Friday, April 23, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Blanche goes after Wall St.

When was it ever so necessary that a politician show that he or she can stand up to Wall Street and the financial industry? Not since 1929 and probably not even then. But Democrats and, yes, even Republicans are accusing the other party of being soft on the bankers and the other profiteers who rigged complex financial schemes that nearly brought the country to ruin.

For a day or two this week, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, our senior senator, established herself as chief scourge of the financiers who brought the nation to the precipice and then were rewarded with a rescue by the taxpayers. She introduced a bill to provide some transparency to the trading of derivatives, the mysterious instruments that were praised for years as innovations that stabilized the housing market but, in fact, were illusory substitutes for good old bank deposits. Most derivatives would have to be traded on the open market and monitored by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. Lincoln said her bill was the toughest of all the regulatory proposals working their way through Congress.

That is debatable and, in fact, is almost certainly not true, but she offers a great improvement over the totally unregulated system that still exists nearly two years after the fall. Lincoln pushed her bill through the Committee on Agriculture, which she chairs, and briefly collared the headlines from the president and the Democratic and Republican leaders quarreling over the central regulatory proposal, which Lincoln’s party will try to push to a vote this month. Lincoln is negotiating with Sen. Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Banking Committee, and Majority Leader Harry Reid to have her derivatives bill laced into the big financial overhaul.

Lincoln’s is a pretty tough bill, which seemed to shock the friendly Republicans on her committee, who thought they were working together for what they called reasonable regulation. Lincoln suddenly produced a far more rigorous regulatory scheme than they had been talking about and ran it through. It required that major swaps go through a central clearinghouse and prohibited banks that trade derivatives from getting taxpayer rescues or participating in federal deposit insurance and some federal loan programs. The Republicans wondered what happened.

Here’s a clue: Bill Halter. Lincoln is in the fight of her life, challenged from the left in her own party primary and trailing a gaggle of nondescript Republicans in the polls. Halter, just a little deceitfully, is characterizing Lincoln as a tool of Wall Street. Like most Republicans and Democrats, she voted for the bailout of financial institutions when President George W. Bush said it was necessary to save the country, and she has taken lots of campaign cash from the captains of finance.

She had to establish her bona fides as a populist at a time when even gold-plated Republicans like Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. John Boehner were trying to seize the ground. It may or may not prove to be good politics, but whatever Lincoln’s impulses were, she did the right thing.

Her addition will make the good Senate financial overhaul bill an even better one, though not as good as it ought to be. Hard-eyed regulation of an industry that accounts for a third of the profits of American enterprise, which has been catastrophically missing for the dozen years since Congress scrapped the Glass-Steagall Act, is clearly needed, but even better would be some steps to bring the financial industry down to size. None of the politicians in either party or the president seem willing to do that.

TOP STORY >> Lonoke forum draws crowd

Congressional candidates at a forum at the Lonoke Community Center.


Leader senior staff writer

Billed as a debate, but actually a forum, eight hopefuls seeking to replace retiring First District Rep. Marion Berry each answered eight questions asked by moderator Roby Brock, host of Talk Business, at the Lonoke Community Center Thursday night.

About 100 people, including the 50-person Lonoke County Leadership Training Class, which organized the forum, gathered to learn more about Democrats Steve Bryles, Chad Causey, David Cook, Terry Green, Ben Ponder and Tim Wooldridge and Republicans Rick Crawford and Princella Smith.

Bryles, a state senator from Blytheville, is a farmer and a businessman. He said education, front and center, is his primary concern, plus economic development and affordable health care. He said he helped create 2,700 new jobs in Mississippi County.

Bryles said “lack of confidence” is the biggest problem, especially with spending out of control. “I would propose a balanced budget amendment,” he said.

Causey, Berry’s chief of staff and recently graduated from law school, said he was raised by a single mom and sacked groceries as a boy. He said he’s most concerned by “the $12 trillion debt, two wars we must win,” and jobs for Arkansans.

“Day one—I would offer an amendment to balance the federal budget,” he said.

He said job creation “right here at home,” was another top priority. Also, we have to be energy independent, using all sources including nuclear.

Cook, a state representative, a retired school administrator and Vietnam War veteran, said he worked on a farm and in the rice fields until he was 18.

“I walked the rice levees with a roll of tar paper,” he said. “I’ve owned three businesses and bring a lot to the table.” He’s lived in seven of the 26 counties in the First District, 13 years in Lawrence County where he was superintendent of Hoxie schools.

Crawford, an Army veteran, rodeo announcer and agriculture reporter living in Jonesboro, says the nation’s on the hook for $56.5 trillion, with interest payments of $340 million an hour. He wants to go to Washington as a citizen legislator who understands how to balance a checkbook.

He says he would remove restrictions on gas and oil drilling on the continental shelf and federal lands and move forward with nuclear energy.

He said unfunded mandates were a huge liability, that Congress spends like drunken sailors, except Sailors spend their own money. He would offer a balanced-budget amendment.

Green, a “small-town bone surgeon” and Marine veteran, was raised in DeWitt. He said he likes rice fields and things that turn green and finds the district a wonderful land to live in, fish and hunt.

“Jobs and deficit spending,” are the biggest problems, he said. “It won’t be solved unless the mothers get their kids up and get them into church on Sunday morning.”

He said he was good at fighting and “I’ll fight for you.”

Ponder, a businessman and educator from Mountain Home, has degrees in communication and Christian studies. “As I travel the 26 counties, I’ve not met anyone who thinks the country is on the right track,” he said. His main concerns are health care, education and telecommunications—broadband.

He said the problem with Congress was “a handful of good kings, too many bad kings and a lack of trust. Corruption is in our own hearts,” he said.

Smith of Wynne is the granddaughter of a share cropper and the daughter of educators. A former aid to Rep. Newt Gingrich, she says she’s got the energy and tenacity to stop spending out of control.

“The citizens are the bosses,” she said. She graduated from Ouachita Baptist University with a degree in political science.

She said the economy would be her top priority. Too much money was paid out bailing out the banks and in stimulus, but nothing had been done for small business.

Wooldridge, a Jonesboro resident and former state senator, became executive director of the Arkansas Association of Public Universities in 2007 and is vice president of a medical foundation.

“The best stimulus is a good job,” he said.

“Job creation is absolutely number one. We have to create 35 million new jobs.”

TOP STORY >> Base teacher in abuse case investigated

Leader staff writer

There is no deadline for the investigation to end into allegations of abuse by a first-grade teacher at Arnold Drive Elementary School, say Pulaski County Special School District officials.

The school is located on Little Rock Air Force Base.

“It really just depends on the process for both the investigation and what could happen afterwards,” said Deb Roush, spokesperson for PCSSD. “There really is an array – a whole host of things that could happen.”

Possible outcomes range from the teacher being found innocent and allowed to return to her classroom to being terminated, or something in between. If that occurs, she has the right to file a grievance. Hearings and appeals could go all the way to the state Board of Education.

Citizens too have the right to file a complaint with the state Department of Education Professional Licensure Standards Board about a teacher’s conduct. Penalties range from a written reprimand to permanent revocation of license.

The Arnold Drive Elementary School teacher accused of abuse is suspended, pending the conclusion of the investigation by the district. According to the children who say they were either victims or witnesses, she solely targeted boys, about six of the class of 20 students. Pulling them off the ground by the collars, thumping on the head or neck, yanking ears, as well as threats and demeaning comments, were among the things she is accused of.

The teacher is in her first year in the classroom. Witnesses say she is in her mid-20s.

The situation came to the attention of the PCSSD school board Tuesday when mothers of two children taught by the alleged abuser spoke at the board meeting. Afterwards, one of the women, who did not want to be identified, said she decided to speak publicly only because of concerns about how the situation had been handled initially by the district.

Also present at the board meeting was Lisa Otey, wife of Col. Greg Otey, LRAFB 19th Airlift commander. In a letter to the board about the alleged abuse, she called for “an expeditious, full and complete investigation into the matter.”

According to parents’ accounts, the teacher was removed from the classroom on April 8, after several parents complained to the school principal. Then without parents first being notified, the teacher was reinstated by acting Superintendent Rob McGill on April 19. But, by the end of that day, the teacher was again removed from the classroom after parents found out she was there and called in June Elliott, deputy superintendent for PCSSD. Up to that point, Elliott had been unaware of the alleged abuse.

Parents are troubled by the fact that the teacher was back in class last Monday without their knowing beforehand so they could prepare their child or keep him or her home. They say that rumors have been out of control at the school among parents and faculty because the administration has not communicated to all parties about what has happened.

The parent speaking off the record was complimentary of the actions by Elliott.

“She got us all together – parents and students – and interviewed all of us separately, and told the parents she wanted written statements about what our children had told us,” the mother said. “She asked us questions that I had not even thought to ask.”

The level of detail and collaboration between the various children’s accounts, gathered in separate interviews, was compelling, the mother said. She says she is “absolutely” convinced her son is telling the truth. He claims the teacher occasionally mistreated him; it was watching his friends being abused “often” that prompted him to tell his parents, his mother said.

What has come out was “a total shock,” the mother said, because relations with the teacher have been smooth and her son has done well academically.

