-5.

Even though Cabot’s bats have remained relatively quiet, its pitching and defense has made all the difference. On Thursday against Central, Reynolds went the distance for the win, allowing just six hits and fanning seven. Reynolds was following up from a marvelous save against North Little Rock two days earlier.

Reynolds was able to pitch out of jams in four innings, stranding 10 Tigers on the basepaths. He hit three batters, including the leadoff man in the first. That batter came around to score to put Central up 1-0.

Ben Wainwright’s home run to left, right into the teeth of a brisk wind, tied the game in the second, though Cabot failed to cash in on Matthew Turner’s no-out triple later in the inning. Cabot also failed to get another runner in from third with less than two outs in the fifth after Central had taken the lead on a two-out RBI double by Jim Manney.

Nicholson singled and Ty Steele got him to third with a one-out single. But Chase Thompson was unable to get a safety squeeze down and Joe Bryant popped out trying to bunt as Cabot remained in a 2-1 hole after five.

The Panthers finally knotted it in the sixth on Tyler Erickson’s two-out RBI single that brought in courtesy runner Justin Tyler.

Reynolds pitched out of two-on, one-out jams in both the sixth and seventh innings. In the seventh, the Panthers survived the second of two mental mistakes in the game. An earlier miscommunication on a first-and-third situation nearly cost Cabot. The Tigers had one on with one out when Manney was issued an unintended-intentional walk. Wainwright misunderstood Fitch’s request for him to go talk to Reynolds to give Erickson more time to warm up to come in and face Manney.

“I told him go talk to him,” Fitch said. “But he thought I said to put (Manney) on. I should have been clearer.”

That pushed the tying run into scoring position. But Reynolds buckled down to get a strikeout and a bouncer back to the mound.

Cabot then produced the game winner with two outs when Joe Bryant drew a walk and Powell Bryant barely reached when the Central third baseman bobbled his grounder. Burks then lined a 1-0 pitch into left center for the victory.

“Drew is as clutch a player as I’ve ever had,” Fitch said. “His hands are so good, he could probably not even use his lower half and still get a hit.”

The other mental error Cabot survived came in the fourth inning when Wainwright and Reynolds got their signals crossed on a first-and-third situation. Central had the double steal on and Wainwright fired back to the mound rather than throw through to second base. Reynolds apparently thought Wainwright had signaled he would throw to second and wasn’t expecting the throw.

The ball hit Reynolds in the chest and the runner from third could not come in to score, so no damage was done on the miscommunication.

“He would have scored (if the ball had gotten away from Reynolds),” Fitch said. “The baseball gods usually punish you for doing stupid things. We were very fortunate there.”

Cabot had seven hits, led by Burks’ two singles.


Nicholson allowed five hits over five innings while striking out six. Reynolds came on in relief to nail down the win that ended Cabot’s three-game losing streak.

“We know Cole has it in him,” Fitch said. “I’ve only had one sophomore as good as him. When he has his ‘A’ game, for a sophomore, he’s pretty impressive.”

Cabot got RBI singles from their five- and seven-hole hitters and that was just enough. After going 1-2-3 in the first, the Panthers got a leadoff single from Ben Wainwright to open the second. Pinch runner Zach Uhiren stole second and came around with two outs when Tyler Erickson lined an 0-2 pitch into right for an RBI single.

The Panthers added another in the third on consecutive one-out singles by Drew Burks, Wainwright and Andrew Reynolds. Reynolds grounded his first offering through the hole at second to score Burks and make it 2-0.

Nicholson struck out six of the first 10 Wildcats he faced, including retiring five in a row via strikeout, while allowing only two hits over the first three innings. He ran into trouble in both the fourth and fifth innings but got a little good fortune and a couple of defensive gems to escape both with the two-run lead intact.

A single, a hit batter and an error loaded the bases with one out in the fourth. But Cabot third baseman Ty Steele snagged a line drive, then stepped on third for an inning-ending double play.

Nicholson escaped a jam in the fifth after a misplayed fly ball into left landed for a double with one out. But second baseman
Chase Thompson made a miraculous catch of a looping fly ball into right, gloving it with his back turned to the infield. Steele then dove to his right to backhand a hard hit groundball headed into the left field corner, got up and tagged the runner heading to third base for the final out.

Cabot had a couple of more chances for insurance in the fifth and sixth, but left both runners in scoring position.

After Nicholson surrendered a leadoff single in the sixth, Fitch called on Reynolds, who got a strikeout before giving up a single to put the tying runs on. David Hohn then hit a rocket, but right at Chase Thompson at second. A pop out ended the inning and the threat.

Reynolds then pitched a 1-2-3 seventh to preserve a much-needed win. He allowed one hit and struck out two over two innings to pick up the save.

Cabot got seven hits — two each by Wainwright and Erickson.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Arkansas and Cuba

Finally, President Obama has done something that won the accord of every member of the Arkansas congressional delegation, Republican and Democrats, a rarity for any president in the past three decades. And it was for so little, though potentially so much.

The president announced that he was relaxing restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ travel to Cuba and their ability to send money and gifts to family members on the island. He also will allow U. S. telecommunications companies to negotiate licensing agreements with Cuba so that there will be more communication among Cubans here and on the island through cell phones and satellite television.

As the current Cuban dictator, Raul Castro, said yesterday, that is not much of a gesture. Castro wants the United States to lift the trade embargo imposed on the country a half-century ago after the Batista dictatorship fell to Fidel Castro’s rebels. The blockade is what has brought hardship to Cubans, not the sanctions on travel and cash exchange, he said.

He is absolutely right, of course. That is also the view of the five Democrats and the single Republican from Arkansas who cheered the president’s minuscule gesture. Arkansas businesses and farmers — notably rice and poultry — want to enter the Cuban market, poor though it is. They are not much concerned about the plight of the Cuban people but of our own. The annual sale of a few cargoes of rice and chickens to Cubans would be a nice fillip to the sagging export economy of the state.

