Friday, May 20, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Schools look to a new era

U.S. District Judge Brian Miller’s order Thursday phasing out state desegregation funds for the three Pulaski County schools was not unexpected. When attorneys for the county districts appeared before the judge last year, he suggested that $70 million in state aid to the schools was a waste and he might cut off the spigot.

He ordered the ending of most of the state aid, except about $7 million a year for county magnet schools — a pittance compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars in state money that were spent on the Pulaski County schools for a quarter century.

The judge did not declare the districts “unitary,” or functionally integrated, and they will remain under court supervision. Still, he didn’t think he could justify spending more state money on the schools.

On another note, the judge’s review of PCSSD’s geographic size could provide hope for the Jack-sonville Education Foundation and those who dream of a separate Jacksonville district.

The ruling is an admission that hundreds of millions in state funding have not achieved the goals set by the courts. That may why Judge Miller thinks court supervision must continue but without the cushion of extra state aid.

Appeals are likely and the case could drag on for many more years. Don’t be surprised if an appeal is filed by one of the parties involved — perhaps civil rights attorney John Walker, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the long-running case, that goes back to the 1980s and even as far back as the 1950s, when Little Rock schools were first ordered integrated.

The county school will have to get by with less. Bobby Lester, the former Pulaski County Special School District superintendent, told us a few weeks ago the district could manage without the state aid and called for more belt-tightening. That’s pretty much what Superintendent Charles Hopson told us Friday: The desegregation money has dwindled to less than $20 million a year, and about a third of that goes for magnet school programs, which the judge wants continued in any event.

Hopson, interestingly enough, has no quarrel with the judge. His school board might feel differently when it meets next week to discuss the decision.

Judge Miller said school officials do not “have any clue how to effectively educate underprivileged black children.” Hopson thinks he has the answer with better facilities and more challenging programs.

Judge Miller knows the history of this case very well. “It must be clear that the state of Arkansas has unclean hands,” he wrote in his ruling. “Its history is steeped in segregation of schools as well as other public accommodations. Indeed, but for the discriminatory actions of the state of Arkansas and Governor Faubus, the school districts at issue would be much further along the road to fully desegregating.”

Gov. Mike Beebe, who is no Faubus, says he’s delighted that the state can reduce funding to the Pulaski County schools, while other districts in Arkansas are clamoring for more aid. The Legislature has approved $70 million for the Pulaski County schools for next year, so that money will go somewhere in the educational bureaucracy, perhaps to train better teachers. Let’s hope it’s spent more wisely than in the past.

TOP STORY > >Two named in bribe scheme

Pulaski County Special School District school board member Tim Clark and former Jacksonville middle school principal Mike Nellums have been implicated in a scheme to portray board member Gwen Williams as corrupt, according to Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley.

No charges are expected to be filed.

According to a Pulaski County sheriff’s investigation, Clark and Nellums are believed to have conspired to film a bogus video of Williams purportedly accepting a bribe to secure a sidewalk contract.

The video and an audiotape were delivered to school board members along with a phony letter from a contractor claiming to have bribed Williams in order to secure a contract.

The sheriff’s investigation found that Clark and Nellums hired a friend and a private investigator to participate in the scheme.

Clark was board president when the case came to light in September. Nellums was the principal of Jacksonville Middle School Boys before being promoted to principal of Mills University Studies High School in Little Rock.

“No criminal charges are appropriate. That said, the entire affair is sad and has been a terrible distraction of law enforcement resources and of a beleaguered school district, which has been struggling to improve. Put bluntly, what happened is shameful,” Jegley said in his statement about the sheriff’s investigation.

“It appears that Nellums and Clark’s sole purpose for this elaborate scheme was to present the other board members with the video and letter,” the report said.

The prosecutor exonerates Williams from wrongdoing.

“At this time, we have not heard of any resignations,” PCSSD spokeswoman Deborah Roush said late Friday.

No action can be taken regarding the future of Nellums and Clark’s positions until the school board meets, she said.

TOP STORY > >Alderman case will likely be dismissed

Leader staff writer

Beebe Alderman Les Cossey was told in court Wednesday that if he doesn’t break any more laws within the next year, the case against him will be dismissed.

Cossey was arrested for stealing an opponent’s campaign signs on Election Day in November a few hours before the polls opened.

“Glad it’s over with,” Cossey told The Leader. “It’s time for another election.”

Cabot District Judge Joe O’Bryan, appointed as special judge, ruled without hearing from witnesses after Les Ablondi, the special prosecutor, presented his argument against a guilty verdict.

Cossey is 67 years old and has never been in trouble before, Ablondi said. And while Cossey didn’t deserve special treatment, normal treatment would be to give him a chance to show that it would never happen again and then dismiss charges.

There were also other reasons to dismiss charges, the prosecutor said. Cossey is in bad health and takes medication for memory loss. Mayor Mike Robertson and Police Chief Wayne Ballew said he appeared confused the evening the signs were stolen. A neurologist had said his medicine could have caused confusion.

Cossey was so confused, Ablondi said, that he tried to get into the car with Renee Gordon, the person who caught him with the signs. He thought she was his wife.

But his medicine is regulated and he is better now.

There was also a question about who owned the signs that Cossey had hidden inside his coat when police arrived. Ablondi said they were likely the property of the person whose yard they were in, not the candidate who put them there.

The owner of the home from which the signs were taken didn’t even fill out a police report, he said.

Although audiences at trials usually aren’t allowed to speak, Gordon, who came upon Cossey hiding her husband’s campaign signs under his coat at about 10:40 p.m. the evening before the election, spoke up. “They’re my signs,” she told Ablondi.

Gordon, who said later that she had been subpoenaed for the case but not interviewed, went into the hallway to speak with the prosecutor and came back angry.

“He’s going to get off,” she said.

Cossey’s attorney Jim Petty reiterated the prosecutor’s argument and added that a conviction could affect Cossey’s position on the council.

Cossey easily won the election to retain his Ward 3 Position 2 seat on the Beebe City Council with 863 votes to Jonathan Gordon’s 427 and James Ringbolt’s 155.

But an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling together with Article 5 of the Arkansas Constitution seem to indicate he would have been ousted from his council seat if he had been convicted.

Article 5 of the Constitution says in part that no person convicted of an infamous crime shall be “capable of holding any office of trust or profit in this state.”

And in October, the Supreme Court ruled that stealing campaign signs constitutes an “infamous crime.”

The high court ruling upheld a ruling by Sebastian County Circuit Judge Michael Fitzhugh who said in September that Greenwood Mayor Kenneth Edwards, convicted in 2009 of stealing three signs opposing a tax extension that he supported, was not eligible to run for mayor again because he had been convicted of an infamous crime.

The Supreme Court also ordered the Election Commission to not count any votes cast for Edwards.

Ablondi interjected that he was not concerned with Cossey’s position on the council.

“It’s not a crystal clear case but the fact that he’s on the council has nothing to do with it,” Ablondi said.

Two sheriff’s deputies and one Beebe police officer were in court to testify. After Renee Gordon called the Beebe police, officers called in the sheriff’s department to avoid a conflict of interest.

Speaking after court, Gordon said she found it odd that investigating the theft was a conflict of interest for the city, but it wasn’t a conflict of interest for the mayor and police chief to say Cossey appeared confused.

She didn’t know Cossey well, Gordon said, but he didn’t seem confused to her as he came at her inside her car demanding to know, “Where are my signs? Where are my signs?

Gordon had a copy of a barely legible statement that Cossey wrote for police when he was arrested that appeared to say he was out that evening checking on his signs, which is the same thing Gordon was doing.

If Cossey had been confused, he wouldn’t have been able to campaign outside the polling site in the rain all the next day, Gordon said.

“Nobody is going to be happy no matter what happens,” Ablondi said of the outcome of the case.

Cossey left smiling while Gordon was visibly shaken by the ruling.

TOP STORY > >Jacksonville taxes up; Sherwood mulls hike

Leader staff writer

While Jacksonville is pleased to see a solid up tick in tax collections, Sherwood is looking to add another tax to its arsenal.

Jacksonville’s Advertising and Promotion Commission received news Monday night of more taxes coming into its coffers. Next Monday, Sherwood’s city council will vote to set a special election to raise its sales tax one cent for two years to fund a new library, an animal shelter and roadwork.

Sherwood also plans to vote on new ward boundaries at its Monday night meeting.