“She has done good things in that classroom. She taught them how to read,” she continued. “No one is gunning for her; it is just that we don’t want her to be teaching little kids. Maybe she could teach high school, because no way would bigger kids put up with it.”

Otey said she is disturbed by the fact that some individuals on base are saying that high-ranking personnel, whose children are affected, are ganging up on the teacher. That is totally false, Otey said.

“One child is an officer’s son. Another is a master sergeant’s son, and the rest are E5 and below,” Otey said.

For now, the parents want to give the district a chance to complete the investigation, Otey said. “But, if we don’t find it satisfactory, we will be back on them. We won’t drop the ball.”

Otey said Arkansas now has a Professional Licensure Standards Board for teachers and a process for addressing allegations of non-compliance, including incidences of abuse. She said she has already contacted the Arkansas Department of Education about that.

In the first year of the board’s existence, 150 complaints were filed with the standards board. Relations with students, competency, honesty in reporting, public funds, integrity, confidentiality during testing, drugs and alcohol and criminal behavior were the bases for complaint.

Before the establishment of the standards board, it was difficult to revoke a teacher’s license.

Julie Thompson, spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Education, said, “If there is a bad apple in the teacher pool, their license can be taken away and the problem alleviated.”

TOP STORY >> PCSSD lags, although it is spending much more

Leader staff writer

This is the second in a series of three articles focusing on the 2009 Arkansas School Performance Report Card.

Pulaski County Special School District, which includes Sherwood and Jacksonville schools, has higher teacher salaries and spends more per student than the state average, but nine of its schools are in severe academic trouble. Four of those nine schools are in the local area.

The 2009 annual performance report card ranks schools in 13 categories, under the No Child Left Behind Act’s adequate yearly progress guidelines, from achieving standards down to state-directed rehabilitation.

The district has 12 schools in the top category—including Sylvan Hills and Northwood middle schools—and nine at the bottom—such as Jacksonville and North Pulaski high schools.

The report also shows that out of the district’s 37 schools, five were cited with accreditation problems and another eight are on probationary status.

The report also ranks schools under the improvement school ratings or gains model. Schools can be ranked in one of five categories, ranging from “Excellence for Improvement” down to “In Need of Immediate Improvement.”

The district has none in the top category and one in the bottom category. It has eight schools listed as exceeding standards, 14 meeting standards and eight approaching standards (on alert status).

The district spends $10,438 per student, while the state average is more than $2,000 less, at $8,308. The average salary for district teachers is $48, 906, which is about $3,000 higher than the state average of $45,826.

Plus, among those PCSSD students who go to college, close to two-thirds of them will need remedial classes because they didn’t gain the skills in high school. This problem is aggravated by the district having a grade-inflation rate almost three times higher than the state average.


To determine grade inflation, the state compares the students who get A’s and B’s to how they do on the benchmark. A rate of 20 or higher shows that the grades are inflated. PCSSD has a rate of 26.4

These are just some of the highlights on the district’s 2009 Arkansas School Performance Report Card, the state’s annual review of all public schools, recently mailed out to district families.

“We send this information to each student’s home in order to empower parents and community leaders to become more involved in helping local schools provide quality education for students,” said Dr. Charity Smith, assistant commissioner of public school academic accountability for the state Education Department.

The 17,410-student district had an attendance rate of 94.3 percent for the 2008-2009 school year, a graduation rate of 71.7 percent and dropout rate of 4 percent.

The attendance rate is about even with the state average and the dropout rate is a point higher than the state average; the graduation rate is about three percentage points higher than the state’s rate of 68.2 percent.

Even though the graduation rate was better than the state’s average, it’s the lowest in PCSSD in the past three years. The dropout rate has been sliced close to half in the past three years going from 7.3 percent down to the current 4 percent.

The district’s 2009 report card shows that 41 first-graders (2.7 percent) were retained, 19 second-graders (1.2 percent), 21 third-graders (1.4 percent), no fourth-graders, 2 fifth-graders (0.1 percent), 25 sixth-graders (2 percent), 31 seventh-graders (2.5 percent) and 32 eighth-graders (2.7 percent).

The district had an expulsion rate of only 0.2 percent; weapons incidents and staff assaults were at 0.3 percent and student assaults were at 0.4 percent.


Looking at the individual schools (alphabetically) in the district, Arnold Drive Elementary is one of the few schools that is exceeding improvement standards based on the gains model and is achieving standards under the NCLB guidelines for adequate yearly progress.

But the on-base school’s accreditation was cited for problems. Citings usually involve teacher- license deficiencies, improper class sizes or failure to provide required reports.

The school, which has 218 students, has an attendance rate of 95.3 percent.

It retained one first-grader (2.1 percent), one second-grader (3.1 percent) and one third-grader (3.3 percent). The school reported no expulsions or other major discipline problems.

Just 50 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, making it one of the few area schools with a rate below the state average of 55.9 percent.


Bayou Meto Elementary is listed as an accredited school which is meeting improvements under the gains model and is achieving standards under the NCLB’s adequate yearly progress guidelines.

The school, with 359 students, has an attendance rate of 93.7 percent, a slight improvement over the two previous years.

In the 2008-2009 school year, Bayou Meto retained seven first-graders (2.7 percent), two second-graders (2.3 percent), one third-grader (1.5 percent) and one fifth-grader (2 percent).

The school had no expulsions, but the rate of staff and student assaults was at 0.3 percent.

Almost 57 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, about a point higher than the state average of 55.9.


Cato Elementary is an accredited school that is on alert status both by the gains model and under parameters of the NCLB adequate yearly progress method. Under the gains model, the school is considered to be approaching standards, but under NCLB the school is in the “first year not to meet standards.”

The school, with 327 students, had an attendance rate of 94.9 percent.

It retained one first-grader (2.6 percent) in 2008-2209 and two second-graders (4 percent).

Student assaults came to 0.6 percent of its discipline problems.

The school had 65.1 students eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Clinton Elementary in Sherwood is an accredited school approaching standards, meaning it’s on alert status under the gains model, but is achieving standards under NCLB.

The school, with 678 students, has an attendance rate of 95.4 percent.

The school retained nine first-graders (6.9 percent), five second-graders (2.9 percent) and one third-grader (1 percent).

The school had no expulsions, but weapons incidents and student assaults were 0.1 percent each of the total discipline problems.

Almost 57 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Warren Dupree Elementary is exceeding improvement standards under the gains model and is achieving standards according to NCLB guidelines, yet it’s on accreditation probation.

A school can be place on accreditation probation for a number of reasons including teacher license deficiencies, failure to teach required courses, lack of required staff, improper class sizes or failure to correct a cited problem within a given time.

Dupree, with 284 students, has a very strong attendance rate of 96.2 percent, up about two points from the 2006-2007 school year.

The school retained two first-graders (4.9 percent) and two third-graders (4.3 percent).

The school had no expulsions, but 0.7 percent of its disciplinary problems were weapons incidents.

Three out of four students, or 75 percent, were eligible last school year for free or reduced lunch.


Harris Elementary’s accreditation has been cited for problems. Under the gains model, the school is exceeding improvement standards, but is in year one of targeted school improvement under the NCLB parameters.

Harris, with 212 students, has an attendance rate of 92.9 percent.

In 2008-2009, the school retained one second-grader (3 percent).

Weapons incidents and staff assaults were both at 0.5 percent of the school’s disciplinary problems. Student assaults came in at 0.9 percent.

Nearly 95 percent of the students, which is about 35 percentage points above the state average, are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Even though Jacksonville Elementary is exceeding improvement standards under the gains model, it is nine rungs down the ladder on the NCLB scale which has the facility in “whole school intensive improvement.” The school is properly accredited and is one of the few where there are more teachers with master’s degrees (57.2 percent) than those with bachelor’s degrees (42.8 percent).

Jacksonville Elementary, with 537 students, has a 93.6 percent attendance rate.

The school retained one second-grader (1.2 percent) and three third-graders (4.2 percent).

The school reported no major disciplinary problems.

Slightly more than 86 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch programs.


Murrell Taylor Elementary’s accreditation is on probation, and the school is near the bottom level of NCLB’s adequate yearly progress chart. The school is in the 11th of 13 categories–“whole school intensive improvement.” The school is also approaching standards (alert status) based on the gains model.

The school, with 407 students, has an attendance rate of 94.1 percent.

It retained two first-graders (2.7 percent) and one second-grader (1.3 percent) last year.

The school had no expulsions, but staff assaults accounted for 2.2 percent of total discipline problems and weapons incidents were at 0.7 percent.

More than 88 percent of the school’s students are eligible for free or reduced lunches, about 30 percentage points above the state average.

Oakbrooke Elementary in Sherwood is an accredited school that is exceeding improvement standards based on the gains model, but is in “year two of targeted school improvement” under the NCLB guidelines.

The school, which has 464 students, has an attendance rate of 95 percent.

Oakbrooke retained one first-grader (2.1 percent), one second-grader (3.1 percent) and one third- grader (3.3 percent) during the 2008-2009 school year.