With some members of the Arkansas delegation —most, probably — political ideology, which has driven U. S. relations with Cuba for a half-century, always took a subordinate place to the exigencies of money. Sen. J. William Fulbright thought the trade restrictions were intemperate and self-defeating when they were imposed after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. His interests were not ideological but the rice and soybean farmers of the Arkansas Delta. Before his defeat in 1992, Rep. Bill Alexander Jr. was a lonely voice for changing relations with Cuba for the same reason, and Rep. Marion Berry has taken up the cause.

President Obama noticeably did not say that he planned to relax trade sanctions, but the little gesture on travel and gifts seemed to hint that reciprocal measures by the Castro government, perhaps the liberation of political prisoners, might lead to real change in relations. Rep. Vic Snyder called Obama’s announcement a baby step in the right direction. “There is so much more we can do that would be helpful both to the Cuban people and American national security,” Snyder said. “We need to have a robust economic relationship, and we need to eliminate the restraints on Americans traveling to Cuba. Arkansas raises the products that Cubans want to buy — poultry, rice, soybeans. Cuba’s very interested in quality agricultural products from the United States.”

All true, but there is much more to it than mutually beneficial trade. The hard-line policy followed by every administration since John F. Kennedy and every Congress has been an abject and transparent failure. The embargo was supposed to create such suffering and hardship that Cubans would rise up and overthrow the Castro regime.

Unilateral sanctions never produce those results, not in the Middle East, not in Asia, not behind the Iron Curtain and not in the Gulf of Mexico. They prove to be weapons for dictators, a way to show people that the United States is their enemy. It works for Iran, it worked for Saddam Hussein after he fell out with the first President Bush in 1990 and it worked for 50 years for Fidel Castro.

Trade, engagement and diplomacy also work for free-market democracies, if subtly and glacially.

If Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor, Mike Ross, Vic Snyder, Marion Berry and, yes, John Boozman know that, and say it, can a truly enlightened policy toward an old neighbor with so much intertwined history be far behind?

TOP STORY >> Conviction forces out city department chief

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Parks and Recreation director George Biggs resigned Tuesday after city officials learned that he is a convicted felon and had an extra-marital affair during work hours in the last 18 months.

“All I can say is that Mr. Biggs has tendered his resignation as parks department director,” Mayor Tommy Swaim said Tuesday, following an investigation of allegations that Biggs had served prison time in the early 1990s for killing a man in Texarkana, Texas.

On June 21, 1991, a jury found Biggs guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the shooting death of a man he believed was romantically involved with his wife, from whom he was separated. Biggs was 29.

He was sentenced to five years in the Texas Department of Corrections and fined $10,000. He served less than six months in prison and completed the remainder of his sentence on parole.

Biggs was hired in early 1995 by the city of Jacksonville to work in the Parks and Recreation Department. In late 1998, he was promoted to head the department. At the time, conducting background checks on prospective city employees was not a routine personnel practice.

According to the Texarkana, Texas, police report dated July 3, 1990, Biggs was charged with murder in the shooting of Bernard Walker. Biggs told police that he got into an argument with Walker in the parking lot of the apartment building where Biggs’ estranged wife lived.

Biggs had come to her apartment that day and saw Walker leave the apartment. According to Biggs, Walker threatened him with a six-inch knife, then got in his car.

Biggs then went to his vehicle, got a pistol, and then “got in a scuffle” through the window of Walker’s vehicle, causing the gun to discharge three times, Biggs told police. Several eyewitnesses said that they saw Biggs point and fire the gun into the car window. Walker died later at the hospital.

This Monday, Mayor Swaim received a copy of the arrest report and began an investigation to verify information about the arrest and outcome of the case. By mid-day Tuesday, Swaim had obtained enough information to confront Biggs about his past.

“The information was a shock to me,” Swaim told The Leader earlier in the day. “We are going to deal with this as expeditiously as possible.”

City officials were tipped off about Biggs’ past by a former Little Rock police officer and the mother of a woman who claims to have had an affair with Biggs, which started in 2007 and ended just over two months ago.

Tamara Ponomareff said she decided to come forward with the information after her daughter, who wishes to remain anonymous, told her that Biggs had divulged that he killed a man accidentally. With that, Ponomareff decided to seek out more information from the Texarkana police.

“I mean, how is it possible to accidentally shoot someone? How do you do that accidentally? You want to know the details,” Ponomareff said. “I verified everything. Then I became really concerned.”

Ponomareff said that the last straw was witnessing Biggs shove her daughter to the ground in front of the Jacksonville Community Center during an argument on Feb. 3. She says she went to Swaim because she felt that Biggs was unsuited for the job as director of parks and recreation.

“I feel like, in my heart, that he (Biggs) should not be involved with children, if he has a temper like that,” Ponomareff said.

Ponomareff said that the meeting with Swaim and city administrator Jay Whisker “went very well” and that both “were quite astonished. Their eyes popped out of their heads” as she talked about Biggs.

Swaim told The Leader Tuesday that he had little direct contact with Biggs on the job prior to his promotion to director of parks and recreation in 1998. After that, Biggs attended department head meetings chaired by Swaim.

“His performance has been good,” Swaim said. “George has done a good job and has managed his department well. I am confident nobody has been put in danger, but am disappointed in the circumstances.”

According to Ponomareff’s daughter, she and Biggs met in 2007 at a North Little Rock gym where she was employed and he came to work out. She says Biggs, for the first months they dated, led her to believe he was single, and then admitted to being married.

She said he gave her an engagement ring, insisted that his marriage was one of convenience – “like roommates” – and that he wanted a divorce so that he could spend the rest of his life with her. His promises and assurances of a future life together finally gave way to suspicions that he was also involved with other women. The relationship ended on Jan. 31.

Biggs has been active in Jacksonville community affairs, including service as president of the board of directors of the recently founded Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School, the city’s first charter school. He also serves as a church deacon.