Cheryl Erkel, Jacksonville’s newly appointed finance director, told the advertising and promotion commission that Jacksonville’s restaurants had $3.36 million in taxable receipts for March, the second best month in the four-year history of the commission’s prepared food tax. The best month ever was December 2008 when restaurants had more than $3.53 million in taxable receipts. Restaurants are taxed 2 percent.

Hotels, which the commission also taxes at a two-percent rate, showed a solid increase in March too. Hotel receipts for the first three months of this year are outpacing last year by about 20 percent, but still about that same percentage behind 2009. Taxable hotel receipts in March hit $259,000 compared to $218,000 in March 2010.

In all, those figures equated to $5,702 in taxes from city hotels and $73,087 from the restaurants.

About half of all taxes coming in to the commission go to the parks and recreation department. The rest is used to fund various projects and activities that promote Jacksonville and brings visitors to the city.

The Sherwood council was set to tackle plans to increase its sales tax at the April meeting when tornadoes, high winds, rain and lightning hit the area.

Aldermen will discuss it again Monday.

The proposed ordinance is for a temporary one-cent sales and use tax to last two years.

The tax will be used to acquire land and construct a new library facility, construct and equip an animal services facility, either in its current or in a new location, and any leftover funds will be used for street repair and improvement.

The council can recommend the tax increase, but it can only be approved by the voters. So after aldermen approve the idea, they must then vote to set a special election.

With the annexation of Gravel Ridge and the latest census numbers showing the city has grown by about 8,000 in the past 10 years, the number of residents living in each ward has changed drastically and, by law, adjustments will have to be made.

City wards can’t have more than a five percent difference in population. But right now Sherwood wards range from 5,500 to 9,200.

“Even before we annexed Gravel Ridge, our growth was to the north,” Mayor Virginia Hillman explained, greatly skewing the city’s wards.

She said cities could make boundary changes only after a census. “Even though it was our intention to keep Gravel Ridge together in one ward, when the community was annexed, we had to follow the law, which said we could only extend boundaries,” Hillman said. “So that meant Gravel Ridge was split. The portion to the west of Hwy. 107 went into Ward 1 and the portion to the east went to Ward 2.”

But a new plan would put all of Gravel Ridge into Ward 4.

Under the proposal the mayor plans to bring to the council, all of Gravel Ridge becomes Ward 4 and extends into the center of town. The population count will be 7,661 and it will be the largest of the wards.

Ward 2 will still take in the western side of the city, but will lose its Gravel Ridge portion and part of its southern border to Ward 3. It will contain 7,125 residents and be the city’s smallest ward.

Ward 3 shifts to the east and south but will have 7,274 residents and Ward 1 still takes in the eastern side below Gravel Ridge. It will have 7,386 residents.

There is no deadline for the city to revamp its ward boundaries, but the mayor said the sooner the better to give residents the chance to see what ward they are in and if they want to run for the council.

TOP STORY > >‘This is huge,’ lawyer says

Leader staff writer

Local leaders pushing for a stand alone Jacksonville school district called federal Judge Brian Miller’s decision to end $70 million in annual desegregation payments to the three Pulaski Country school districts the right move.

Attorney Mike Wilson, who along with many others, has worked hard to bring charter schools to the area and is pushing for an independent Jacksonville school district, said he was in the middle of reading the 111-page decision. “This is huge,” he said.

He said the judge ruled that Pulaski County Special School District was unitary in three or four areas, but not in six or eight. “But, most importantly, he released the state from its $70 million payments to all three districts in the county.”

Wilson believes the ruling doesn’t directly affect the city’s efforts to get its own school district.

“But the tone of the ruling is that the judge is all for local control. So the court may look favorably on us putting our feet on the ground and moving forward,” Wilson said.

He said the local groups pushing for the standalone district need to push harder. “We have a lot of talent in this area and through collaboration and goodwill we can go a long way.”

Wilson speculated that the district could be insolvent by losing desegregation funding.

The judge said that the state of Arkansas was using a carrot and stick approach with the three Pulaski County school districts and that those districts have become wise mules and learned how to eat the carrot and sit down on the job. The judge, in his decision, said, “The time has finally come for all carrots to be put away. These mules must now either pull their proverbial carts on their own or face a very heavy and punitive stick.”

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, who is in Montgomery, Ala., attending a national security conference at the War College, was excited by the news.

“It’s a tremendous first step and will hopefully push us closer to our ultimate goal of having our own district. It’s never good to have a school district under federal control or scrutiny and this frees up money that can be used elsewhere. I don’t know all the details of the ruling yet, but it is a positive step for us,” he said.

In his ruling, Miller said rewarding the districts with state money for failing to eradicate the achievement gap between white and black students was an “absurd outcome.”

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman had just read a little bit about it Thursday night. “I just don’t know enough about the ruling to really comment,” she said. She added that this would be a financial hit for the district, which is already in fiscal distress. “They’ll have to adjust priorities and expenses.”

TOP STORY > >PCSSD ready for deseg funding cut

Leader editor

Pulaski County School District officials are weighing their options after U.S. District Judge Brian Miller ruled Thursday that the state can end millions of dollars in desegregation funding to the district. The judge kept the Pulaski County schools under federal desegregation oversight.

Under the ruling, the state will be required to pay only approximately $9.5 million annually for the district’s majority-to-minority transfer program. The state may withhold as much as $7.5 million in annual aid.

Superintendent Dr. Charles Hopson said on Friday that the district is not in danger of becoming insolvent once desegregation funds are stopped. But Miller’s ruling does not say when those payments may cease.

“When you look at it, you’re talking about an amount that represents (7.5 percent) of a $255 million budget. I know it won’t make us insolvent,” Hopson told The Leader.

Hopson did not seem disappointed with the judge’s ruling. “If the money had been helpful, we’d be in unitary status,” he said.

“Essentially the judge said, ‘Your outcomes are really no different than in the last two decades.’”

“I respect the judge’s ruling in its entirety. I’m leaving it to our legal team to review,” he said.

“The money was not supposed to be permanent,” he said.

The superintendent said that his goal is to achieve unitary status, a racial balance with similar academic performance among students, and be released from federal oversight.

“We’re prepared for the immediate loss of funding to a gradual phaseout. We built this into the budget, and that was proactive on our part. You have to plan for the worst,” Hopson said.

“The budget was not built around desegregation funding,” he said.

Hopson said that next year’s budget, which has already been set, was designed as if desegregation funding were lost.

“We’re going to have to tighten our belts maybe two more notches then we’ve had to in the past. But maybe that’s a good thing,” he said.

To help make up for the shortfall, the district will focus on realigning schools, restructuring and streamlining all aspects of the district’s operations. The district may consider cutting certain health benefits for some staff.

“Obviously, facilities inequity is blatant in the district,” he said. “Most would agree, fixing schools in Jacksonville is long overdue.”

--Judge Miller wrote in his order: “It seems that the state of Arkansas is using a carrot-and-stick approach with these districts, but that the districts are wise mules that have learned how to eat the carrot and sit down on the job. The time has finally come for all carrots to be put away. These mules must now either pull their proverbial carts on their own or face a very heavy and punitive stick.

“For these reasons, the state of Arkansas is hereby released from its obligation to pay for any and all of the North Little Rock School District’s, the Pulaski County Special School District’s, and the Little Rock School District’s desegregation efforts, except for those associated with M-to-M transfers.

“In no way is the state of Arkansas given credit or ‘brownie points’ for providing funds to the districts to help them desegregate. It must be clear that the state of Arkansas has unclean hands. Its history is steeped in segregation of schools as well as other public accommodations. Indeed, but for the discriminatory actions of the state of Arkansas and Gov. Faubus, the school districts at issue would be much further along the road to fully desegregating.”

Lawyers for the school district are studying the ruling to determine what, if any, recourse they have. The school board is expected to meet next week to discuss the ruling’s impact.

“There are lots of options. Obviously, a 110-page document has a lot to review,” said district spokeswoman Deborah Roush.

“We knew this was coming,” she said.

“Morale is good. There is an air of uncertainty until we can digest what it all means,” Roush said. --

The past week has been challenging for the district. The Legislative Joint Audit Committee was critical of PCSSD’s accounting practices during a May 13 hearing. Then on Monday, the state Board of Education voted to keep the district under the fiscal-distress label.

Despite the challenges, Roush is optimistic.

“It does not seem that fiscal distress will get in the way of building new schools,” she said.