Staff assaults comprised 0.2 percent of the school’s disciplinary problems.

About 43 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, less than the state average of 55.9 percent.


Pinewood Elementary is one of the few PCSSD elementary schools that is accredited, meeting improvement standards and achieving standards.

The school, with 416 students, has an attendance rate of 94.6 percent.

It retained four first-graders (6.1 percent) and four third-graders (6.7 percent) last year.

The school reported no major discipline violations, and 65.4 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Tolleson Elementary is an accredited school achieving standards under NCLB guidelines, but is approaching standards (alert status) under the gains model.

The school, with 320 students, has an attendance rate of 95 percent.

It retained two first-graders (4.1 percent) and one second-grader (1.8 percent) last year.

Tolleson reported no major disciplinary problems.

Almost 63 percent of its students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.


Sherwood Elementary’s accreditation was cited in 2008-2009 for problems. The school is approaching standards (alert status) based on the gains model, but is achieving standards under NCLB guidelines.

The school, with 375 students, has a 94.3 percent attendance rate. The school also has more teachers with master’s degrees (53.6 percent) than bachelor’s degrees (42.9 percent).

The school retained two first- graders (3.4 percent) in 2008-2009.

Staff assaults constituted 0.5 percent of the school’s disciplinary problems.

Close to 60 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Sylvan Hills Elementary is an accredited school approaching standards (alert status) under the gains model, but is in “year one of whole school improvement” based on NCLB parameters.

The school, with 404 students, had a 94.5 percent attendance rate for 2008-2009. Sixty percent of its teachers have master’s degrees.

The school retained one first-grader (1.8 percent) and one second-grader (1.5 percent). It reported no major discipline problems.

Slightly more than 65 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.


Even though the boys and girls Jacksonville middle schools have been combined back into one school for this year they were two separate campuses for the 2008-2009 school year.

The girls’ middle school was an accredited school listed as meeting improvement standards under the gains model, but was in the 12th out of 13 levels–whole school intensive restructuring–based on NCLB standards.

The school, with 360 students, had an attendance rate of 94.6 percent. Close to 55 percent of the teachers have a master’s degree.

The school listed no retentions for the 2008-2009 school year.

Its expulsion rate was at 1.1 percent. Weapons incidents comprised 0.6 percent of the school’s disciplinary problems, while staff assaults was at 0.8 percent and student assaults at 1.7 percent.

Nearly 73 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, much higher than the state average of 55.9 percent.

The boys’ middle school’s accreditation was on probation, but the school was meeting improvement standards under the gains model.

But under the NCLB parameters, the school was in “year two of whole school improvement.”

The school, with 356 students, had a 95.2 percent attendance rate. The school had no retentions in 2008-2009.

Student assaults came to 0.3 percent of the school’s total discipline problems.

Nearly 80 percent of the students were eligible for free and reduced lunch.


Northwood is on accreditation probation and is at the “state directed” level (the bottom of 13 categories) based on NCLB standards. But under the gains model it is meeting improvement standards.

The school, with 637 students, has an attendance rate of 94.4 percent.

It retained two sixth-graders (1 percent), three seventh-graders (1.4 percent) and three eight-graders (1.4 percent) last school year.

The school’s expulsion rate was 0.2 percent. Weapons incidents were 0.5 percent of the school’s discipline problems and staff assaults came in at 0.2 percent.

About 55 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.


Based on the report, Sylvan Hills Middle School also has problems.

It is accredited but it is in the bottom category under NCLB.

It is in the “state directed” category meaning the state has stepped in because benchmark and end-of-course test scores have been consistently low for a number of years.

Under the gains model, the school is approaching standards (alert status).

The school, with 667 students, has an attendance rate of 94.3 percent. The school has more teachers with master’s degrees (49.2 percent) than bachelor’s degrees (45.9 percent).

In the 2008-2009 school year, Sylvan Hills retained seven sixth-graders (3 percent), 10 seventh-graders (4.1 percent) and 18 eighth-graders (9.6 percent).

The school had an expulsion rate of 0.7 percent.

Weapons incidents made up 0.7 percent of the school’s discipline problems and student assaults came in at 1.8 percent.

About 55 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.


The numbers for Jacksonville High School don’t look good either. According to the performance report, almost three out of four students will need remedial classes in college. The exact rate is 72.2 percent. The school has a graduation rate of 69.9 percent, a dropout rate of 6 percent and a graduation-inflation rate of 35.6 percent (a rate of 20 or higher is considered unacceptable).

The school is accredited but is in the bottom category—state directed—under the NCLB parameters. The gains model rating does not apply to high schools.

The school, with 1,047 students, has an attendance rate of 95.2 percent, up about five points from two years ago.

The school had an expulsion rate of 0.7 percent.

Staff assaults accounted for 0.3 percent of the school’s major discipline problems and student assaults came in at 0.2 percent.

Almost 70 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Things are not much better at North Pulaski High School, where more than half the students (53.8 percent) going to college will need to take remedial courses.

The school’s remedial rate is 53.8 percent, the graduation rate is 76.7 percent, the dropout rate is 5 percent and the grade-inflation rate is 19.1 percent (very close to the 20 percent unacceptable level).

North Pulaski is on accreditation probation and the school is in the bottom achievement category—state directed—based on NCLB guidelines.

The school, with 848 students, has an attendance rate of 92 percent.

The expulsion rate for the 2008-2009 school year was 0.5 percent. Student assaults encompassed 1.1 percent of the discipline problem while staff assaults were at 0.4 percent and weapons incidents were at 0.1 percent.

About 37 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.


It’s a slightly better picture at Sylvan Hills High School.

The school has a graduation rate of 77.8 percent, a drop out rate of 6 percent and a grade-inflation rate of 10.5 percent (a rate of less than 20 percent is considered acceptable).

But 60.9 percent of the students are projected to need remedial courses in college.

The school’s accreditation is probationary and the school is in the target restructuring category (seven out of 13 levels) under NCLB.

The school, with 914 students, has an attendance rate of 92 percent, down about a point from the previous year.

The school had an expulsion rate of 0.3 percent.

Student assaults accounted for 0.8 percent of its discipline problems and weapons incidents were at 0.2 percent.

About 39 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, about 20 points less than the state average.

TOP STORY >> Old farm to be dump site

Leader senior staff writer

On recommendation of its hearing officer, the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission on Friday approved—with minor changes—the application for a former farm on the Lonoke County-Prairie County line to serve as a disposal site for water and chemicals pumped and transported from gas wells in the Fayetteville Shale.

Prairie County Land Farm LLC is now authorized to accept the drilling mud, which includes water, chlorides and heavy metals, into a lined settling pond, from which it will later be applied to the surrounding land on the property.

Owners of the land farm, according to the application filed in March 2009, are Bill Baldwin, Karlos Heird and Charles Waters and their headquarters are in Cabot.

“We could appeal to circuit court,” said Sam Ledbetter, attorney for neighbors challenging the land farm. “I haven’t gotten together with my clients yet to see what they want to do.”

“The farms have a finite life,” according to Teresa Marks, director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. “At some point they reach capacity,” she said and must be shut down.

The land farms are required to have enough money in escrow to perform the shutdown. In the case of Prairie County Land Farm, that would be $201,000, according to the permit.

It was the closure plan that the commission approved Friday.

Neighbors opposing the land farm say it would cost about $1 million to safely close it down.

The land farm will provide a reserve pit for drilling-fluids storage and a land-application service, according to the application signed by Waters.

The waste is transported from hydraulic-fractured gas wells—frac wells—the closest of which is in White County.

Both the operator and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality will monitor inspection wells and analyze water samples from those wells and soil samples on the so-called land farm.


Prairie County Land Farm is the eighth permitted land farm in the state. There used to be 13, but an inspection and report by ADEQ in April 2009 found so many problems that some shut down, according to officials.

A pair of area land farms for Fayetteville Shale waste were fined $112,000 and had their permits revoked last year.

The permits for Fayetteville Shale Land Farm LLC in Lonoke County, just off Hwy. 70 on Hwy. 381, and Central Arkansas Disposal LLC, in White County, 2.5 miles northeast of Griffithville, were revoked March 13, 2009, according to Marks.

The number of land farms is not sufficient to dispose properly of all the waste from the state’s 2,000 frac wells, according to Ryan Benefield, ADEQ assistant director. Some is trucked to Oklahoma and Texas, where it is injected into deep storage wells.

There are also some deep storage wells permitted in Arkansas.

Although the frac wells require pumping water, sometimes diesel fuel, salts, heavy metals and unidentified “proprietary” chemicals that may include the carcinogen benzene, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality only has authority over waste that is stored in tanks or ponds, spread on the ground or incinerated—in other words, things that could pollute
Arkansas’ surface water, land or the air, Marks said.

“We regulate the surface facility and the runoff,” Marks said.

Steve Drown, water-division manager, said the liquid pumped into the frac wells is 99 percent water and sand.

Drown said that despite complaints by people getting water from wells near frac wells, no migration of frac chemicals has been found, at least not in their jurisdiction.

In Sublette County, Wyo., a water well was found to have brown oily water with a foul smell, according to an article published by ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism foundation.