According to Jill Ross, the city’s human resources director, it is against city policy to hire anyone convicted of a violent crime to work in a position involving contact with children. It is city policy to conduct national background and sex- offender registry checks, as well as drug screenings, on all prospective employees. Background checks on temporary workers are left to the employment agency that does the hiring for the city.

In light of what has happened, retroactive background checks on employees hired prior to implementation of the background checks might be “something we’ll have to look into,” Ross said.

TOP STORY >> Big crowd hears from candidates for mayor

Leader staff writer

Close to 300 residents listened to five of six candidates talk Monday evening about their goals and visions for Jacksonville and why residents should vote for them.

The only candidate not at the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum was Randy “Doc” Rhodd, who had a death in his family.

Each candidate was given seven minutes to talk to the overflow crowd. After their opening segment, the candidates mingled with the crowd taking questions from individuals and small groups.

Beckie Brooks summed it up for all the candidates during her segment. “We all love the city, we all want to make it a better place and we all want to be vigilant of Little Rock Air Force Base, which is the lifeblood of our city, and we all know the importance of having good schools.”

With all that in common, what was different about each candidate?

Brooks focused on the fact that she has never been elected or appointed to any government post, but that she was an “active taxpayer.”

Tommy Dupree pushed his lifelong involvement in the community starting back in 1963 by building homes. “We got the city going. There were no major builders in the city until we came along,” he said, adding that he was in some way instrumental in more than 50 percent of the industry and commercial businesses in the city.

Jody Urquhart pushed a separate school district, saying he was “truly behind this community getting its own district. Educational opportunities is what will bring people here,” he said.

Alderman Kenny Elliott pushed his leadership background as a member of the city council and his work with the Boys and Girls Club. “I am fully qualified to lead this city,” Elliott said, adding that he’s lived in Jacksonville all his life and planned to be a part of the city for the rest of his life.

Alderman Gary Fletcher also mentioned his nearly 31 years on the city council, but placed more emphasis on his empathy and ability to take on people’s problems.

“Sure I can talk to you about all the ordinances and resolutions I’ve been involved in, but, bottom line, we are in the people business,” he said. Fletcher was the only candidate to mention the need for more annexation.

Dupree was the only one to tout a commission to oversee the city’s police, fire and emergency services departments.

Brooks wants a citizens’ advisory panel to oversee the city’s policies and practices.

Elliott wants often traffic-jammed Vandenberg Boulevard revamped before the nearby joint education center is opened.

Urquhart stayed on his theme of better schools and giving his and everyone’s children a good education so they can have a better life.

Brooks and Elliott took opposing views on reopening the Graham Road railroad crossing, which some residents say has hastened the demise of the Sunnyside area.

“It’s a controversial topic,” Brooks said, “but it needs to be reopened in some fashion. Just drive from this side of town to that side and it’s not the same.”

Elliott, responding to a question from the audience, said he has looked into the situation, and “there is no way we can legally open that crossing without paying back the money.” The money he is referring to is the $3 million it took to build the Main Street overpass.

In her segment, Brooks went on to say, “At least two of the other candidates have been in city government for a long time. Why haven’t they been able to provide solutions to some of the city’s problems?”

She also told the crowd that she wants to produce a small-business directory and put one in every resident’s hands so they may shop Jacksonville first. Brooks also wants to see stronger programs for the elderly, and would have liked the residents to have voted on the 2-cent hamburger tax and wished the city’s 1-cent sales tax had a sunset clause.

Dupree, like all of the candidates, is for a separate school district.

“We’ve never had enough representation north of the river,” adding that even when his father was on the county school board “only two of the six members were from this side of the river,” he said.

“We’re always getting outvoted,” he added. Dupree wants the state Highway Department to fast-track the work being done on Hwy. 67/167. He said at the current rate, it will take 15 to 30 years. “I’d like to expedite that down to about seven years,” Dupree said.

He said there were too many accidents and lives lost on the highway and that causes many people to choose to live elsewhere.

Dupree provided State Police data that showed that there have been nearly 1,000 accidents in the 4.7-mile stretch from Kiehl Avenue to Vandenberg Boulevard from 2004 through 2006, including six fatalities.

Why the commission?

Dupree said the city has 14 commissions and eight committees, but none of them are over the police, fire and emergency services.

“I believe in oversight. The more people involved the more eyes we have,” he said.
The commission, according to Dupree, would work with department heads to monitor and set policy.

Urquhart took a look back at how the community has always come together over the past 20 years. “Everything we’ve done has been fantastic,” he said. “When the library was falling down, we went and built a new one, a showplace. When the swimming pool was beyond repair, we went out and built an aquatic park,” Urquhart said. But he added that it’s not those things that will bring residents to Jacksonville — it is a strong educational system.

He said, “Many people come into the city and see the blighted schools and hear about the problems and think Jacksonville doesn’t put forth the money or the effort.”

“A key to maintain Little Rock Air Force Base is getting its men and women back in the community and that can only be done with better schools,” he said.

“We lose those folks before they come here,” he said. “They want to educate their children elsewhere.”

Urquhart said that the city must change its path, and that it needs a new leader and a new direction. “We have to create a reason for our children and grandchildren to stay or return to Jacksonville. Do you want them eight miles down the road or two blocks away?”

Fletcher wants to annex everything north along Hwy. 67/167 up to the county line. “We need to expand,” he said.

He wants to get the word out that Jacksonville is the retirement center of central Arkansas.

Fletcher said the top issues for the community are education and the air base.

In a question regarding rising crime in Jacksonville, Fletcher said he recently met with the police chief and told him that he’d like to clean up the city within two years.

“Chief, you are going to tell me how we are going to do it,” he said.

Fletcher added that the city has a marvelous police department and the problem isn’t with them. “We are catching them,” he said, referring to lawbreakers.

Elliott said he wants to attract businesses and restaurants to fill the city’s empty buildings. The city and chamber need to work together on this, he said. Elliott also wants to create a volunteerism committee to tap into all of the city’s talent.