Roush is confident that the district will overcome its problems. “There’s no stopping PCSSD. Times are changing,” she said.

She credits the superintendent as well as Derrick Brown, the district’s chief-technology officer; Derek Scott, executive director of operations, who is responsible for remodeling and building schools in the district, and chief financial officer Anita Farver with helping to turn the district around.

Hopson does not expect the ruling to delay plans to build new schools in Jacksonville.

Meanwhile, the teachers union, the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, has filed a grievance with the school board to stop the temporary closing of Jacksonville Elementary School while a new facility is built to replace it. Hopson does not expect the grievance to be successful.

“I think it’s new and unprecedented for this district, which may be at the heart of (teachers’) concerns,” Hopson said.

SPORTS>>White makes farewell at meet

Leader sportswriter

After 35 years at Cabot High School and 23 years as athletic director, Johnny White ended his time doing the usual — putting out fires.

White, who announced his retirement in January, had to cut a farewell newspaper interview short at the Heptathlon/Decathlon on Thursday when Panthers track coach Leon Whitestormed into White’s office on the third floor of Cabot’s plush fieldhouse with one final crisis.

“The standard on the high jump is broken; we need a C-clamp or something that will hold the bar up,” Leon White said.

“Okay, I’ll get somebody,” Johnny White said as he reached for the cell phone on his left hip.

Three calls later, and the problem was handled. The first flight of the girls high jump, delayed by nearly half an hour, went on as planned after maintenance personnel arrived with replacement parts.

It was one last moment of drama for White in a career filled with travel budgets, booster club meetings and plenty of success.

White started his career in the fall of 1976 as coach of the Cabot boys basketball and golf teams.

He resigned in 1986 and filled in where needed within the department until athletic director and principal Jack Carrington resigned as athletic director in 1988 to focus on school administration.

White took over the athletic department and also served as head of transportation for a number of years.

But as quickly as White grew into his dual positions, he was challenged by the growth of the school, which went from a Class AA program at the time of his arrival to its 7A classification and status as the third largest school in the state.

“I was wearing two hats for at least 20 years,” White said. “It was okay at the time. We were only running 75-80 buses. And by the time I got out, we were up to 100 buses, 100 routes, and it was just really, really busy.

“It was a never-ending day.”

The two-day Heptathlon/Decathlon was White’s last official event as athletic director, and as the hours wound down, nostalgia began to set in. White said the countdown began after Cabot wrapped up the state soccer tournament last week.

“After we finished that state soccer tournament, it’s not business as usual,” White said.

“I’m finally looking to the countdown of the days — just reflecting on how fast that 35 years went. It just seems like it was yesterday that I started working here.”

White first plans to rest and relax and then take a trip to Greece with his daughter at the end of June.

After that, his options are open.

“I’ve got some job offers,” White said. “I don’t know if I want to work. I want to just rest, and travel and enjoy myself. I don’t know what the future is going to hold.”

There are offers to coach high school basketball in Texas, but White has children and grandchildren in the Cabot area and said leaving would be hard.

When the football Panthers take the field in September, it will mark the first time in over two decades White has not had a hand in preparing for the season.

But retirement will give him a chance to attend the games in an unfamiliar capacity, as a face in the crowd.

“Oh no, I plan on being here,” White said. “It’s a time where I can watch and not have to work and just have fun.”

White’s longtime assistant Pam Clem took exception to the idea.

“I wouldn’t say that — that you’re not going to have to work,” Clem said.

With a laugh White admitted he would continue to perform at least one important duty.

“Pam says I’m going to have to work,” White said. “And I will be available to help them. I’ve cooked a lot of hamburgers over at that baseball/softball complex, and I’m sure I will continue to cook some burgers for them.”

SPORTS>>UALR star no shock to coach

UALR Sports Information

UALR alum Chastity Reed began training camp with the WNBA Tulsa Shock on Sunday, and coach Nolan Richardson took time out of his schedule to answer questions about training camp and Reed.

The former Arkansas men’s coach who won a national championship against Duke in 1994 and led his team to a second final in 1995, said he is still trying to instill the kind of hustle that was a hallmark of his college teams.

“Training camp is not an easy thing to go through, simply because we put in some work about an hour and forty-five minutes every day,” Richardson said. “A lot of running is involved simply because we are a running basketball team. The things we do teaches these young ladies what kind of offensive we are trying to run.”

The Shock may be a professional team, but that doesn’t meant he women are above working on fundamentals while trying to improve one key statistic from last season.

“We were very poor in rebounding last year, so we are making conscious efforts to add drills to work on that,” Richardson said. “We are working on ball handling, shooting the basketball, and just getting ourselves in physical shape, so that we can be ready for season. We have about three weeks before we open up with an exhibition in Seattle.”

Richardson said he has enjoyed coaching Reed because of her work ethic and skill, though she still has areas in which she can improve.

“There are some other points we will have to refine, but from a standpoint of giving it all that she’s got, she is a joy to coach,” Richardson said. “Whatever you tell her to do, she is going to work at it and work hard on it.”

Reed finished as UALR’s all-time leading scorer but the defense she learned under coach Joe Foley is why Reed is with the Shock, Richardson said.

“That’s why we picked her,” he said. “I watched her play last year, and I watched her play this year. One of the things I picked up was that she will get after you on the defensive end..”

Thanks to Foley, Richardson said, Reed had something of a head start when it comes to being ready for the WNBA.

“My hat is off to Coach Foley for making her at least come into the league knowing that she can stop somebody,” Richardson said. “That is important. A lot of young ladies probably base all of their game on their offense. Then their defense doesn’t pay off.

“At least if you can start off and play some defense, that means at least you have something going for you immediately. I like my team to get after it and play the defensive end just as hard as the offensive end.”

The final roster has to be set on June 2 with and there are approximately four roster cuts still to make.

SPORTS>>Discus key event for Beebe’s Totty

Leader sportswriter

The West proved to be the best once again, but Beebe’s Reece Totty held his own in a stout field of 56 competitors during the Decathlon at Panther Stadium.

Totty, a two-sport senior standout, finished the two-day event in sixth place with 6,374 points and was in position for a top-five finish before stalling late in the 1,600-meter run, his final event.

Totty’s 121-foot discus throw earned him first in the event, giving him 710 vital points.

West schools took the top four spots, including overall winner Bradley Culp and runner up Stephen Soerens, both of Fayetteville.

Alex Miles of Rogers Heritage took third while Nathan Weir of Fort Smith Union finished fourth. Conway’s Jamarcus Harmon completed the top five.

Totty was well out of the top ten at the close of Day 1 with 3,152 points, but his first four events Thursday netted him 2,835 points and had him flirting with the top five entering the 1,600. Totty started strong in his flight but faded from third to sixth halfway through and never recovered.

“It’s a lot of hard work coming out here and doing all of this,” Totty said. “A lot of stuff you’ve never thought about doing before. But they’re going to put you through it anyway.”

There were a lot of added events for Totty, a 300-meter hurdler, pole-vaulter and relay team member at Beebe. But he was good enough to best the Bryant tandem of Troy Smith and Tanner Tolbert, who finished behind Totty with 6,349 and 6,339 points respectively.

“I didn’t do too bad in the pole vault, but I wish I could have done better,” Totty said. “Oddly enough, shot put and discus are about my best these past two days.”

Totty finished fifth in the shot put with a throw of 40-09.

Beebe’s Austin Benton withdrew from the 1,600 meters after falling out of contention with 2,283 points that left him in 56th place. Benton did not start in three of the first-day events, the shot put, high jump and 400-meter run.

“It was really awesome,” Benton said. “I’m ready to come back next year. I know what I need to do next year to get better.”

Phillip Treat led the Cabot contingent with a 20th place finish thanks to a strong close in the 1,600 meters. Treat was in 29th through nine events before he paced the pack in the 1,600 with a 4:50.64 to earn 893 points and leap almost a quarter of the field.

“I think our coaches did good trying to prepare us,” Treat said. “But our time for preparation wasn’t very good. We only had two days to do it before the meet, so we were pretty sore going in.”

A solid 1,600 meters boosted Cabot’s Zach White, who finished 40th overall thanks to his fifth-place time of 5:05.50, good for 745 points.

SPORTS>>6A-Voskamp, Antimo contribute drama of day

Leader sportswriter

Ariel Voskamp and Sabrina Antimo did not have time to step back and appreciate the closest finish in the history of the state Heptathlon.