Tests showed it contained benzene, a chemical believed to cause aplastic anemia and leukemia in a concentration 1,500 times the level safe for people.

As for drinking water safety, that’s under the authority of the Arkansas Department of Health, the director said.

The Alabama courts and circuit court of appeals would have required the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the injection of chemicals in frac wells, but under pressure from the gas and oil industry, Congress passed a law in 2005 ruling that pumping the chemicals into the wells didn’t constitute storage, but exempted frac wells themselves from federal laws protecting drinking water.

About 50 members of Congress are interested in requiring a study and perhaps revisiting that law, according to ProPublica.

Frac well drillers use combinations of 260 chemical additives, according to ProPublica, including commonly benzene and formaldehyde, known carcinogens.

No diesel fuel is allowed on the land farms, Marks said. It must either be hauled to another state, disposed of in deep injection wells, or reprocessed into usable diesel fuel. The chemicals and salts are reclaimed and the remainder is an aggregate suitable for use on roads.

Arkansas Reclamation Services near Beebe is working on such reprocessing.

Because it’s an industrial, smokestack site located in an agricultural area, the ADEQ has received numerous complaints, according to Benefield. But inspections and air quality tests have not found significant problems, according to Benefield.

The ADEQ currently has no authority over the 2,000 frac wells drilled in the Fayetteville Shale over the past four years, other than the temporary waste storage ponds on site. Neither does the ADEQ have authority over deep-injection well storage of waste materials, even if toxic chemicals might leach into important drinking water or irrigation aquifers.

The drilling and the injection-well storage are under the purview of the state Oil and Gas Commission, Marks explained.


Hydraulic fracturing is a process now used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States, where millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground under pressure to break apart the rock and release the gas.

Some scientists are worried that the chemicals may pose a threat either underground or when the waste fluids are handled on the surface.

Some chemicals are used to lubricate the process and the sand is used to hold open new fractures and to allow the gas to escape into the well.

“We started permitting them in the 1990s,” said Drown. “We followed federal guidelines.”

“Since then we’ve changed the requirements. The director has broad authority,” he said.

The monitoring is also of waterways adjacent to disposal farms, as well as the soils on the farms and making sure the concentrations of chemicals, including salts, in the ponds and on the soils do not exceed EPA limits.

There are no discharge permits, so discovery of such chemicals downstream from a disposal farm, but not upstream, is a violation.

Marks said the vast network of new natural gas pipelines and gas compressors could also be of environmental concern.

TOP STORY >> How can you learn here?

Handwashing station at Jacksonville High School is unsightly and out of order.


Leader staff writers

Broken chairs, missing floor tiles and dingy bathrooms greet Jacksonville High School students each class day.

Jacksonville High senior Nick Stevens said, “If the school had been maintained, we would have no right to complain. Many of us live in houses built in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but we keep them clean and maintained.

“If our school was actually cared for and cleaned, we wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed.”

Stevens, a National Merit finalist, said the school, which was built in 1968, has leaky roofs and water-stained ceiling panels.

“There are areas that drip when it rains. The EAST lab is one of the worst.”

He said a couple of months ago the library had some ceiling panels cave in and cause flooding. City inspectors have ordered repairs.

The years of grime and neglect can be seen at the high school on the inside and out.

“Every black spot you walk over is a solidified piece of gum that’s become part of the floor. The lockers are disgusting. A lot of kids won’t use them. They have malfunctions in the doors and locks,” Stevens said.

He said the wooden seats in the auditorium need to be replaced. They are uncomfortable and many are broken. Plastic chairs in the classrooms are cracked and broken as well.

“They can cut you and pinch your clothing,” Stevens said.

As for the school grounds, Stevens described one of the parking lots has a mixture of gravel, asphalt and grass. The area between the picnic tables and the basketball courts is lumpy with cement and bricks half buried in the dirt.

The murals on the school walls were painted by students with supplies purchased by teachers. Stevens said everything that looks nice at the high school is usually paid with student fundraisers or grants.

Many of the bathroom stalls at the school are missing privacy doors and are rusty. Some restroom sinks have no hot water.

Damion Donovan, an 11th-grader, spoke about the conditions in the JHS auditorium. He said the main problem with the auditorium is the way it looks and how it has been treated.

“We have trash in the ceiling we can’t get to. There are broken tiles and the stage feels like it is falling in,” he said.

“The audiobased plug-ins short out and blow speakers. The carpet is disheveled. The seats are uncomfortable and they hurt people. Some are missing screws. You lean back and fall backwards,” Donovan said.

“We don’t have adequate lighting. The curtains and pulley systems don’t work,” he said.

Electricity is a safety concern. Donovan said some kids have been shocked. One student had really bad blisters.

But the high school has received help from the community.

Assistant principal Charles Nelson said that two Sundays ago, First United Methodist Church of Jacksonville and pastor Mark McDonald came out and helped clean up Jacksonville High School, Warren Dupree Elementary School and other elementary schools.

At the high school, congregation members power washed the doors and walls. They raked pine needles and trimmed the hedges along the school building.

Students in an advanced-placement government class have been working for several months compiling data and taking photographs about the deterioration at their school.

They voted to make that the focus of their final project, of which the purpose was to apply higher-order thinking to a real-world problem.

Their teacher, Tracie Rushing, said, “I told the students, ‘You are the leaders of your school and you will be leaders at your universities and communities.’ It was an opportunity to learn how to positively effect change.”

Students decided to go directly to the district decision-makers to make their case. On Tuesday, they made a presentation to the school board. It consisted of photographs and testimonials from faculty and students about the conditions at the school, as well as an analysis of district allocations for capital improvements by geographic zone. The images depicted sagging ceiling tiles, filthy lockers, mold, broken toilets, rodent and insect infestations, exposed wiring, flooding during rainstorms and broken equipment and furniture.

Judging from the influx of visitors to the high school since the board meeting, as well as maintenance workers dispatched there, it looks like the students’ efforts are having the desired result.

The Pulaski County Special School District central office dispatched its director of support services, Gary Beck, to inventory the problems. A couple of school board members dropped by for a tour. Print and television news media went there to see for themselves. Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher visited, and even city code enforcement and the fire department made an inspection of the school on behalf of public safety.

Beck says a lot of what he saw did not shock him, having once been a principal at Jacksonville Elementary School.

“I had a pretty good idea of what it was like,” he said.

But the rodent problem was a surprise to Beck.

Teacher Bonnie Dove said rodents that have infested the space above the ceiling in her classroom are interfering with instruction. She says that the animals may be a health hazard as well.

“While students pay attention to the best of their abilities, rodents crawling over the ceiling and scratching relentlessly makes teaching and learning challenging at best,” Dove wrote. “This is not only distracting, but the health issues are another concern that I am very distressed over. By allowing the rodents to scamper over the ceiling, causing the tiles to bulge as they are moving over them, my students are being exposed to rodent droppings, possible diseases and other unsanitary circumstances.”

Beck says his department can get rid of rodents. He said it is one problem that can be fixed easily, unlike the bathroom renovations, which will cost several hundred thousand dollars.

He can’t promise when that will happen. Others schools are ahead on the list.

“I am very well aware of the bathrooms; they really need to be completely redone,” Beck said. “It just takes time to get to all of these buildings. We are truly under-manned.”

Beck said the dirt and grime at the school bothered him.

“I plan to go out there and visit with the custodial staff,” he said.

Beck said that a few years ago every school in the district lost eight custodial hours per week and the position for district-level supervisor over custodial services was cut to save money.

Supervision of cleaning is now up to the principals. He says conditions got so bad that the school just stays dirty and “you get to the point that is just the way it is.”

He wants to get caught up this summer on some deep cleaning at the high school, once the new roof is on.

“There is a lot of cleaning that could be done over there,” Beck said.

SPORTS >> Lady Devils young, but still contenders

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville Lady Red Devils are on track to grab the No. 6 seed out of the 6A-East Conference despite losses to Jonesboro last Friday and Searcy on Tuesday.

Jacksonville lost the first game of a doubleheader with Jonesboro 5-1 and dropped the nightcap 4-1. The Lady Red Devils played host to Searcy at Dupree Park on Tuesday and came up short 2-0, an improvement from the first meeting, when the Lady Lions took a run-ruled, 10-0 victory April 6.

A No. 6 seed would be the lowest ranking ever for the Lady Red Devils. Jacksonville (4-9 in the conference) qualified for the state tournament every year of slow-pitch from 1996-99, and has qualified for every fast-pitch state tournament except in 2003.

The Lady Devils’ five conference championships, six runner-up finishes and five trips to the state semifinals give them a solid tradition to uphold.

But with a young roster that includes one senior, three-year starting infielder Jennifer Bock, Jacksonville coach Tanya Ganey said it’s progress, not tradition, she is most concerned with this year.

“We’re riding on the cusp on being in that six hole,” Ganey said. “But the kids continue to improve every game. According to my assistants, they played well against Searcy.”

Ganey was ill and could not attend when the Lady Red Devils played the Lady Lions at Dupree Park on Tuesday.