With so many candidates in the race, the chamber predicts there’ll be a runoff and plans to sponsor another forum between the two candidates in that runoff.

The election is set for May 12, and if there is a runoff it will be three weeks later.

TOP STORY >> Bond issue will exempt proposed new district

Leader staff writers

Although the Arkansas Department of Education denied a request by the Pulaski County Special School District to issue bonds for two new schools, the school board voted Tuesday not to saddle north Pulaski County with the debt if a new district is formed.

The board voted 5-2 on a motion brought by Bill Vasquez to exclude a new Jacksonville district from the debt.

Earlier, acting Superintendent Robert McGill vowed that the new school district would not be saddled with any of the debt that would come with the new bond issue.

“The (school) board is adamant that debt should be paid for by Pulaski County Special School District – not Jacksonville,” McGill told the state Education Board before it turned down the bond request on Monday. “Once it detaches, Jacksonville would not have to make payments on the issuance of the new $81 million bond.”

The state Education Board’s rejection validated the concerns of some PCSSD board members that district leaders had cobbled together an ill-conceived payment plan on the backs of district personnel requiring drastic staff cuts.

The money is intended for construction of a new high school in Maumelle and new middle school in Sylvan Hills. The bid for bond approval failed 3-4.

Before they were forced to resign, both Superintendent James Sharpe and Chief Financial Officer Larry O’Briant warned the board it could not afford the bond issue.

The board is also deciding whether to reapply to the state board to issue the bonds or scrap the construction plans.

Some PCSSD board members — including Shana Chaplin, Danny Gilliland and Mildred Tatum — Saturday night in a special meeting warned PCSSD board president Tim Clark of Maumelle that the plan he and McGill had hatched to pay off the bonds over 27 years might not bear scrutiny and in large part was conceived in secret.

Clark has been pushing for the mega high school in his Maumelle zone to be state-of-the-art and some board members say he’s ignored board policy if not state law.

The proposal included cutting a dozen or more vice principal positions to save $1.9 million a year, then restoring them with economic stimulus funds for job creation.
Commissioners were bothered that the proposed budget reduction, needed to meet debt payments, largely targets salaries.

As it was hammered out by the Pulaski County School District board at the special meeting Saturday night, the cuts include reducing administrators’ and teachers’ annual paid contracts by two days, cutting some assistant principals and other administrative positions, making the district’s food service more cost efficient and discontinuing payments to teachers who opt to take on bus duty.

Instead, the district would revert to a previous policy of mandated rotating bus duty for all teachers.

Commissioner Brenda Guilland called the idea “a real step backward” for teachers “who are professionals.”

McGill told state commissioners that the debt repayment plan did not consider any loss of revenue that would come with the district’s release from desegregation monitoring, because the timeline is unknown and is contingent upon the courts and any future negotiations that would occur with the separation of the north Pulaski schools from the larger county district.

After the meeting, McGill told reporters that he expected the lost funds would run about $9 million per year.

The timeline for when the funds would be reduced would depend on the federal court ruling on the district’s attainment of unitary status as well as negotiations that would occur between the Pulaski County district and a newly formed Jacksonville school district, were that to occur.

With so many unknowns, the commissioners advised McGill to go back to the board and get a clear plan before asking for state approval of the bonds.

Education commissioner Ken James cautioned his colleagues against approving “something of such magnitude without some clarity.”

Sam Ledbetter, a board member, called the request “an uncertain scenario.”

Commissioner Ben Mays said he was against such a large expenditure for “bricks and mortar,” rather than school programs.

Of the $81 million second-lien bond the district seeks, $51.4 million was earmarked for construction of the new high school and $28.6 million to construct the new Sylvan Hills middle school.

If the motion had passed, the district would have increased its bond indebtedness from $75.4 million to $156.8 million. Annual debt service would have doubled to $11 million, an amount that some board members, some commissioners and others say may be beyond the district’s ability to pay.

Commissioners expressed disapproval of the plan to issue bonds before the district had solidified its plan for repaying the new debt, which will amount to about $5.5 million annually, doubling current bond indebtedness.

As it stands, the district proposal does not take into account the loss of funding it will incur when and if its desegregation efforts are released from court-mandated monitoring—an eventual loss of nearly $20 million a year.

The plan also did not factor in the fiscal impact on debt repayment, were an independent north Pulaski County school district created.

That could mean a 30 percent pupil enrollment loss for the Pulaski County Special School District, with each student worth about $6,000 a year in state- foundation aid.

McGill told the state commissioners that their vote of approval was urgently needed so that the construction projects could go forward in time for the schools to open for the 2011-12 school year. After the meeting, McGill told reporters, “We’ll come back with a detailed plan to convince them in May.”

McGill told the commissioners that the school board is not obligated to negotiate the proposed budget cuts with the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and the Pulaski Association of Support Services, but that he intended to seek their approval before a final board vote.

He allowed that “would be a challenge” and “they may have their lists (of preferred budget cuts).”

“I want to look at those before I make my recommendation to the school board,” he said.

Marty Nix, president of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, said any change in teachers duties and compensation must be part of contract negotiations.

“The biggest issue is getting into the buildings by August 2011. Equivalent funding reductions will be approved by May 20,” McGill said. “They (the board) are committed to finding the money.”

McGill said that the decision was because “we hear complaints about our buildings over and over again – that’s something we have to fix.”

TOP STORY >> Area lawmakers are pleased with session

Leader senior staff writer

Area legislators—most of them greenhorns—were in the thick of things during the 87th General Assembly, which will probably be best remembered for taxing cigarettes to fund a statewide trauma center and approving a lottery to fund scholarships.

The action, while not as dramatic as some past years when lawmakers dug deep to fund court-ordered school improvements, also included other important legislation such as cutting $40 million in food taxes and extending the governor’s authority to propose highway bond issues.

Because of term limits, Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, and Sen. John Paul Capps, D-Searcy, have served in their last major General Assembly, although voters in November decided upon annual sessions, so another budget will be passed in 2010.