That’s because the Cabot standouts were locked in a dogfight of their own for a top-five spot along with Blytheville’s Sharmaine Selvy and Hamburg’s Joy McQuay.

Voskamp, a senior and Arkansas signee, finished fourth with 4,637 points despite struggling late in the 800 meters, while Antimo made up ground and overtook McQuay for sixthplace with 4,506 points.

It all added up to a dramatic Heptathlon as Nashville junior Monisa Poole overtook Macey Rodely of Joneboro in the final leg of the 800 meters to win it all.

Rodely went into the final event leading Poole 4,487-4,481 and she took the early lead in the 800. Poole paced herself behind Rodely and pounced as they entered the final 250 meters.

When it was all tabulated, Poole stood as the victor with 5,416 points to Rodely’s 5,407.

“It was very hard,” Poole said. “I knew that if I won I would win this, so I just tried the best I could to get in front of her. Once I did, I just kept going, just pushing it all out since it’s my last event of the year.”

For Voskamp, it was a suitable farewell from Cabot and an improvement of three places from her effort last year. She finished seventh or better in five events, with 14th-place finishes in both running events.

She was second overall in the 100-meter high hurdles with a time of 15.44 and third in the shot put with a 31-10.

“I’m pretty happy with how my senior heptathlon went,” Voskamp said. “All in all, I did pretty decent. The discus, I was throwing consistently about 90-plus, and I threw about a 77, so that was probably one of the biggest letdowns.”

As she moves on to college Voskamp can shift her focus to her first love in track and field and her bread-and-butter event, the pole vault. Voskamp won the pole vault in the 7A state meet and the prestigious Meet of Champs, setting a school record 12-10 along the way.

“I’m so excited,” Voskamp said. “I’ve had so much fun in high school doing all the events, you know, being able to do hurdles, running events, just all the events. But I’m very excited just to pole vault at the University of Arkansas.”

Antimo’s scratch in the discus on Day 1 proved costly for the junior sprinter, but her consistency in the other events kept her in the top 10 throughout the competition. She dropped to 14th following the discus, but finished out the first day strong with a second-place 200-meter run with a time of 25.32, bumping her up to seventh.

Antimo also finished second with a 5-0 high jump Thursday.

“I started out, got pretty upset with some of my results,” Antimo said. “But I realized the heptathlon is supposed to be fun. End of the year, we’re all giving it our all.

“All these girls are amazing. We have a really good time together.”

Antimo finished ninth in last year’s heptathlon as a sophomore, giving her back-to-back top-ten finishes in the state’s most grueling athletic competition.

“This summer and all next year, I’m going to try spending a little bit more time focusing on some of my events that I haven’t done so well in,” Antimo said. “Especially on the throws, because I messed up the discus really bad.”

Cabot sophomore Julia Gairhan had 3,292 points and was 20th out of 53 entrants. Her best finish was 13th in the 100-meter high hurdles with a time of 17.72.

Sophomore McKenzie Spence finished 38th with 2,395 points, including an eighth-place finish in the discus with a 75-foot throw.

SPORTS>>6A-East showdown decides state champs

Leader sports editor

For the third straight year, Searcy reached the state baseball final.

For the first time in three years, Jacksonville didn’t make a first-round exit from the state tournament.

The 6A-East Conference foes were on a collision course to Conway in Friday’s 6A state championship on the University of Central Arkansas campus. First pitch was 7 p.m. at Bear Stadium.

Top-seeded Searcy (24-7), which swept the regular season doubleheader from Jacksonville on April 26, cruised through its side of the state tournament bracket behind Arkansas signee and possible first-round Major League draft pick Dillon Howard and fellow pitcher Preston Tarkington.

Jacksonville (19-11) entered as the No. 6 seed after bowing out in the second round as a top seed with a first-round bye the past two years. The Red Devils powered to the final behind seven home runs, four in their 12-8, semifinal victory over Marion.

That set up a classic, hitting vs. pitching showdown at UCA on Friday.

“It’s just a very tough league,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said, noting that the 6A’s four semifinalists were from the East.

Howard, slated to start Friday night, and Tarkington combined for 14 state tournament innings with just one earned run allowed.

Jacksonville, meanwhile, showed the most offensive punch of the tournament; the Red Devils’ seven-home runs were a tournament high, as were their 12 runs in the semifinal.

Outfielder D’Vone McClure, a five-tool player and a potential draft pick himself someday, hit two homers and doubled off the wall in the semifinal while Jacob Abrahamson and Patrick Castleberry each hit one home run.

But it was timely, situational hitting that helped Jacksonville hold off Marion.

Logan Perry delivered a two-run double on a two-strike count with two out in the sixth to help break open a two-run game.

“They have a very good offensive ballclub,” Searcy coach Clay McCammon said.

Tarkington got the decision in Searcy’s 9-2, semifinal victory over Mountain Home, with the pitching staff’s lone earned run of the tournament coming on a first-inning Bombers home run.

The right-handed Howard, projected by some analysts to be taken somewhere from 23rd to 29th in the first round of next month’s draft, struck out 14 and allowed four hits in his 5-0 tournament quarterfinal victory over Texarkana.

He retired the first eight he faced and two of the hits he allowed were on the infield.

Howard was not available to pitch in last year’s state championship loss at Baum Stadium because of shoulder trouble.

He played several positions on the infield but couldn’t keep the Lions from falling in their second consecutive title game.

For that reason, Howard was looking forward to a change of venue in this year’s final. The Arkansas Razorbacks had their season-ending SEC series with Ole Miss scheduled for Baum, which forced the Arkansas Activities Association to move the state finals to Conway.

We played there two years ago and lost there two years in a row,” Howard said of Baum. “So any change of scenery would be good.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

TOP STORY >> Contract renewed for MEMS in Cabot

Leader staff writer

The Cabot City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to extend for three years the city contract with Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services.

Most of the cost for ambulance service will be paid by customers in Cabot, but the city will pay MEMS a one-time $2,207 subsidy this year. MEMS is owned by Little Rock and since state law won’t allow one city to give service to another, the city of Cabot has to make up for anticipated losses in Cabot this year.

Mayor Bill Cypert pulled a resolution that would have given him authority to hire local architect Bob Schelle to design a fire station on Hwy. 5 for the Greystone / Magness Creek area. Schelle designed the city’s animal shelter, the fire station on Hwy. 321 and also the health clinic that was completed last year.

But when the mayor looked into a complaint last week by Alderman Rick Prentice about inadequate advertising for the requests for qualifications (RFQs) for an architect to design the fire station, he learned that Schelle’s RFQ on file with the city was specific to a project and could not apply to the new fire station.

Cypert told the council in a memo Monday night meeting why he was pulling the resolution.

“There exists no clear audit trail regarding the selection of Bob Schelle as city architect other than he was assumed to be by the prior administration,” the mayor said.

“That administration asked in writing for Mr. Schelle in 2010 to submit an update to his statement of qualifications on file.

“Mr. Schelle responded and it was filed by the City Clerk on Aug. 4, 2010, his response for current qualifications in lieu of a formal request for an RFQ.

“Therefore acting upon this filing and a statement of advice from the city attorney that Mr. Schelle was, in fact, the city architect, I sponsored Resolution 15 of 2011,” he said.

Then the mayor came across an ordinance under former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh that outlined process for advertising, reviewing and selecting professionals to work for the city.

“Given the clarification and documentation of facts, I therefore will pull Resolution 15 of 2011 at the City Council meeting tonight…I agree that advertising of RFQ’s should be on a statewide basis. I will immediately restart this process,” he said.

Schelle has already done some preliminary design work on the fire station without charging the city.

The cost of the station is estimated at about $1 million. The standard fee for architects is 6 percent, so the architect for the project will be paid about $60,000.

When now State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams was mayor of Cabot he set up a council committee system to review ordinances and resolutions before they went before the full council. The four-year-long practice of the council’s public works committee was to allow voting by commissioners from planning and zoning and Cabot WaterWorks who served on the that committee.

Shortly after Cypert became mayor, he named commissioners to the public works committee and then learned from City Attorney Jim Taylor that the ordinance establishing the committees didn’t allow commissioners to be members whether they voted or not.

The discussion about whether commissioners should be appointed to council committees and if they should have voting rights if they are appointed has been ongoing for about three months.

The matter was settled Monday night when the council amended an ordinance passed in 2007 establishing how legislation gets to the council. If the council had wanted commissioners serving on their committees, they would have included them in that ordinance, but they didn’t.