Illness has been a theme recently for the Lady Devils. A stomach virus was Jacksonville’s worst enemy on a trip to Jonesboro last Friday for a 6A-East doubleheader.

The bug struck several players, including Bock, pitcher Alexis House and Chyna Davis. Bock and House were able to take the field while Davis was forced to sit out.

Outfielder Riley Zink scored Jacksonville’s only run in the first game at Jonesboro when she drew the first of three straight walks in the top of the seventh inning. After reaching third, Zink scored on a passed ball.

Alexis Oakley went 3 for 3 and accounted for all of Jacksonville’s hits.

Bock scored in the bottom of the first inning of Game 2 when she walked and came in on a passed ball. The Lady Red Devils also finished with three hits in that game, and had three hits against Searcy on Tuesday.

Jacksonville will wrap up 6A-East Conference play Monday with a home game against West Memphis.

SPORTS >> Bates shows clout, joins Razorbacks

Leader sports editor

Former Cabot Panthers shortstop Sam Bates is going to be a Razorback.

Bates, who graduated two years ago, has signed out of Crowder Junior College to play for Arkansas and coach Dave Van Horn.

“We’re just tickled about that,” Cabot coach Jay Fitch said.

Bates, who throws right-handed and bats left, will be the first of Fitch’s former players to sign with Arkansas.

“He’s just a good athlete,” Fitch said of Bates, who also played basketball for the Panthers. “We never really knew how good he could be in baseball.”

Bates was a three-time all-conference selection with the Panthers.

At Crowder, located in Neosho, Mo., Bates is among the team’s leading hitters with a .417 average and a team-high 39 RBI, nine home runs and 53 hits.

Playing mostly first base and outfield at Crowder, Bates also leads the team with 175 putouts.

“He’s just been tearing it up,” Fitch said.

Fitch said, as a coach, it is his first priority to win games, but a coach always takes pride in seeing a former player move on to the NCAA Division I ranks.

“It’s not our main job but it is kind of a feather in your hat, too,” Fitch said. “It was pretty cool. We were real excited about it.”

Crowder competes in the National Junior College Athletic Association.

SPORTS >> Tourney bound, Falcons soccer drops two

Leader sportswriter

Little Rock Central and Little Rock Parkview beat the North Pulaski soccer teams in a pair of non-conference matches Thursday at Falcon Stadium.

The Lady Falcons (3-7) avoided a shutout with a last-minute goal in a 5-1 loss to Central, while the Falcons (6-9) lost 2-1 to Parkview.

Both Falcons teams have qualified for the 5A state tournament, which begins at Harrison High School on Friday.

The Lady Falcons will be the No. 3 seed out of the 5A-Southeast Conference and will play the No. 2 seed out of the West in the first round at 4 p.m. on Friday.

The Falcons tied with Monticello and Little Rock McClellan for third in the 5A Southeast, but Monticello won the tiebreaker to take the third spot while North Pulaski grabbed the last berth ahead of McClellan.

In Thursday’s boys game, Parkview scored its first goal just before halftime and added a second goal five minutes into the second half.

North Pulaski junior Dustin Branstetter pulled the Falcons within a goal when he scored in the final minute before time ran out on the comeback attempt.

The Falcons began the season at a shaky 1-5, but went on a four-game winning streak just before spring break.

“We started out slow; we had a lot of conflicts,” North Pulaski coach Tony Buzzitta said. “We have kids in the band, kids in the play — there were just a lot of other things going on. The kids on my teams are very strong academically.

“But it helps us now because we have a lot of guys who would not have been able to play as many minutes as they have this spring. Now I have a stronger bench and more experienced players.”

Central started the girls game with an early goal and added two more before the end of the first half for a 3-0 lead.

The Lady Falcons did not get many shots on goal until senior Claire Crews broke through the defense for a shot attempt in the 26th minute.

That trip came up empty, but Crews finally earned a free kick that led to a goal by freshman Cathryn Waylan in the final minute.

Defensively, Lady Falcons sophomore goalkeeper Aerial West had a number of tough stops, including one mid-way through the second half that appeared to be a sure goal for the Lady Tigers until West scooped up the ball with Central forwards quickly approaching.

Crews is one of seven seniors on this year’s Lady Falcons team along with Sarah Dickerson, Myranda Thomen, Erica Frost, Eva Zimmerman, Tara Taykowski and Michelle Treat.

The Lady Falcons qualified for the state tournament again this year despite being without last year’s leading scorer Jennifer Waylan for the better part of this season.

Waylan, a junior forward, is recovering from surgery on a tendon in her thumb and will not receive clearance until the season is over.

“We lost a few kids,” Buzzitta said of the girls team.

“Their record doesn’t really reflect how well they’ve played. We’ve improved a lot and we’ve had a tough schedule, so they have really done well.”

Buzzitta also said having the Jacksonville Soccer Association nearby also helps his players.

“Jacksonville has a good soccer program with the Jacksonville Soccer Association for off-season and rec. league,” he said. “We have some good athletes, and it helps us put together good teams every year.

“They are smart kids. I’m able to feed them a few tips along the way, and they pick up on it quick. That helps us get teams together and play competitively.”

The North Pulaski girls will travel across town to play at

SPORTS >> 7A-Central race stays jumbled, Cabot in hunt

Leader sports editor

What a mess.

The 7A-Central Conference is having a hard time sorting itself out, and the high school baseball season isn’t getting any younger. Entering Thursday, six of the eight teams were either 4-5 or 5-4, including Cabot, at 4-5 after Tuesday’s loss at Conway.

“Boy it’s a wild one isn’t it?” Cabot coach Jay Fitch said after his team beat Russellville 19-1 in a conference game Tuesday.

Only Van Buren had any separation from the rest of the league. The Pointers, 12-8, 6-3, had a one-game lead on its closest pursuers while the Bryant Hornets brought up the rear at 16-8, 2-6.

There is enough baseball left before the state tournament begins May 14 that, Fitch said, there could be further muddles and logjams in the 7A-Central race. Fitch said it was still a possibility a team could finish first or out of the money.

“That’s the way it’s shaping up. It’s a possibility,” he said. “We had a coaches meeting and we said ‘Hey, the way it’s going we could all be 7-7. That would be an interesting tie breaker.

“I think the state tournament could be like that too. There’s not a dominant team and it’s who is peaking at the right time.”

Cabot would appear to be one of those teams trying to hit its peak after the blowout victory over Russellville, which won 2-1 earlier in the season.

“We did a lot better job of laying off the high fastballs,” Fitch said. “Plate discipline helped a little bit.”

Fitch said Cabot has been a streaky hitting team, but on the mound, right-hander Matt Evans has been a welcome tower of consistency.

Evans (7-0) was an out away from a no-hitter at Bryant and, at Russellville, show scouts a fastball that was consistently at 87-88 mph and topped out at 90 mph. Evans has surrendered two earned runs in 40 innings.

“I’ve never had a kid do this on the mound,” Fitch said.

Right-handers Cole Nicholson and Tyler Erickson have had their ups and downs but have pitched well overall, Fitch said.

Fitch said Nicholson (3-4) has been something of a hard-luck guy who has been battling recent tenderness while Erickson (3-1) was to start the conference game at Conway on Thursday.

“We’ll have to get Nicholson back for sure,” Fitch said. “He’s just too good not to pitch.”

Cabot’s hitting leaders are catcher Andrew Reynolds, batting .357; Evans and Erickson, both hitting around .370, and twin outfielders Powell and Joe Bryant, batting .339 and .33 respectively.

But the offense has been plagued by occasional outages, like when the Panthers outhit the Little Rock Central Tigers 7-2 and still lost 2-1.

“We’ve kind of been the victim of the game. It just happens sometimes,” Fitch said.

SPORTS >> A pretty good catch

Leader sports editor

There is only so much time between games of a doubleheader for a high school baseball coach.

Jacksonville’s Larry Burrows had to address his players, rake and line the infield, make out a lineup and get a quick bite to eat during the intermission between Tuesday’s 6A-East Conference games with Jonesboro at Dupree Park.

But, as eager as he was to bite into his ketchup-slathered hot dog, Burrows took time to answer a question about one of his favorite subjects — Red Devils junior catcher Patrick Castleberry.

“He’s a heck of a player. He’s a baseball player is what he is,” Burrows said, stating the obvious and paying the ultimate compliment at the same time.

Castleberry has been a mainstay of the Red Devils since moving up from junior high and converting from third base, his primary position, to catcher.

Why catcher?

“They needed catchers,” Castleberry said with a shrug.

For a guy who has played as much and is as immersed in the game as Castleberry, taking on one of the most important jobs on the field wasn’t really much of a transition.

“I caught a little bit,” Castleberry said of his previous, limited experience behind the plate. “I just played third base mainly. I just know how to play the game.”

Burrows agrees with that.

“I haven’t seen one better, offensively or defensively, who can get it done like him,” Burrows said. “He’s a super kid to boot.”

When not catching, Castleberry has been known to pitch in relief or play right field. A day off for Castleberry means being the designated hitter.

“He’s so valuable to us it’s just a little scary,” Burrows said.