Glover tried unsuccessfully to refer an act to the voters that would allow them to eliminate the annual sessions and return to a biennial legislature.

Capps, on the other hand, was asked by Senate leader Bob Johnson, D-Bigelow, to create a template for the new even-year sessions.

“We came up with new rules, set a date for the beginning of the session, the budget hearings—everything is now ready for this (new) annual session,” Capps said.

“It was not a great session, but we were frugal, fiscally sound and funded education,” he said.

All 13 bills Capps sponsored this year became law. Eight were simple appropriations.

He carried one bill for Gov. Mike Beebe, which increases by one the number of representatives on the state medical board and requires representation from all four congressional districts.

He said that a new cigarette tax would fund a state trauma system, improve health units around the state and other health-related items. Capps said the trauma system would save many lives.


Glover said he was proudest of being the primary sponsor of the 1-percent reduction in grocery taxes, which he carried for Beebe. It was a campaign promise to eliminate the grocery tax and the governor and the state legislature have now eliminated four of the 5.12 percent they control.

As for the new, even-year meeting of the legislature, Glover said, “First and foremost, we’ll look at revenues and see if income comes in as projected. Hopefully we won’t have to adjust the budget.”

Glover also successfully handled a bill that extended for two years the governor’s authority to ask voters to create a $575 million a year fund for highway repair projects.

Glover sponsored a new law that provides a way for counties to make road-maintenance agreements with the haulers of heavy loads of materials and production fluids from gas exploration, and another requiring the sites where those materials are dumped to be restored when the dumps are full.

He stepped back from a proposal that would have required or allowed local approval before a disposal permit for such material could be issued. He said the gas drilling industry provides millions of dollars and many jobs in Arkansas communities and he didn’t want to hamper the drilling, but to protect the public as much as possible.


“My first impression was good,” said freshman Rep. Walls McCrary, D-Lonoke. “We accomplished a number of things everyone should be proud of.”

He said Republican and Democrats worked well together in the session.

McCrary, working in concert with Glover, gathered 70 of the needed 75 votes for the grocery tax cut before Rep. Rick Saunders, D-Hot Springs, took over. “It was a really good session for education.”

He cosponsored the bill extending the highway bonding authority for two years to 2015.


Rep. Davy Carter, R-Cabot, introduced 13 bills, three of which became law, but some he was most interested in did not.

“The thing I really wanted to push was my charity bill,” Carter said. “It had a lot of support.”

The bill, which was tabled in committee, would have allowed taxpayers to take $1.25 credit for each $1 donated to charity.

“The biggest learning curve for the new legislature was the budget process,” Carter said. “Until you go through the whole thing you don’t know.

“I’m ready to go back and get some things done,” he said.

“A lot of things got through that I fought against,” he said. He cited the cigarette tax and teen driving restrictions, which he said would hurt drivers and families in the Cabot and Jacksonville areas.

He handled some bills for the Arkansas Bar Association, including three laws that clarify the rights and responsibilities of parties in an asset-forfeiture action, a law that adds the prosecuting attorney, county sheriff or police chief to the list of those to be notified about deaths and also the state police, county coroner and state medical examiner for deaths that occur in prison.


“I though it went quite well,” said Rep. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, also a freshman.

She said major issues this session included the animal cruelty bill, lottery and the new tobacco tax, but “We’re much luckier than most other states that we can give a tax cut on food and reduce the tax on utilities for manufacturing interests and still have money to spread around the state.”

English said she voted against new fees and taxes across the board.

She called Rep. Dawn Creek-more, D-Hensley, a heroine for working on victims’ rights issues.

English sponsored a bill to exempt retired military pay from income tax, which has been referred for study to the interim joint committee on revenue and taxation.

She sponsored an act to remove barriers to educational success for military children, which included smooth, easy transfer of academic records and also sponsored an act that appropriates $9.7 million for construction of a veteran’s nursing home in North Little Rock.

She sponsored, then pulled down, a bill that would allow a homeowner to use deadly force when they feel threatened, a much lower standard than the current law, which limits use of deadly force if the homeowner can avoid it or retreat safely.

“In my discussions with the NRA and the concealed-carry group, they say they have enough on the books (now),” she said.


“We accomplished quite a bit in 88 days,” said Rep. Jim Nickels, D-Sherwood.

“My best moment was the property tax relief for the elderly and handicapped,” he said, which came quite early in the session.

“A couple of disappointments—I tried to get a handle on the hiring of illegal workers by contractors and also to bring the Arkansas minimum wage law in line with the federal minimum wage.

He got the bill out of the House, but got only four of the five votes needed to get it out of committee in the Senate.

“We stopped the bleeding on the funding of health insurance for school employees,” said Nickels, “but still not (those) employees who are not eligible for Medicare.”

He successfully sponsored a bill that includes homicide to the list of crimes, which, if performed in the presence of a child, allow for sentences to be enhanced by one to 10 years.


Rep. Mark Perry introduced two bills favorable to a Jacksonville/north Pulaski County school district. Neither got out of the House Education Committee. One would have allowed creation of a new public school district by an unopposed written resolution of an existing district from which territory will be detached.

The other called for an equitable division of assets and liabilities upon the creation of a new school district in Pulaski County.

Perry, an insurance agent, also sponsored a bill that would have prohibited publication or access to accident reports for 30 days “to discourage the filing of frivolous insurance claims.”


Rep. Jonathan Dismang, a freshman Republican from Dist. 49, says despite getting few bills passed, he had a good year. He learned a lot about the process, he said, and most of the bills he tried to get through for 2009 aren’t gone, they are just on hold until 2010.

He sponsored HB1563 to exempt active-duty military personnel from income tax on service pay or allowances.

“I can’t think of a group I’d rather have involved in state government than the military,” Dismang said.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

SPORTS >> Van Buren hurler puts clamps on Cabot bats

Leader sports editor

Between a bad strain of mononucleosis and an overpowering Van Buren pitcher, the Cabot Panthers find themselves reeling at just the wrong time.