With commissioners omitted, the only reason for amending the 2007 ordinance was to correct a mistake that, if it had been followed, would have severely hampered the calling of special council meetings. The 2007 ordinance erroneously said that special meetings couldn’t be held unless the media was present. The amended version says correctly that the media must be notified.

Alderman Patrick Hutton found the mistake, four years after the original version passed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

EDITORIAL >> A reprieve for PCSSD

The Arkansas Board of Education did not lower the boom on the fiscally troubled Pulaski County Special School District at a hearing Monday, but the department did tell the district: “We’re watching you, and you’d better put your financial house in order.”

Although the state board labeled the district financially distressed — which will mean submitting all expenditures to the board for approval — the meeting could have ended with the department taking over PCSSD and firing the superintendent. But Tom Kimbrell, the education commissioner, said the state couldn’t afford to run the district anyway and will just keep an eye on its finances.

Superintendent Charles Hopson was prepared for the worst, but he acquitted himself well. He’s promised to straighten out the district’s financial problems, many of them created before he became superintendent. He said PCSSD will go ahead with a $104 million construction plan that includes two new elementary schools and a new middle school for Jacksonville and renovations around the district.

State board members praised the progress PCSSD has made in recent months, despite criticism by the state Legislative Audit. Then there was an out-of-state consulting firm that charged Attorney General Dustin McDaniel $250,000 to clip negative newspaper reports about PCSSD.

The district hopes to get out of financial distress before the end of the year. The administration and the board are convinced it can be done by trimming expenses and closing some schools. Hopson has promised to turn PCSSD into a first-class district, offer real educational opportunities to all children and end the negative publicity.

PCSSD has avoided a death sentence, but the district faces more than financial challenges. It must improve test scores, reduce dropout rates and rebuild its crumbling schools. The state board has given the district one more chance to show it’s serious about improving its schools. Failure is no longer acceptable in the Pulaski County Special School District — or anywhere in the state.

EDITORIAL >> Arkansans praised around the world

The water’s receding. Most roads are open and homes are drying out. The cleanup continues as the worst flooding in decades moves south, although pockets of Arkansas remain underwater. Neighbors have helped each other cope with the disaster, although some were hurt and at least one person was killed in our area. Little Rock Air Force Base had a close brush with calamity as it survived a tornado that struck homes and several C-130s.

We may have been down, but not out. Stiff upper lip and all that.

People around the world have seen the tornadoes and floods and marveled at our resilience. Reporters from all over the country have been calling to check on us. Despite the mayhem, the storms made heroes out of many Arkansans.

The sun was shining Sunday afternoon while Russell Petty sat in a chair outside his home on Hwy. 70 in DeValls Bluff, surrounded by mounds of dirt and thousands of sandbags and hundreds of yards of Visqueen plastic that saved his home from being flooded two weeks ago.

Dozens of people worked for eight days digging up a moat around Petty’s home. They brought as many as 20,000 sandbags by boat and drained water out of his yard, saving his property.

The place reminds you of trench warfare during the First World War. There’s all that dirt and plastic and sandbags, but Petty’s tidy little home is neat and dry.

“The water came up to the top of the mailbox,” Petty says.

He was an island in a lake. The White River behind him is just receding to normal levels. The asphalt on Highway 70 is buckled near his home.

Carl Wilson lives several miles up the road, and when he heard on the scanner that Petty needed help, Wilson drove right over and helped put up sandbags for several days.

Wilson, 70, returned on Sunday to see how Petty was doing. “Our prayers have been answered,” somebody said.

The nearby community of Beulah is apparently washed away, although the water has receded by I-40, which was closed for 10 days because it, too, was flooded.

A former reporter from KTHV-TV in Little Rock who now works for a Baltimore TV station had Petty on a morning show last week. The New York Times published a long feature about Petty over the weekend.

The Daily Mail in London and the Times of India also featured the miracle that saved Petty’s home. The word out there is that Arkansas is special. This is where neighbors don’t forget each other. They help you save your home and clean up your yard when the debris builds up and feed you when you’re hungry and give you a place to stay when your home is flooded till it dries and it’s not too wet to plow. —Garrick Feldman

TOP STORY >> FEMA opens office for area

Leader staff writer

FEMA opened a disaster recovery center on Monday in the old Blockbuster building, 2126 N. First St. in Jacksonville to help residents repair their homes.

The center is open from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1-6:30 p.m. on Sundays. Individuals are encouraged to register with FEMA first and follow-up with the center if they have concerns or questions, although they can register at the center if they need to.

In Pulaski County, 786 people have registered with FEMA and more than $1.6 million in assistance has been approved, said FEMA Public Affairs Specialist Bob Howard. Any resident from a county declared as a disaster area can take advantage of the services offered at the center.

The office has also sent outreach teams door to door to spread the word about applying for aid.

FEMA will share the new office space with representatives from the Small Business Administration, which is offering homeowners, renters, businesses and nonprofit organizations low-interest loans to use toward repairing damage caused by the disaster.

Lonoke County residents whose homes were damaged by floods or tornadoes can register for assistance by calling FEMA at 1-800-621-3362. After registering, claims will be sent to FEMA’s Jacksonville office.

TOP STORY >> Griffin addresses Tea Party

Leader staff writer

Second District Cong. Tim Griffin (R-Little Rock) spoke to a full house Monday night for the regular monthly meeting of the nine-month-old Jacksonville-Cabot Tea Party, telling his audience that the Republican fix for the ever-growing deficit that passed the House of Representatives in April will likely not be approved by the Democratic Senate and President Obama.

He came with pie charts, graphs and a message about how Social Security and Medicare, the parts of the budget that are mandatory because they are set by law, are larger than the $2.2 trillion tax income to run the federal government. So cutting spending on military, education, infrastructure, foreign aid or any other part of the discretionary budget won’t bring the deficit under control.

“If all the discretionary spending was cut, we’d still be in debt,” Griffin said.

Cutting foreign aid to control the deficit is tantamount to having your HBO shut off because you can’t afford your house payment, he said. It would be a start, but it wouldn’t be enough to pay that much larger bill.

The crowd, which was obviously filled with many of the people who helped put him in office almost five months ago, didn’t like all they were hearing.

One man objected to the terminology. Using mandatory and discretionary disguised the real problem, he said. There are too many young people drawing Social Security checks, he said.

The congressman said he had a point and acknowledged that the charts weren’t going over as well as he thought they would.

He also conceded that waste, fraud and abuse had to be addressed, but he said unless Medicare is revamped soon, there will be nothing left to work with.

He issued this statement on May 13 following a report that day by the Medicare trustees that the trust fund will be exhausted by 2025, five years sooner than had been projected.
“Today’s report confirms what we have known for some time. The biggest threat to ‘Medicare as we know it’ is to maintain the status quo and do nothing. If we do nothing, Medicare goes bankrupt and sooner than we thought. Our House Medicare reform plan is needed now more than ever. It keeps our promise to current seniors, 55 and older, and saves Medicare for future generations.”

The plan would shift Medicare from a public program to private.

“I really believe we can get our hands around this,” he told his audience Monday evening. “If none of us believe we could do this, why would I be up here making you mad by showing you charts?”

Griffin also wanted to talk about terminology. He said he doesn’t like to talk about the deficit.

“It’s not a deficit problem; it’s a spending problem,” he said.

A deficit can be dealt with in two ways, he said. You can cut spending or raise taxes. Cutting spending is the better of the two. And he had a chart to illustrate his point. Countries that have tried to get out of debt by raising taxes have failed. Those that have cut spending have succeeded.

“What we ultimately have is a discipline problem,” he said. “I’ve been around politicians long enough to know that if a politician thinks an action will lead to his defeat, he won’t do it…. If you give more tax money to the politicians, they’ll spend it.”

The meeting lasted about two hours.

In answer to questions from the audience about what they could do, Griffin said they should go online, learn all they can about the growing debt, tell their friends and try to influence their lawmakers.

Billy Johnston, who helped start the Jacksonville-Cabot Tea Party, said later he was pleased with the meeting.

“(Griffin) was very informative,” Johnston said. “He was very receptive to hard questions.”

“Everyday people have got to get involved in this,” he said. “We’ve got to get up off our couches and get something done.”

TOP STORY >> Last day June 9 in PCSSD

Special to the Leader

Students in the Pulaski County Special School District, mark your calendars: Your last day of school is June 9.