Castleberry was batting .471 with a team-high eight home runs, 10 doubles and 49 RBI for the Red Devils, who are on a varsity hiatus until resuming play at Sheridan on Monday.

Jacksonville, 10-0 in the 6A-East, returns to conference action with Mountain Home at Dupree Park on Thursday.

As a third baseman, Castleberry was already a pretty good candidate to move behind the plate. Players at the corners have to have quick hands and reflexes for smashes down the line, especially third baseman, since the majority of the hitters in baseball are right-handed.

And it is no coincidence professional catchers sometimes make a late move to the corner spots to save wear and tear on their legs and extend their careers.

“You have to be tough. You can’t let anything by you,” Castleberry said.

While toughness hasn’t been an issue, Castleberry admittedly has had to learn to handle a pitching staff and still takes a lot of pitch selections from his coaches.

“The dugout sometimes,” Castleberry said. “It depends on what kind of game we’re playing.”

But Burrows likes Castleberry’s strong arm and his ability to knock down balls and keep plays in front of him.

“He keeps us in the double play,” Burrows said. “There’s none better around than him. That’s all you can say.”

It is often said a player should always work on his defense because hitting comes and goes. But Castleberry, usually batting in the No. 3 spot, sees himself as a steady producer at the plate.

“I just feel like someone that, 99 percent of the time, I’m going to put it in play,” he said. “You’ve just got to know the situation and put the ball in play and score some runs.”

The Red Devils head into the weekend tied in first place in the 6A-East, though they are in the toughest part of their schedule.

The recent Jonesboro doubleheader was expected to be a challenge, though the Devils took a convincing sweep, 8-2 and 11-3, and Burrows expects stern tests from Mountain Home and Searcy before it’s over.

But Castleberry said he expected Jacksonville to be in contention. In a way, it’s something he has been looking toward since the first time he stepped onto a youth field to join players who are still among his teammates today.

“I’ve been playing since I was three. It’s all I’ve played really besides basketball,” he said. “It’s a team sport. You get to play with all your friends and have fun. We’ve been playing with each other since we were six. We all know each other and know how to have fun.”

But that’s the past. Looking to his future, Castleberry said he has drawn some NCAA Division I recruiting interest, with UALR among his top choices, and he hopes to sign a scholarship as soon as possible.

“I’m trying to go to UALR, hopefully,” Castleberry said. “There’s a few other schools. I’ll probably sign as early as I can just to get it out of the way I guess.”

That led Burrows to make one more pronouncement before he turned to his hot dog.

“If there’s a D-I that ain’t taking him there’s a bunch that need to find another job,” Burrows said.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

TOP STORY >> Strawberry festival begins on Thursday

Leader staff writer

Strawberry Fest starts Thursday evening in Cabot with carnival rides, food and strawberries from local produce growers.

Mountain High Produce, the Cabot Patch, Barnhill Orchards and Holland Bottom Farms started picking this week.

Laird High, who grew up in Cabot and took over the Cabot Patch from his dad five years ago, said the eight-year-old festival is a good thing. For area residents, it’s good family fun. For area growers, it’s good advertising.

“We reach a lot of people who don’t know about us,” High said.

Unfortunately, the growing seasons of California and Florida coincided this year, which drove the price of berries down to about half their normal cost.

Locally grown berries cost more, but growers say they are worth the difference in price because they simply taste better.

“The berries from California are shipped green,” High said. “When they aren’t ripened on the vine they lose the taste and sweetness. There’s no comparison between the Arkansas berry and the California berry.”

Many years ago, strawberries grown in central Arkansas were shipped north by rail. Now, they are found at stands near the fields where they are grown, on roadside stands across the state and in some area grocery stores.

Larry Odom, owner of Holland Bottom Farms, says local Cabot produce growers are less competitive than they are supportive.

Together they offer about all the fresh fruits and vegetables that can be grown in the area. And the discount-priced strawberries in grocery stores now should not have a negative impact on the season’s profits.

“It won’t affect us because we don’t grow California and Florida strawberries,” Odom said.

The festival will be held at Veterans Park Community Center. The carnival opens from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The attractions also include a beauty pageant, a 5K run sponsored by Cabot Country Cruisers, a car show sponsored by Arkansas Street Machines, live entertainment and a special children’s area.

The festival is sponsored by the Cabot Junior Auxiliary, which took the festival over last year from the parks department as a fundraiser for auxiliary programs to help children in Cabot schools.

The pageant has several divisions for girls and boys. Contestants may register up to starting time of the pageant at 9 a.m. Saturday in these age groups — girls ages 0-11 months, 12-23 months, 4-6 years, 7-9 years, 10-12 years, 13-15 years and 16-19 years; boys ages 0-18 months, 19 months-3 years and 4-5 years.

The Junior Auxiliary’s profit from the festival will fund several programs, including the Backpack Brigade, which provides a backpack and school supplies to students in need in the Cabot School District; Christmas Blessing, which provides toys and other gifts to needy children in the school district; Glass Slipper, which provides prom attire, and Serving Safe Haven, which supplies bags of toiletries and other necessities to children staying at the battered women’s shelter.

In addition to strawberries, local growers raise a variety of vegetables and fruits — Holland Bottom Farms, Hwy. 321, Mountain High Produce off Hwy. 5, Barnhill Orchards off Sandhill Road south of Cabot on Hwy. 89 and the Cabot Patch off Mt. Carmel Road.

TOP STORY >> Pryor favors budget cuts

Leader senior staff writer

Despite calling for virtually all parts of the U.S. budget to be reconsidered, not just the “discretionary” 15 percent, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) Friday night said money to construct a new I-40 interchange at Hwy. 89 on the west side of Lonoke should be paid for with stimulus funds.

He was the guest speaker at the Lonoke Chamber of Commerce annual banquet.

Holding up a poster depicting the federal budget deficit over time, Pryor focused mostly on the deficit, the economy and called for a radical review.

He noted that the bright spot on the budget chart corresponded with President Bill Clinton’s years in office when Clinton balanced the budget and successfully worked to eliminate the deficit.

Those who are critical of the stimulus spending, he said, $10 million of that has been reinvested in Lonoke County.

The stimulus saved or created 2.1 million jobs, he said. “We would be at 12 or 13 percent unemployment right now without the stimulus spending,” Pryor said.

“Don’t buy into the doom and gloom,” he added.

“I’m very optimistic about the future,” Pryor said. “We can chart a course for new jobs through new industry. We need to invest in infrastructure,” including more and better interstate highways, such as “the other Lonoke interchange.”

He also called for implementing a new generation of air-traffic control technology and a real commitment to increasing broadband Internet.

The country was settled first along the rivers, then along the railroads and finally along the interstates, he said. Now it’s being settled along the broadband corridors, he said.

He called for continued investments in young people and said politicians in Washington needed to find ways to end partisanship and for Republicans to stop filibustering everything they don’t like.

President Barack Obama wants to freeze discretionary spending, Pryor said. He should be praised for that, but its not enough.

“We need to put it all on the table,” said Pryor. “Defense entitlements, social entitlements, everything.”

Pryor said he offered a budget amendment toward that end, which received 27 votes in the Senate. It needed 51 votes.

“We can’t solve our economic problems with 12 percent to 15 percent of the budget,” he said.

Pryor said in addition to “putting everything on the table,” the Senate needed to adopt a “pay-as- you-go policy,” where new expenditures would be offset by cuts or tax increases. He also wants to establish a debt commission and entitlement commission.

“People are very critical of the TARP spending, which cost $700 billion, but the taxpayer will be paid back at least $600 billion.

We own chunks of Chrysler, General Motors and AIG. When we sell that stock, the country could make money,” the senator said.

He decried what he called the lack of civility both in Washington and in the country as a whole.

“People are scared,” Pryor said, referring to the tough economic times. People are scared of $4-a-gallon gasoline and that government spending is out of control and that America’s role in the world is changing. “If China is going up, are we going down?” he asked.

“People are scared about us as a nation losing our moral compass.”

“Doom and gloom prevail,” he said, “but not for the first time.”

He said that’s usually the outcome when the economy is bad or for other reasons including the Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis, the Vietnam conflict and the Watergate scandal.

But it’s not unique to the 20th and 21st centuries.

Thomas Jefferson thought it was the end of America when President Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, and Adams thought it was all over when Jefferson was elected president.

“One thing that’s consistent—We are resilient and we do our best work with our backs to the wall.”

Pryor praised retiring Rep. Marion Berry, calling him “a tireless advocate and a warhorse.”

Of Arkansas’ senior senator, Blanche Lincoln, he said she was being attacked on the left by the labor unions and MoveOn.Org and on the right by the Tea Party.

“She’s done a great job as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Sewer stink is too much in Shewood

Leader staff writer

A foul smell coming from Sherwood’s north wastewater treatment facility last weekend was so intense that some residents by Monday were threatening to file a class action suit or move away. Utility managers blame a hot spell and northerly wind for the stench that for several days kept folks inside with the windows down.

Longtime Indianhead Lake Estates residents who live within a mile of the treatment plant say that unpleasant smells wafting their way is something they’ve learned to live with and tolerate because they otherwise really like their peaceful neighborhood that borders woods and wetlands.