The Panthers dropped their third in a row when Van Buren fireballer Brandon Moore shut them down on two hits on Saturday in a 4-0 Pointer win.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been overpowered like that,” said Cabot head coach Jay Fitch, whose Panthers fell to 3-5 in the 7A Central and 11-7 overall. “That guy was everything he was cracked up to be.”

The tall hurler has been clocked at 92 miles per hour and held Cabot to lone hits by Joe Bryant and Powell Bryant. He also struck out 10.

The Panthers have been decimated by mono, which has kept Matthew Turner out of the lineup for the past two weeks and Ben Wainwright out for a couple of games.

“I’ve got my fingers crossed that Ben and (third baseman) Ty Steele will be cleared to play (against North Little Rock last night),” Fitch said. “Otherwise, we may have to play a lot of junior varsity kids again. It’s been a tough week-and-a-half.”

The Panthers, expected to compete for a Central title with North Little Rock and Bryant, were decimated last fall by the loss of two key players when Matt Evans and Jackson Chism moved. An injury to critical two-hole hitter Powell Bryant caused him to miss the first 12 games and Matt Williams has been out for much of the season with illness.

It’s do-or-die time now for the Panthers, whose final four games are tough ones, starting with first-place North Little Rock yesterday. The Panthers host Little Rock Central on Thursday, and finish out league play with North Little Rock, Bryant and Van Buren next week and Conway on April 28.

Against Van Buren, Tyler Erickson was solid on the mound, allowing single runs in the first and sixth innings and two in the third. Fitch called on sophomore Cole Nicholson against a tough Charging Wildcats club yesterday.

“Cole has been lights out for us a couple of games this year, and then there have been other times he really struggled,” Fitch said. “If he starts out pretty good he can be tough.”

Cabot is tied for the sixth and final state tournament seed with Van Buren, while Central is a half-game ahead of both teams at 4-5.

“In my 10 years of coaching, I’ve only not made the tournament one time, so we really want to get healthy and get in there,” Fitch said. “It’s crunch time for us.”

SPORTS >> The Masters: So thrilling, it’s easy to forget your lunch

Leader sports editor

NASCAR has roar and raw power, basketball frenetic grace and non-stop action. Football offers us sheer brute force underneath all that speed and agility.

So it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that golf — a stoic, genteel, polyester game whose greatest showcase is introduced each year with a few treacly notes of the piano and a backdrop festooned with flowers — is the greatest spectator sport.

And yet I have risen from my couch to tell you that it is.

From 1 p.m. until some time shortly after six on Sunday afternoon, I was gloriously suspended above my life and cares, riveted by the action unfolding at the 75th Masters.

I became aware of my own piddling concerns only when smitten briefly with hunger pangs somewhere along the time Phil Mickelson was lining up a four-foot eagle putt on the 15th hole. (I had forgotten about lunch and grabbed a Triscuit shortly after Mickelson concluded his round).

Yes, it is an elitist sport played by men who were mostly pampered in their youth. Few golfers overcame traumatized family lives in inner city slums to reach the big time like in the NBA or NFL. Most of these fellows’ biggest concern as youngsters was whether to hit a knock-down six iron or a full-blown seven.

But what it lacks in inspiring up-from-the-bootstraps back stories, it more than makes up for in intense psychological drama and the demands it makes on the individual will.

On Sunday, we were offered two distinct dramas, though they very nearly melded into one. Mickelson and Tiger Woods were paired together in the final round of the Masters, an event most fervently wished for ever since the two became the two best golfers in the world a dozen years or so ago.

They weren’t in the final group — they were seven strokes off the pace, in fact — yet the five groups behind them, including the tournament leaders, were relegated to an afterthought as CBS honed in on the mano-a-mano between two golfers known for their icy personal relationship.

A brief handshake and an unsmiling staredown on the first tee, and the two were off on what quickly promised to become a classic showdown. Mickelson drilled his irons, laser-like, into the flags, birdieing six of nine holes to post a course-tying record 30 on the front nine.

Woods was no slouch, eagling No. 8 to post 33. Mickelson closed to within a single stroke of the lead before dumping his tee shot into the lake on 12 for double-bogey. Even then, Mickelson bounced back when both he and Woods birdied 13 and 15. But Mickelson’s birdie on 15 had to feel more like a bogey after he pushed a four-foot eagle putt that would have tied him for the lead.

Gut-wrenching stuff, especially after Tiger birdied 16 and he and Phil marched to the 17th tee, each six under for the day and a single shot out of the lead.

But the magic ended right there with Woods bogeying the final two holes and Mickelson missing another short birdie putt on 17 and bogeying 18.

The second drama of the day began shortly after the first one ended. Mickelson and Woods had combined to shoot nine under, but barring a fatal collapse by the three leaders left on the course, their pairing, however galvanizing, would become a footnote.

What makes the game of golf both so exhilarating and brutal to watch is that the players have no place to hide. A player can’t chalk up his own collapse to a foe’s exceptional defense. The fall from grace is his alone, along with each bad shot that went into its production.

So it is hard to witness a fellow implode, especially with so much on the line. Yet it is also why we watch. Kenny Perry, dubbed “nicest guy on the Tour,” had one arm in the green jacket when he birdied 15 and 16 and came to the 17th tee with a two-shot lead. But he bladed a chip shot at 17 for bogey and bunkered his drive on 18 for another bogey.

Meanwhile, Angel Cabrera offered us golf’s redeeming nature by making an all-or-nothing four-foot downhill putt on 18 to qualify for a playoff. I’ve stood over three-foot putts with absolutely nothing on the line and had to send groups behind me through while I put off hitting it. How these guys continued to pour in short putts all day has earned them my eternal awe.

Cabrera appeared all but doomed on the first playoff hole when he lay two in the middle of the fairway after tree trouble. But errant irons by Campbell and Perry followed by an approach to six feet by the Argentine gave him hope, and he cashed in when he rolled in the par putt shortly after Perry had saved par with a fantastic chip.