It’s not likely what they wanted to hear.

The state Board of Education on Monday denied a request for a waiver of two days district-wide from the state standard of 178 school days. The board, however, granted waivers of one to three days to individual schools in the district, depending on their circumstances in the wake of storms and flooding in late April and early May.

Granting district-wide waivers and waivers to individual schools would have resulted in different closing dates and mass confusion, said Dr. Charity Smith, an assistant commissioner of the state Department of Education.

School will end for Cabot and Beebe public school students on June 3. The last day for Lonoke public schools is June 8 instead of May 22 because they have seven days to make-up (five for snow, one for electrical damage and one for flooding).

Arkansas set a standard – a minimum, actually – of 178 school days in 1983. Waivers are rarely requested – and rarely granted – because districts pad their school calendars with extra days on the expectation they’ll have to close at least a few days because of bad weather.

For closed days not built into the already padded schedule, schools routinely use holidays and spring-break days or occasionally meet on Saturdays to make up for any closed days. But when this spring’s storms flooded communities across the state or ravaged them with tornadoes and high winds, several school districts found themselves without the cushion of a few days and asked to be relieved of the 178-day standard.

As a result, the Board of Education met with a flood of waiver requests from across the state in the past couple of weeks.

Dr. Charles Hopson, superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District, said teachers, staff and students made a brave effort to get to school. While few schools in the district sustained physical damage – the roof of North Pulaski High School was blown off – students, staff and faculty simply couldn’t get to school, Hopson said.

“We tried as hard as possible to keep the district open, but in the end we had to close across the district (May 3-4) out of safety concerns,” Hopson said.

The district originally had a dismissal date of June 1 but moved that to June 7 with makeup days. Not getting a waiver for the entire district puts the date at June 9.

With the waivers, most schools in the district will have had 176 days of instruction this school year. With its damaged roof, North Pulaski High School will have had 175, and Baker Elementary and Lawson Elementary, 177 days each.

Mother Nature’s wrath had some state education officials thinking philosophically.

Before the board began considering the array of waiver requests on Monday, Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said the state should think how seriously it wants to take the 178-day standard. “If it’s a target, let’s change the 178 days. If it’s a standard, let’s stick to the standard,” he said, barring “extreme” circumstances. He called it a “moral imperative” to have students in school as long as possible.

Another state board member, Ben Mays of Clinton, pondered how public school districts came to have a spring break at all. “Years ago, you’d hear of spring break and you’d think of college students,” he said. “Maybe we need to rethink that.”

TOP STORY >> Sentence delayed by judge

Special to the Leader

A federal judge on Tuesday delayed the sentencing of George Wylie Thompson, 65, of Cabot until he could review Thompson’s health and military records. A new sentencing date was set for 1:30 p.m. July 15.

Thompson was convicted Dec. 17 in U.S. District Court in Little Rock of eight counts of federal firearms charges, gambling charges and marriage fraud. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the total maximum penalty for those convictions normally would be 45 years in prison and fines of up to $1.5 million. However, as a three-time convicted felon, he faces life in prison.

U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson also said he wants to know whether Thompson has any real estate that could be seized by the government and be applied toward any fines that are levied. Thompson’s attorneys,

Jake Files and Blake Hendrix, both of Little Rock, told Wilson that Thompson’s real estate holdings were awarded to his now ex-wife following divorce proceedings.

A few hours after Wilson delayed Thompson’s sentencing, Wilson sentenced co-defendant Sam Baggett, a former North Little Rock alderman, to 23 months in prison and and three years supervised release, a form of parole. Baggett will remain free until June 27, when he must report to federal authorities for prison. At trial, he contended he didn’t know Thompson was a convicted felon.

Baggett, 56, served on the North Little Rock City Council and was a federally licensed firearms dealer when he was charged with helping Thompson acquire firearms. Baggett was convicted on three counts of weapons violations on Dec. 17 and resigned from the city council the next day.

When Wilson asked about Thompson’s health, Hendrix conferred with his client briefly, then told the judge that Thompson has prostate cancer and has had trouble receiving treatment.

Wilson asked for detailed medical records.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Hoey agreed that Thompson has prostate cancer because he at one time was receiving treatment at a Veterans Administration hospital but protested that “He didn’t seem concerned about his cancer when he fled the country” to escape arrest following his 2008 indictment. Thompson eventually was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand.

Wilson, known for his homespun humor on the bench, said Thompson likely was more concerned for his freedom than for his health when he fled.

Wilson also said he wants to look into Thompson’s claims that he flew on 66 combat missions as a helicopter gunner during the Vietnam War. Judges are allowed to consider the health and military service as they decide sentencing.

“I’m not contending Mr. Thompson is going to win the chamber of commerce’s citizen-of-the-year award in light of his convictions, but if this (Thompson’s military record) is true, I’m going to give him some consideration,” Wilson said.

Prosecutors mildly disagreed with the judge, with Hoey saying Thompson has been a “con artist” for decades since his military service.

“I’m not going to say how much (consideration), but I will give some regardless of how far he has strayed since,” Wilson said.

Thompson was convicted in 1989 and 2003 on drug charges and served time for those convictions.

In March, Thompson was sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison for his October 2008 conviction on federal cocaine-trafficking charges. A co-defendant, Richard Deleo, of Somerville, Mass., was sentenced to 12 years. Both still face racketeering charges in Massachusetts.

Authorities were investigating Thompson and Deleo when a court-authorized telephone wiretap permitted them to key on Baggett and his relationship with Thompson. That extended investigation also brought an indictment of Cary Gaines, a North Little Rock alderman at the time and former executive director of the Arkansas Sheriffs Association.

Gaines pleaded guilty and testified against Baggett and Thompson in their December trial. Gaines was sentenced to four months in prison last month and ordered to report to prison June 6.

TOP STORY >> State wants PCSSD fixed

Special to The Leader

The state Board of Education on Monday classified the Pulaski County Special School District as being in “fiscal distress” despite acknowledgment from nearly all quarters that school officials have made many improvements the last few months.

School officials said they were disappointed in the unanimous vote — which means the state must approve all spending in the district. The Education Department said it lacked the resources to run the district. PCSSD will go ahead with a $104 million bond issue for a construction and renovation plan of seven campuses, including two new elementary and a new middle school in Jacksonville and closing Jacksonville Elementary in June.

“We’re going to keep on going,” said PCSSD board president Bill Vasquez. (See editorial, p. 10A).

The district is the third-largest in the state, with some 17,500 students. It has endured bad press and a series of lawmakers’ rebukes the last few months over its spending habits and shortcomings in accounting for some funds.

Vasquez noted that most school districts placed on the state’s fiscal-distress list over the years have fund balances of little or nothing.

“We don’t have that (problem),” he said. “We have a healthy fund balance and a rainy-day fund. We’re setting aside money for facilities, and we’ve found $8 million incuts for those facilities. We’ll work with the state in doing what’s best for our students.”

The state board opened its meeting at 9 a.m. Monday, but with a full agenda that included two other fiscally distressed classifications (North Little Rock School District and the Earle School District, both approved), it didn’t get to the PCSSD matter until about 4 p.m. The board spent about an hour and a half on the PCSSD issue before voting. Its work was whether to affirm the Department of Education’s classification a month ago that the district was in fiscal distress.

The classification means that most expenditures will require the approval of the Department of Education, along with its guidance in developing budgets. A district can stay on the list for as long as two years before it faces even stiffer sanctions if substantial progress isn’t made. The Cross County School District in eastern Arkansas was taken off the list after just nine months, the shortest time since the program (and its sister, “academic distress”) was created some 15 years ago.

Asked if the district might break that nine-month record, Vasquez smiled and said, “We’ll see how hard everyone works.”

Of the district’s recent work to correct deficiencies, William Goff, an assistant commissioner in the Department of Education, told board members: “I will say that it is a very good, well-thought-out plan. If that plan is implemented, not circumvented, it will answer most of the problems…”

Sam Jones, a Little Rock attorney recently hired as the district’s outside counsel, was critical of some of the audits, or reports, that precipitated the “fiscal-distress” label. Jones said only one firm has conducted a legitimate audit of the district – the Hudson, Cisne and Co., in Little Rock, in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Jones said most if not all shortcomings in those audits have been corrected.

Jones questioned the work of the Arkansas Legislative Audit and Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, whose members have grilled district officials three times in recent months.