But what hit their nostrils last Friday and then worsened over the weekend was beyond anything any of them could remember – including some who have lived there for more than 30 years.

By Sunday, the odor had them so vexed that one of them called the police out of desperation. Then the police called the fire department.

“It was so bad, if you stood outside for 15 or 20 minutes, it stuck to the roof of your mouth, and then everything you ate or drank tasted like sewer,” said one resident, who says he had brushed his teeth 15 times in one day in an attempt to get the taste out of his mouth.

One man, who with his wife and two daughters has lived fairly contentedly on Lucy Lane for four years, said, “This has been three days you didn’t want to go outside, period. It has been horrible; it really takes your breath away.”

After celebrating the birthday of one of the girls on Sunday afternoon in Burns Park, “breathing fresh air,” they were overpowered by the smell upon the return home. Once back in the house, no one wanted to venture out to the car to retrieve anything, even the 6-year-old who had left birthday gifts in the car.

“It is pretty bad when you don’t even want to go get your presents,” her father said.

According to Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Deputy Director Ryan Benefield, the city complied in a “timely manner” to the state-reporting requirement.

An investigation into what happened, if it could have been avoided and if any aspect of the plant’s permit was violated is ongoing, Benefield said.

Benefield did say that having aerators on to increase the level of dissolved oxygen in the plant’s sludge pond – the source of the odor – is the way to prevent and mediate such a problem, which he noted is “not an environmental or public health problem, but a nuisance odor problem.”

By Monday, increasing the oxygen in the pond had mitigated the odor. By evening, it still lingered in the air, but was not the stick-in-your-throat sort, and neighbors in the evening stood outside chatting about their olfactory ordeal.

City wastewater workers said that the pond had “gone septic” in last week’s warm weather and a northerly wind sent the odor toward nearby homes. They said that the aerators are usually cranked up when the weather warms, but this time they were caught a bit off guard. They seemed to say that foul smells are part of springtime for those living in proximity to a wastewater-treatment facility.

“This occurs about this time of year every year,” said Bill Miller, wastewater manager for Sherwood. “It turns over what’s on the bottom of the sludge pond. What is on the bottom comes to the top. If we get a southerly wind, it will go away.”

Miller said that the aerators are now on and enzymes have been added to correct the problem.

TOP STORY >> Berry’s chief of staff runs for seat

Leader executive editor

Christopher Chad Causey of Jonesboro is one of six Democrats running for Congress in the First District to succeed Rep. Marion Berry (D-Gillett). The other candidates are state Sen. Steve Bryles, state Rep. David Cook, former state Sen. Tim Wooldridge, Terry Green and Ben Ponder.

They face off in the Democratic primary on May 18. The winner will run against either Princella Smith or Rick Crawford, who are vying in the Republican primary.

Causey, 33, has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Arkansas and a law degree from Catholic University of America in Washington. He has been Berry’s chief of staff since 2006 and legislative assistant since 2001. Berry has endorsed Causey as his successor.

Why are you running for Congress?

I am running for Congress because I believe our country is at a crossroads.  Our country is trillions of dollars in debt and waging two wars.  While Washington politicians bicker about what to do, everyday Arkansans are suffering.  They want answers to their questions; they want someone who will work hard on their behalf.  I believe I am that candidate.  I’m ready to get to work finding common-sense solutions that won’t increase our debt.

Why are you a Democrat?

I’m proud to be an Arkansas Democrat.  I promise to protect Social Security and Medicare. I’ll fight hard to expand the GI Bill and make sure that our servicemen and women are taken care of before, during and after deployment.  I’ll continue to help Arkansas farm families to produce the safest, most affordable food supply in the world. 

How would you have voted on the health-care bill?

I couldn’t have supported the bill.  Now that it is passed, I’m ready to get to work improving it on day one.

What can we do about health care? What kind of legislation would you support in Congress?

We can’t accomplish anything unless we get costs down, and get them down now.  Everyone agrees that reform is needed, but I believe we ought to focus on getting it right, rather than getting it right now. 

We should allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate with drug companies to ensure Americans are getting their medicines at the lowest price. We should eliminate unreasonable caps on coverage and restrict insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. 

If elected to this office, I promise to put the health-care priorities of the First District first.

When it comes to health-care costs and taxes, what can we do to lessen the burden on individuals and small businesses?

So many jobs in Arkansas come in the form of small businesses.  I don’t believe in taking punitive measures when it comes to health-care costs or taxes. 

Instead, we must use incentive-based legislation to make sure employees are covered and small businesses aren’t so heavily burdened that they have to close shop. 

As I’ve said before, we must focus on getting costs down before we focus on anything else.  There are steps we can take to improve portability and management that won’t put an undue burden on small business owners.

How do we restart the economy?

We must invest in education and infrastructure. If Arkansas is going to attract jobs, we must have the cutting-edge, knowledgeable workforce that companies are looking for, and we’ve got to be able to support those companies when they get here.

Who is supporting your candidacy?

In addition to the thousands of Arkansans who have supported my campaign, I’ve garnered the endorsement of Cong. Berry.

How will your background prepare you for Congress?

I’ve spent the last decade traveling to and working for every county in this district.  I know the priorities and concerns of Arkansans from Baxter County to Lonoke County, and everywhere in between. I won’t have a learning curve, and I’ll be ready to fight for the priorities of the First District on day one.

What makes you different from the Democratic and Republican candidates?

I believe I’m the only candidate with the energy, experience, and common-sense leadership to affect change in Washington. I’ve got new ideas, and the know-how to implement them.  I’m the only candidate that’s worked throughout the First Congressional District, and the only one familiar with the concerns that Arkansans are facing. 

How will you help Arkansas if you’re elected to Congress?

As I’ve said, I want to invest in education and infrastructure, so that we can create jobs and improve our economy. 

I also believe that Arkansas can lead the way in securing energy independence for America.  Small windmills have already gone up in eastern Arkansas, and are capable of supplying energy to homes and businesses everywhere.  Arkansas State University is currently working on converting various cellulosic materials in biofuels; that’s the kind of research and development our government should invest in.  Our energy solutions will spring from a mix of current and emerging technologies, and I believe the only way to encourage that growth is through incentive-based legislation, not punitive “cap-and-tax” based programs.

As chief-of-staff for Cong. Berry, I have worked with farmers on two separate farm bills, working to create an adequate production safety net, and ensure Arkansas farmers continue producing the safest food and fiber supply in the world.

I believe in protecting this precious way of life, and believe that no one else will work as hard as I will on behalf of our farmers and ranchers. 

I believe agriculture disaster programs need reform, and that one of the strongest actions that the U.S. could take in protecting agriculture is opening the large market to Cuba. 

We have a choice.  We can continue to blame someone else for not solving our problems, or we can roll up our sleeves and get back to work.  Let’s rein in spending and balance the budget; let’s get Americans back to work and generate economic growth.

Has the political scene changed much in the past few months?  Will that help you?

I think that Arkansans in the First District are ready for their officials to stop the bickering and get back to work.   I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and figure out common-sense solutions to the problems facing Arkansans today.

Congress has approved millions of dollars worth of projects for Little Rock Air Force Base. Will you support the base if you’re elected?

Without hesitation.  Our men and women in uniform deserve the very best that we can provide.  While I don’t take sole credit for the First Congressional District’s successes over the past few years, I am honored to have played a small role in securing $10 million for the new Multi-Purpose Education Center for Jacksonville Air Force Base, as well as helping secure the monies for Cabot’s new armory.  I understand what it takes to accomplish these projects, and I’m looking forward to future investments we’ll make for our servicemen and women.

What does your family think about your running for office?

My fiancé and her family are supportive and working hard every day.  I couldn’t do this without their love and support.  I’d like to think my mother is proud of me. She raised me and my brothers by herself, working two and sometimes three jobs. She gave me the finest examples of hard work and sacrifice, and she knows I’ll put that strong work ethic to good use fighting for the priorities of Arkansans in the First District.

Tell us about your background.

I was born and raised in Jonesboro. I went to school at South Elementary, Annie Camp Junior High, and Jonesboro High School. 

My grandfather started a small business with a $50 loan, and 65 years later, my family still owns our music store.  My mother, who still teaches at Jonesboro High School, showed me the value of hard work and sacrifice.  To provide for me and my brothers, she took one and sometimes two extra jobs, hanging wallpaper or selling real estate.

I’ve worked to help provide for myself since a very early age.  I only left my job sacking groceries to attend college.  I worked my way through on Pell Grants, student loans, and part-time work.  Early on, I learned the value of balancing your own checkbook.

My life changed forever when I was given the opportunity to go to work with Cong. Berry.  I started at the bottom of the ladder, driving the congressman across all 26 counties and hearing stories of those who have struggled to make ends meet, whether it was farmers fighting nature, veterans fighting for their due benefits, or seniors choosing between paying a light bill and a prescription refill.

In time, I worked my way up to Washington and four years ago I became Congressman Berry’s chief-of-staff.  I have worked with farmers on two farm bills, working to ensure an adequate safety net for food and fiber production.  I have worked with our institutes of higher education to create programs that train highly skilled local workforces. 