In a demonstration of another of the game’s special attributes — sportsmanship — Perry actually applauded Cabrera’s gutsy putt even though it ended up costing him the Masters.

Did that reveal an essential mental weakness on the part of Perry? Very possibly. I can’t imagine Tiger being as gracious, at least in the moment. It is Tiger’s singular focus, his nearly inhuman drive, that makes me pull against him. It serves him well, obviously, and I’m certain he’ll take his 14 majors over my acclaim any day.

Still, it was a heartwarming gesture by Perry.

It would have been almost impossible for the conclusion of the tournament on Sunday to have lived up to everything leading to it. Sure enough, Perry’s wayward approach and difficult chip on the second playoff hole allowed Cabrera to two-putt from 12 feet for the win.

Five hours of riveting emotion, 30 seconds of anticlimax. I’ll take it.

Such heartbreak, such triumph. Such a fantastic Sunday afternoon.

SPORTS >> Bears climb out of early hole to beat Searcy 11-6

Leader sportswriter

In a showdown of established tradition versus growing tradition, chalk the win up to the establishment.

Sylvan Hills had four-run sprees in the fourth and sixth innings to claim an 11-6 non-conference win over Searcy on Friday at Kevin McReynolds Field. A three-run home run by Nate Eller in the bottom of the fourth broke open what was a close game, and the defending 6A state champs Bears were also able to capitalize on several miscues by the Searcy defense.

“It was a game where both teams made a lot of mistakes,” said Bears coach Denny Tipton. “When Eller got the home run in the bottom of the third, that’s what broke it open for us. The wind was playing tricks, but we believe that if any ball is in the air, we should come down with it, so there’s no excuses there. We try to play the best teams in the state and be competitive.

Hopefully we’ll keep doing that.”

Blake Evans picked up the win on the mound for the Bears. Evans came in relief of starter Jordan Spears in the top of the third when Spears gave uptwo straight hits and walked Searcy designated hitter Tate Ruddell.

Lion starter Preston Tarkington lasted one inning longer, but gave up much more. Eller’s blast over the left field wall chased Tarkington for sophomore Zach Langley, who was replaced in the bottom of the sixth by starting catcher Mac Ellis.

The Bears got going in the bottom of the fourth of a 3-3 game with a leadoff walk to Evans. With two outs, Justin Treece reached on an error.

Ty Van Schoyck then doubled to left, bringing in Evans to make it 4-3 Bears. Eller followed with a home run to give Sylvan Hills a 7-3 lead.

Searcy got two of those runs back in the fifth when Ellis walked and eventually scored on a passed ball and Langley singled to score sophomore standout Dillon Howard to make it 7-5.

Howard, the big 6-4, 205 lb. underclassman, went 2 of 3 on the night with a double, and worked even harder on the defensive side, playing third base, first base and catcher.

Blake Baxendale got Sylvan Hills’ final hit of the game in the bottom of the sixth to drive in Van Schoyck and Eller. Van Schoyck walked and Eller was hit with a pitch. Spears, who also walked, came across with the Bears’ final run on Michael Maddox’s sacrifice fly.

Searcy scored Ellis in the top of the seventh after he reached on a double to lead off the inning. He scored on Langley’s Evans-to-Treece-to-Spears double play. Evans ended it by striking out Tarkington.

It was Searcy that struck first in the opening frame. Jonathan Luthe walked from the two hole, followed by a double by Ellis and a walk for Howard to load the bases with only one out.

A single to left by Langley scored Luthe and Howard to give Searcy a 2-0 lead, but the Bears got out of the jam with a double play.

Van Schoyck singled and advanced on a double by Eller in the first inning. Van Schoyck came in on a fielder’s choice by D.J. Baxendale. Blake Baxendale tied the game in the bottom of the second when he walked and later scored on a passed ball, and Van Schoyck answered a score by Searcy’s Langley in the top of the third. Van Schoyck reached when his grounder to shortstop was mishandled, and eventually scored on the front end of a double steal.

Van Schoyck was 2 of 2 with a double, an RBI and four runs scored. Eller was 2 of 3 with a home run and three RBI. For Searcy, Ellis was 2 of 3 with two doubles and three runs scored. Howard was 2 of 3 with a double and Langley was 2 of 3 with four RBI.

Sylvan Hills improved to 22-1 on the season, and was scheduled to resume 5A-Southeast Conference play on Tuesday against Mills. The Bears will wrap up league play the following Tuesday at Beebe in a doubleheader.

Searcy (10-0 conf.) will play at West Memphis today in a 6A-East Conference matchup, and will close out league play the following Tuesday at home with a doubleheader against Hall.

SPORTS >> MSRA invades Beebe

Leader sportswriter

The Mid South Racing Association will make the first of three scheduled appearances at Beebe Speedway this Friday. The 40-lap, $2,000-to-win event at the quarter-mile sandy clay oval will be the fourth race on MSRA’s 24-date 2009 schedule.

It also marks the first time that the series based out of Beebe will run at its hometown track. Late-model racing returned to the track in 2007 after a 12-year hiatus with the now defunct Arkansas Motorsport Professionals, but Friday’s race will mark the first super late-model event under the MSRA banner.

The series, which is led by director Chris Ellis and Cary Jones of Beebe, has already made history in 2009 with last week’s trip to Riverside International Speedway in West Memphis, the oldest operating race facility in the state. Riverside had not hosted a super late model race in 20 years when the MSRA pulled 33 drivers from seven different states to the quarter-mile, gumbo-surfaced facility.

The race brought nostalgia to race fans with veteran drivers Larry Potter of Alexander and Terry Henson of North Little Rock leading the bulk of the laps before bad luck took them both out of contention. In the end, it was MSRA points leader Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville taking the win with a bold last-lap pass against Houston, Texas, driver Howard Willis.