He was especially scathing of a report last month by Navigant Consulting, Inc., a Chicago firm hired for $250,000 by the state attorney general’s office to investigate how the PCSSD, the North Little Rock School District and the Little Rock School District spend their portions of some $80 million a year in desegregation funds. He said that report wasn’t attributed to anyone and was based on hearsay.

“We worked with Navigant,” Jones said. “We thought they’d help all three districts.” He said the Little Rock School District refused to work with the firm. “Maybe they’re smarter than us.”

He said it has been impossible, since the report was released, to talk with anyone at the firm. “It’s the rankest form of hearsay I have seen in a long time,” Jones said. “It’s a report for litigation. It’s not a report for a board of education in these matters.”

He noted that the board’s own PowerPoint presentation for the hearing had these “disclaimers” for the portion dealing with the Navigant report:

n That Navigant based its work on documents not independently confirmed by the company.

n That Navigant “cannot be certain at this time that all of the information collected is accurate or complete.”

n Dr. Naccamon Williams, chairman of the state Board of Education, noted progress by the district in recent months. However, he added, any regulations approved by the district’s board can, at any point, be overturned by that board.

Sam Ledbetter of Little Rock, a former state representative, lawyer and state board member, praised the district’s work. “I think the district is turning the corner. I think the district will turn the corner,” he said before adding that the state board had a responsibility to work with the district in solving any remaining problems.

Shortly before the vote, Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell decried talk that the work of the board in dealing with the school district is rooted in politics.

“This is not politically motivated,” Kimbrell said. “I get e-mails saying that. The Department of Education doesn’t have the resources to take over the Pulaski County Special School District.”

SPORTS >> Howard, Searcy aim for trophy

Special to The Leader

MARION — After Searcy enjoyed a first-round bye and plowed through two opponents in the Class 6A state tournament, the question Arkansas baseball coaches were asking was, “Who can stop the Lions?”

The Lions reached the state championship game by defeating Texarkana 5-0 in the quarterfinals on Saturday and then overpowering Mountain Home 9-2 in the semifinals on Monday night.

With hard-throwing ace Dillon Howard taking the ball in Friday night’s final on five-days rest, Searcy looks formidable.

Searcy lost to Lake Hamilton in last year’s championship in Fayetteville but played that game without Howard, who was relegated to a defensive utility role because of shoulder trouble.

No such trouble is evident this season.

In 14 innings of the Lions’ two state-tournament games, Howard and No. 2 starter Preston Tarkington allowed only one earned run. The Lions will face Jacksonville on Friday at 7 p.m. on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas for the 6A championship.

Howard is so prominent on the Major League Baseball draft radar that mock drafts have him going anywhere from the 23rd to the 29th pick of the first round.

He threw a four-hit, 14-strikeout gem in the quarterfinals and, entering his final high school game, he looks to be imposing for most teams.

However, Jacksonville showed the most offensive punch of any team in the state tournament as the Red Devils hit a tournament-best seven home runs in only three games.

Howard, a University of Arkansas signee, is trying to keep thoughts of the June 6 MLB draft in the back of his mind, at least until the final is over.

“I try not to think about it, but it’s kind of hard,” said Howard, listed at 6-4, 205 pounds. “I’m trying to focus solely on the state tournament.”

Searcy (24-7) earned the right to play in the title game by withstanding an early threat from Mountain Home on Monday. Chris Armistead, the Bombers’ starting pitcher, slammed Tarkington’s first pitch of the game over the left-field fence for 1-0 Mountain Home lead.

“I think that rung our bell a little bit,” Searcy coach Clay McCammon said. “I think we were a little tight to start the game, and I think we woke up after that.”

Searcy answered with a four-run second inning highlighted by Mike Brown’s RBI double, a run-scoring single by Jared Haggard and two more runs that came when Mountain Home center fielder Trey Killian dropped a routine fly ball that would have ended the inning.

In the third, Tarkington, who went 3-for-4 at the plate, singled and scored on a triple to right by Reed Haggard.

“I’ve got to give it up to my coaches for helping my approach at the plate,” Tarkington said.

The Searcy offense finished off the Bombers by adding two more runs in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by ninth-grader Zach Anderson and a run-scoring single by Reed Haggard.

On Saturday, it was all Howard as he lit up the radar gun, with a fastball topping out at 96 mph and averaging 93-94 mph.

Howard retired the first eight hitters he faced and the first two hits Texarkana got were choppers that never left the infield.

The Lions reached Texarkana starting pitcher Brett Rinehart, also an Arkansas signee, for seven hits and five earned runs.

“Texarkana had some big bats, too,” McCammon said. “It was no small feat for Dillon to do what he did.”

Howard was a force at the plate, too, reaching base three times and driving in a run with a sacrifice fly in the third inning.

He also made an athletic defensive play in the middle infield to support Tarkington.

“We’ve had two strong games in the tournament, but we can’t let up,” McCammon said.

SPORTS >> No. 6 Jacksonville gets shot at No. 1

Special to The Leader

MARION — Jacksonville came into the Class 6A state tournament as the lowest seed from the 6A-East Conference and with a rather pedestrian 16-11 record.

After his Red Devils beat Marion 12-8 in the semifinals Monday night, Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows had two things to say about both issues.

“You’re always one two-out single away from winning or losing every game,” Burrows said of the 6A-East. “It’s just a very tough league.”

Of his team’s record, Burrows simply said, “We’re 3-0.”

The sixth-seeded Red Devils made a rather loud statement during the first three rounds of the tournament with their power bats and solid defense.

They plan to utilize that recipe in Friday’s final, in which they will meet the top-seeded Searcy Lions at 7 p.m. at the University of Central Arkansas.

“Look at the final four teams that were in this tournament,” Burrows said after his team’s victory over Marion.

“They all came from the East. I never even gave being the sixth seed a thought. We just told our players to play and keep plugging. Right now we’re getting the two-out hit that we may not have gotten during the regular season.”

Jacksonville’s power bats were never more potent than in the semifinal against host Marion.

Junior Red Devil centerfielder D’Vone McClure displayed his five-tool talent by crushing two home runs, one to left-center and the other to right-center, and he barely missed a third when another hard-hit ball dented the right-field fence in the seventh inning.

Leading 8-4 in the fifth, the Red Devils’ Jacob Abrahamson and Patrick Castleberry hit back-to-back home runs.

Abrahamson cleared the 12-foot fence 380 feet from home plate and Castleberry hit a drive over the left-field fence to give Jacksonville a 10-4 lead.

Running out of fresh pitchers in their third game in four days, the Patriots didn’t flinch. They rallied with two runs in the fifth and another in the sixth to make it a two-run game.

That’s when the Red Devils got the two-out hit Burrows was referring to.

With McClure at second following his double and Abrahamson at first with a walk, left fielder Logan Perry was down to his final strike when he drove a pitch down the first-base line to the fence for a two-run double.

“Those were two big runs for us,” Burrows said. “Marion had their home crowd pack the park and they were going crazy. Logan’s hit silenced them.”

Starting pitcher Jesse Harbin, throwing on just two-days rest, gave Burrows five innings. Nick Rodriguez relieved Harbin after Michael Snipes hit a leadoff double in the sixth.

Harbin scattered eight hits while Rodriguez got a six-out save.

“Jesse’s not much to look at physically, but he’s a competitor,” Burrows said of the 5-9, 165-pound Harbin. “I’ll take him in this position any time.”

Rodriguez limited the damage to one run in the sixth and then retired the Patriots without incident in the seventh inning to put the Red Devils in the championship game.

Jacksonville eked out a 6-5 extra-inning victory over Sheridan in the first round on Friday as Castleberry drove in the winning run in the eighth with a sacrifice fly that scored Noah Sanders.

In the quarterfinals Saturday, the Red Devils avenged two run-ruled losses to Jonesboro during the regular season as they defeated the Hurricane 5-1 behind left-handed starter Noah Sanders, who allowed no earned runs.

Sanders struck out six and retired 11 of the final 14 batters he faced.

He got offensive support from Castleberry, who had three hits, and Perry, who hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning to close out the scoring for the Red Devils.

SPORTS >> Bryant still tough foe in 7A state

Leader sports editor

Bryant bumped Cabot from the 7A state tournament with a 7-5 victory on Saturday, adding postseason success to go with its regular-season victory over the Panthers at Arkansas-Fort Smith.

Hayden Lessenberry led the Hornets, going 2 for 2 with three RBI. He drew a bases-loaded walk to force in a run in the third inning and hit an RBI single in the fifth.