I have worked with small businesses that know how to balance their checkbooks better than the federal government does. 

In the last decade, I have worked for the people of the First Congressional District. I have worked for and traveled to all 26 counties. I have been in touch with the people of eastern and north Arkansas and understand their concerns.

I have never been handed a thing in my life and I don’t expect to be handed the public’s trust – it is sacred and must be earned.  I won’t promise to have every answer to every challenge we face but I will promise you that no one will listen longer, and no one will work harder or take this responsibility more seriously than I will. 

The First District of Arkansas can’t afford to miss a beat and I have the energy, experience and common-sense values to continue to put Arkansas first. 

In the coming weeks and months, I will be traveling to your county and your communities to listen to your concerns.

TOP STORY >> Students claim abuse on base

Leader staff writer

Last night was déjà-vu for the Pulaski County Special School District, with its board again voting to decertify the teachers union as the collective bargaining agent for PCSSD certified personnel.

An overflow crowd of school patrons and employees also heard allegations of physical and emotional abuse of her students against an Arnold Drive Elementary School first-grade teacher. Parents reported the allegations to the school principal April 6. Acting Superintendent Rob McGill removed the teacher from the classroom and then reinstated her Monday, without parents first being notified. By the end of the day, she was again suspended.

Two parents described what they have learned from their sons and other children about the alleged mistreatment at the Little Rock Air Force Base elementary school.

Janis Risse, wife of Col. George Risse, said children had been yanked by their ears, pulled up off the ground by their collars, given “hard flicks to the jugular,” hit on their heads and threatened by their teacher. They said the abuse had gone on all school year and was mainly leveled at boys. Finally Risse’s son came forward, saying his friends were being hurt “really often.”

“We were never told when she was back in the classroom or why so we could prepare our students or pull them out of the classroom,” Risse said.

A letter to the board from Lisa Otey, wife of Col. Greg Otey, Little Rock Air Force Base 19th Airlift Wing commander, called for “an expeditious, full and complete investigation into the matter” and transparent communication to the parents. According to her statement, the teacher admitted to the allegations.

McGill said that reinstatement of the teacher was due to “some miscommunication,” but refused to comment further. He said that the investigation is ongoing and that parents would be kept informed.

“Things are not always as they seem,” Marty Nix, president of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, told the board.

“Teachers generally like to know when they have done something wrong and want evidence.”


Board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville, as well as board members Sandra Sawyer and Gwen Williams, made appeals to wait for Charles Hopson to come on board as superintendent before taking any action on a contract or union decertification, as proposed by Sherwood representative Charlie Wood.

Wood said that he had talked with Hopson about the 11-page contract he was proposing that would be a “basic guideline for a final proposal and dealings with the classroom teachers.” He maintained the board was “in a time crunch” and couldn’t delay action.

Sawyer said that there was language in the contract she did not understand, and that she wanted the opportunity to confer with Hopson first, given the fact that he comes from a union state and is an “expert.”

Vasquez told the board that before taking the extreme action of decertification that they and union leaders needed to “try to find common ground, to give peace a chance with the new superintendent coming in and not rush to judgment.”

Votes for the new contract and decertification were the same: Wood, Tim Clark, Danny Gililland and Mildred Tatum voting yes, and Vasquez, Sawyer and Williams voting no.

The decertification will take effect June 30, 2010, giving the board time to adopt policies to support the establishment of a personnel policies committee to replace the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers as the representative entity.

In December, the board voted for immediate union decertification, but Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox has since declared that action null and void because requisite policies were not in place.

After the board vote, Nix said, “I am very, very, very disappointed; they are bringing on a new superintendent who has spoken to us about reconciliation and healing and the actions they have taken tonight were the reverse.”


Before board action on the teacher contract and decertification, students from Jacksonville High School’s AP Government class made a presentation to the board, called “Jacksonville High School: An Inside Perspective,” about the physical condition of the school.

They also provided an analysis of district fund allocations by zone from 2000 to 2011, totaling $180.5 million. According to the analysis, Zone 3/Maumelle has been allocated the lion’s share – 53 percent, while Zone 5/North Pulaski has been allocated 1 percent and Zone 6/Jacksonville has been allocated 2 percent. Thirty-one percent of PCSSD students come from Zone 6.

The slide presentation included photos of moldy surfaces, broken light fixtures and furniture, sagging ceiling tiles and electric wires protruding from walls and ceilings. “The students don’t feel like anyone cares about them,” one said.

“We are not here to whine and complain but to make you aware of the effect of the condition of the school on students and teachers. Low teacher retention rate and dropout rate are associated with a “neglected condition of the school and an atmosphere of futility,” the report stated. We are only asking for our fair share and to have routine maintenance requests filed in a timely manner, a student said.

Jacksonville High senior Nick Stevens said he got the idea when he was student representative at the March school board meeting when it was stated that the board could not do anything about a problem members knew nothing about.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Ganging up on Wall Street

How are we to know who is the more fawning servant of the corporate masters, Sen. Blanche Lincoln or her opponent, Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter? Every day’s mail, the Internet and television commercials tell us it’s this one, and the next day
it’s the other.

We haven’t seen an Arkansas campaign targeted at Wall Street and big corporations since, well, since Jeff Davis, the Wild Ass of the Ozarks, was riding wagons into the cocklebur country a century ago to expose the perfidies of the Wall Street banks and insurance companies.

It’s not just the Democrats either. Over in the Republican primary for the Senate, all the candidates except U. S. Rep. John Boozman are trying to tap into the rage over the bailout of the nation’s financial institutions in the closing weeks of the George W. Bush administration. Boozman half apologizes for voting to give the financiers a siphon hose into the federal treasury, but unlike Lincoln, he doesn’t try to insinuate that he didn’t do it. Bush administration officials persuaded him that it was necessary to save the country, but he won’t do it again.

Some in the media are calling Halter and Lincoln to account for being a trifle misleading in their attacks on each other. Lincoln has accused Halter of wanting to invest Social Security trust funds with Wall Street and of complicity in the dealings of several West Coast companies that she said shipped American jobs to India and misled investors and customers. Halter once sat on the boards of the companies. Her ads were more than a little misleading and the Social Security charge was virtually without merit. Halter was a vocal opponent of any privatization of Social Security.

But Halter has been too clever with the facts, both in his defense and in his accusations against Lincoln, whom he characterizes as a persistent toady of the big financial houses and the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

We don’t want to appear too shocked at such conduct. Misleading political advertising? Tell us it ain’t so! That is how the game is played. Memories do not have to be encyclopedic to recall the advertising barrage of 2009, when insurance companies, the chamber of commerce and all sorts of front groups warned us of the terrible deeds in pending health-care legislation, deeds that were nowhere to be found in the bills. Much of the advertising was aimed at Lincoln, who was on a key Senate committee writing the legislation. She plunged 25 percent in the polls, and she isn’t recovering. Should she not have learned a lesson about how to turn silk into a sow’s ear?

Halter has returned the favor by accusing Lincoln in a blizzard of slick flyers aiming to show that Lincoln has voted consistently to help big corporations ship jobs overseas, mainly by ratifying trade agreements, and that her political career is bankrolled by the rapacious financial houses that crashed the U. S. economy and then cashed in at the federal treasury. She has been fighting back this week, accusing him of distorting her position. Imagine that. Distorting a politician’s position.

Yesterday’s mail produced a new flyer from Halter saying that Lincoln voted no on health-care reform to make the insurance companies happy. Lincoln voted for the big health bill, but no on a bill making small modifications in it that were not favorable for Arkansas.

Halter said Lincoln promised not to accept campaign gifts from institutions that took taxpayer bailouts and then took them, over and over. He backed it up with details of gifts from Goldman Sachs, charged last week with civil fraud, and other institutions that took cash from the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).

Wait, Lincoln cautioned this week, she did not make such a flat pledge but only vowed to reject their money while they still owed the treasury. Goldman Sachs and others that have given her money have repaid the treasury. Lincoln is right and Halter is convicted of being too crafty with the facts. But does she have much of a point? She has been heavily rewarded and continues to be rewarded by the institutions that undermined the global financial system.

Who hasn’t? President Obama enjoyed major support from Goldman Sachs and others in 2008, as did his Republican opponent, John McCain. Obama has turned on his benefactors by pushing for a strong regulatory system to prevent a recurrence of the collapse.

Last week, Lincoln countered Halter’s anti-Wall Street campaign by introducing a bill that she says is tougher on the banks and their derivatives trading than any other bill in Congress. Now, she asked, who’s tougher on Wall Street?

It is, indeed, a tough bill, but is it a ruse? Her bill is not going to get a vote in the Senate and House, and everyone, including Goldman Sachs and every commercial and investment-banking executive, knows it. Individual bills on sweeping matters are for show. The question is, will she vote for the bill produced by the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee that is the fulcrum of the battle? That will tell the tale for her bank supporters and it should for her voters as well.

We don’t care about the anti-Wall Street rhetoric. Will you vote to solve the problem with the only means at hand, even if it means biting the corporate hands that have fed you? We think Lincoln will do that, and that is about all of this populism strain that matters.