Friday’s race will be a series challenge race with the MARS DIRTcar series based out of Missouri, which will bring even more big names to the track. Joining MSRA regulars Moyer Jr., Kyle Beard, Jeff Floyd, defending champ Joey Mack and 2008 Rookie of the Year Jon Kirby will be Springfield, Mo., driver Terry Phillips, Will “The thrill” Vaught out of Crane, Mo., Greenbrier’s Jack Sullivan and Wendell Wallace of Batesville, who has already posted four wins in 14 starts early on in the 2009 season.

It will be the first of a three-day triple header for the MSRA and MARS series. The two tours, which are both sponsored by O’Reilly Auto Parts, will travel north to West Plains, Mo., on Saturday, and wrap up the weekend in nearby Monett the following night.

For Ellis, having his series run at Beebe Speedway where he once flagged and helped manage with promoter Terry Butler is special to him for a number of reasons. Ellis resides in Beebe, where he is an administrator at Beebe High School.

“It’s exciting to have a race in my home town,” said Ellis. “To be where we live, and at a place where I used to manage. It’s going to be even better with it being in conjunction with MARS. That will bring guys like Terry Phillips and all of their regulars down to race at Beebe. It should be a big draw. It’s a good way for us to help support our local track.”

The track surface at Beebe has felt the effects of all the rainy weather in the area this spring. New promoters Harold and Kevin Mahoney have already had to cancel one weekend of racing in the first month due to wet conditions, and the last two weeks of racing has been a struggle to prevent rutting on the track.

With the heavier super late models, which also generate close to 600 horsepower, coming to the track, Ellis is bringing in former pit steward and track-prep specialist Brian Voiles to assist this week.

Ellis is not only the director for the series, but also dutifully climbs the flag stand for every MSRA heat and feature. While Ellis doesn’t have a particular desire to continue being a flagman, he said it is much better than some of the other tasks involved in running a late-model series.

The Riverside race was a challenge race with the Louisiana SUPR series, which has longtime series flagman David Corbello.

That gave Ellis an opportunity to try out a different detail.

“I had to chase down (cars with) flats the other night,” Ellis said. “That was a completely new experience for me. I was like a duck out of water. My drivers and crew like for me to flag. It’s most of the same people that work or have worked at Batesville at one time or another, so they’re all used to my way of doing things on the flag stand. I’m just more comfortable up there.”

Racing at Beebe Speedway will begin at 8 p.m. with heat races for the regular weekly classes and MSRA late models.

Monday, April 13, 2009

TOP STORY >> Cancer survivor visits White House

Leader staff writer

Looking at 13-year-old Shelby Clinton of Sherwood, no one would think he is a six-year survivor in a battle against cancer.

Clinton, who’s been cancer-free for four years now, was recently named the Arkansas Children’s Hospital representative to a Children’s Miracle Network Gathering of Champions — youngsters from across the country and numerous foreign countries who have battled debilitating injuries and illnesses — in Orlando, Fla., and Washington.

In Orlando, Clinton, along with the rest of the champions and their families, enjoyed time at Disneyworld with corporate sponsors of the Children’s Miracle Network. Then it was off to tour Washington and meet President Obama.

Clinton, who considers himself a Republican, said it was a great honor to meet the president, a Democrat, but was more excited about meeting Miss America, Katie Stam of Indiana.

When asked what he thought of Miss America, the Lakewood Middle School student just smiled, blushed and giggled.

Of meeting the president, Clinton was surprised that there wasn’t more Secret Service agents around him. “He was very casual and shook all of our hands,” Clinton said.

The youngster admitted he didn’t get to speak directly to the president or ask him any questions, “but one of the kids in our group did ask if we could play on the new playground equipment on the South Lawn of the White House.”

“The president said sure, and if anyone says anything, you just tell them I said it was okay,” Clinton reminisced.

The playground equipment had just been installed as a surprise to Obama’s daughters. “They played on it that day, and we played on it the next. That was pretty cool,” the youngster said.

Besides the playground and getting to pose with Miss America and country singer Mark Wills, Clinton liked all the usual tourist stops in Washington.

“It’s a really big city,” he said, “and the Washington Monument is really tall.”

Clinton and others even got to have lunch in the Senate building and he met Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), but didn’t get to see any of the Arkansas senators.

The youngster said his favorite exhibit in the Smithsonian was the Hope Diamond.

He is the son of Darlene and Bill Clinton and has an older sister, Sara, and older brother, Chris.

Clinton was a 7-year-old second-grader when doctors discovered a cancerous tumor on his brain.

“I wasn’t feeling good. I had headaches and was throwing up at school. At first they thought it was the flu. But when the medicines didn’t help and I was still sick, the doctors looked again,” the teen explained.

“The doctor at the family clinic thought he spotted something and sent me for a CT scan that day. The scan showed the tumor and I went straight into the hospital and had surgery three days later,” Clinton said.

That was in December 2003.

The surgery was followed by a year’s worth of radiation and chemotherapy.

Clinton missed the second half of second grade and started third grade going mostly half days when he had the strength.

His mother Darlene said it was rough on his second-grade classmates. “Shelby was there one day and then he was gone,” she said.

Darlene Clinton said she went to the classroom a number of times and explained to the youngsters what was going on and gave them updates.

Clinton said he was scared during the surgery and treatments. “To me, it wasn’t normal. It wasn’t supposed to be happening to a kid,” he said.

Clinton can’t say enough about his doctor at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

“My doctor at Arkansas Children’s Hospital wasn’t just a doctor that gives medicine. He cared for his patients and made them feel better. I want to be a doctor like him when I grow up,” he said.

But Clinton found out quickly that a surprising number of kids had cancer. “I made a lot of friends while I was at the hospital, and some of them didn’t make it,” he said.

When not getting good grades in school or playing soccer and basketball, Clinton gives a lot of his time and energy back to the hospital and the Children’s Miracle Network.

“They gave me so much, I’m happy to give back,” Clinton said.

Clinton has done radio and television spots and talked to a number of groups about his experience.

The Children’s Miracle Network Champions program honors remarkable children from the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Australia who have triumphed despite severe medical challenges.