Dillon Cross tripled in Bryant’s two-run second and Landon Pickett led off the third with a home run.

Cabot had a three-run third inning that came on four hits. Casey Vaught led off with a single and with two outs the Panthers strung together consecutive RBI singles by Tyler Carter, Brandon Surdam and Justin Goff to take a 3-2 lead they couldn’t hold.

The Panthers won their first-round tournament game in exciting fashion, beating Springdale Har-Ber when coach Jay Fitch sent Daniel Fox, who drew a two-out walk with the score tied 7-7, home on a seventh-inning single by Kason Kimbrell.

Ryan Logan held the lead in the bottom of the inning after starter Cole Nicholson, along with fellow seniors Carter and Surdam, had to leave early to make it to Little Rock for graduation ceremonies.

Carter doubled in Kimbrell to give Cabot a 7-6 lead in the sixth but Har-Ber’s Andrew Crook singled in a run to tie it in the bottom of the inning.

Cabot got 11 hits, with Surdam, Nicholson and Cole getting three in the fifth as the Panthers overcame a 6-3 deficit to tie it.


Arkadelphia eliminated Sylvan Hills with a 16-6 victory at Rogers, putting together a six-run second inning behind consecutive two-run doubles from Rhett Rogers and Garrett Rucker.

Sylvan Hills scored four runs in the top of the second and got within 8-6 on Trey Sims’ two-run homer.

But Arkadelphia scored four in the bottom of the inning and four in the fifth to run-rule the Bears.

It was the first of two big victories by Arkadelphia over an area team. Arkadelphia pounded Beebe 11-1 on Friday.

SPORTS >> Cabot soccer bows out

Leader sportswriter

Fort Smith Southside fed off goalkeeper Justin Osman’s big block in the 23rd minute of the second half during the Rebels’ 4-1 victory over host Cabot in the first round of the 7A state tournament at Panther Stadium on Friday.

Cabot senior midfielder William Hidalgo had a chance to tie the game with a straight-ahead penalty kick from short distance, but Osman rejected the attempt and kept the score 2-1. The Rebels (16-3-1) used the momentum to score a pair of late goals.

“We started playing better once we got down,” Fort Smith Southside coach Maruicio Maciel said. “First half, they knew that we couldn’t let them hang in there too much. Otherwise, we were going to get in trouble. But they managed to mentally turn around and play better.”

Gustavo Garcia extended the Rebels’ lead to 3-1 with a goal in the 44th minute, and Wesley Carson added the exclamation point for Southside with the final score inside of two minutes.

“When you miss a PK, it not only energizes the opposing team, but it can also deflate your own team,” Cabot coach Steve Porter said. “That was a pivotal moment for us.

“We score that, we’re right in it, and unfortunately, we didn’t. They pretty quickly went down and scored another to make it 3-1. Essentially, it was game over at that point.”

Cabot (11-8-1) took a 1-0 lead at the 29:46 mark of the first half when Eric Silva charged the right side and scored with a cross kick that caught the lower left corner of the goal and went in.

The drive started in front of the Southside goal with a pass from Hidalgo to Logan Spry, who maneuvered past Southside defenders at midfield and found an open passing lane to Silva.

Spry missed an attempt that went wide right in the first two minutes, and had few other opportunities.

Southside’s defense keyed in on Spry, focusing on potential passing lanes from Hidalgo, who shared place-kicking duties with Spry during football.

Hidalgo, who was used more in a defensive capacity in the first half, also drew extra defensive attention from the visitors in the second half once he began making moves in the near field.

“That was one of our goals as we started the game that we knew that No. 10 and No. 9 were pretty much their offense,” Maciel said. “So we made sure that we closed those passing lanes to them.

“We knew that we were going to neutralize them that way by closing those passing lanes starting at midfield. We knew we gave ourselves a chance.”

Senior Riley Schack became Cabot’s biggest breakaway threat once it was clear Spry was being iced. Schack kicked an accurate attempt that was blocked by Osman at the 19:51 mark of the first half and went wide on another attempt at 14:21.

Spry’s only real attempt in the second half looked good aesthetically, but still fell short in the 31st minute.

Spry, the place kicker before an injury in the fall, kicked a high attempt from 25 yards that took a helpful bend before sailing just wide to the right.

“He’s a great player for us,” Porter said. “He finished the season as our leading scorer. They’re right to focus on him — he’s really big, really strong and really fast. And if you do let him get behind you, he’s going to finish it.”

Coady Wooten tied the game 1-1 for Southside with 9:32 left in the first half.

That kept it tied at intermission before Wooten struck again in the 15th minute of the second half to put the Rebels up for good.

Southside fell short of making the semifinal round with a 3-2 loss to Catholic in overtime Saturday.

The Lady Panthers also ended their season with a first-round loss, as Fayetteville shut them out 3-0.

SPORTS >> Myers sets record, Panthers hit stride

Leader sportswriter

The wind couldn’t slow Cabot distance runner Emily “Emkay” Myers at the Meet of Champs at Lake Hamilton High School on Saturday.

Cabot’s track team braved time-hampering gusts and prevailed in three events, with Myers setting a new 3,200-meter girls record.

Myers, a junior, won the 3,200-meter run and broke a 28-year-old record with her time of 11:01.32 to surpass Allison Welk’s 1983 record by 0.02.

Cabot senior pole vaulter Ariel Voskamp set a new school record with a vault of 12-10 while the boys 3,200-meter relay team of Phillip Treat, Chris Dunbar, Zach White and Jacob Luckett won with a time of 8:11.72.

Myers, whose previous best this year was a little over 11:25, went into the Meet of Champs with a personal goal of running under 11 minutes.

Though she fell just short, Myers was able to push herself consistently despite running alone at the front through most of the race. She ran the first half of the race in 5:29 and ran the final mile in 5:31.

Maggie Montoya of Rogers, the other top long-distance prospect in the state, sat out the 3,200 after her victory in the 1,600-meters.

“She did real good,” Cabot track coach Leon White said of Myers. “We were hoping there would be somebody in there who would push her, but nobody went with her. And it was windy.”

White said Myers might have gotten her sub-11 minute time otherwise, but there was no reason to be disappointed.

“Still, it was a great race,” he said.

Voskamp, a University of Arkansas track and field signee, easily claimed the top spot with her season-high vault and earned an invitation to a Nike showcase in the Pacific Northwest this summer. Teammate Julia Gairhan was seventh with a vault of 10-0.

Voskamp did not fare as well in the hurdles. A glitch in the lineups put her in the slow heat of the 100-meter high hurdles, but she appeared to recover with a strong performance in the 300-meter hurdles until she hit the seventh hurdle with her lead leg and fell.

Voskamp was uninjured but finished the race well off the pace.

The boys 3,200-meter relay team backed up its winning performance in the 7A state tournament in Conway the previous week. The boys’ time was nearly four seconds better than the 8:08.05 they finished in at state.

Cabot’s boys 1,600-meter relay team of Treat, Max Carroll, Nick Boris and Clint Cates finished fourth with a time of 3:27.44.

Voskamp will lead a contingent of seven Panthers when Cabot plays host to the Decathlon/Heptathlon today. Voskamp finished seventh in the Heptathlon last year as a junior and teammate Sabrina Antimo finished ninth.

Mansfield’s Jessica Otto won the Hepthalton last year.

Gairhan and McKenzie Spence will join Voskamp, Antimo and Myers in the girls events and Treat and Zach White will represent the Cabot boys.

Voskamp’s primary event, the pole vault, is not part of the Hepthalon’s seven events. But Voskamp is competitive in the hurdles, the high and long jumps and the discus.

Antimo is a sprinter, and should collect points in the 200-meter dash and hurdles. Leon White said he expects her to also do well in the shot put and discus.

Gairhan has a style similar to Voskamp’s with the long jump and hurdles as two of her better events.

Spence, who came up through the Panthers’ ranks as an 800-meters runner and a member of the 1,600-meter relay teams, is new to many of the events, including high jump and discuss.

But Leon White said Spence has been working on the discus over the last week and has shown fast improvement.

Treat is a versatile athlete who Leon White said will do well in most events. Treat has run a full flight of hurdles in practice but never in competition, but White expects him to hold his own in the shot and discus.

Zach White is a distance runner with little experience in most of the events. Leon White said he should do well in the mile and 400-meter races, but will have to play from behind in most of the other events.