Friday, May 27, 2011

EDITORIAL >> Decision lacks logic

Federal courts are known for an excess of deliberateness, but District Judge Brian Miller will not be accused of it. Without warning, he threw a giant monkey wrench into the operations of the three school districts of Pulaski County. Rash is a better word than deliberate for his order, which pretty much ends state desegregation aid for the schools—immediately.

The judge was expected to assign unitary or partially unitary status to the North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts, meaning that they had about fully desegregated and no longer needed court monitoring. That he did, sort of, but he went much further. Without notice, without a hearing and without evidence to support it, he released the state from its obligation to provide most of its desegregation aid to the schools and signaled his intention to release it from the rest, including support for magnet schools and majority-to-minority transfers among schools of the three districts.

Everyone, including the state, was taken aback by the ruling, but state officials—well, the attorney general and the governor—were thrilled by it. It will mean a windfall of funds for the state starting July 1—an alarming crisis for the three school districts, their children and teachers, but a bonanza for the state government.

Attorneys for the Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts asked the judge to quickly stay those parts of his order until they are appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and it has ruled. When that failed, they appealed directly to the 8th Circuit to stay the order while the appeal is settled.

The new school year is a few weeks away, pupil assignment plans are already made, teacher contracts are signed and suddenly adjusting for the loss of more than $70 million will require wrenching changes. The Little Rock school attorney said it might require wholesale teacher layoffs and an end to the popular and successful magnet schools.

The judge’s ruling was bizarre. He took over the 25-year-old school desegregation case recently. Did he realize that the court-approved settlement adopted in 1989 anticipated permanent funding of majority-to-minority transfers and support for magnet schools? They were not supposed to be transitional and temporary.

Of course, the court may determine that they are ineffective or that times have eliminated the need for state funding and amend the settlement. But it should be done only after those issues have been researched and argued thoroughly. At any rate, it should not be done so abruptly that it disrupts the education of thousands of children. We hope the 8th Circuit will realize that, but a new breed populates the appellate courts. Deliberateness and established law are not in vogue.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a former lawmaker from northeast Arkansas who is preparing for another statewide race—for governor this time—jumped on the order. All desegregation aid to the schools in Pulaski County should be stopped immediately, he said. They have plenty of money and it will cause no disruption for students or teachers, he said. That is easy for him to say.

It will be a popular decision around the state. Legislators have demagogued the desegregation issue for years, saying that the poor taxpayers in the rest of the Arkansas were supporting the schools in Pulaski County and thus depriving their own schools. Throwing around figures like $70 million in desegregation aid seems to prove the point.

McDaniel fed it with a statement about the high spending per child in the three school districts, which is above the average that is spent per child in the rest of the state. But he didn’t explain why that was so. It is because Pulaski County levies much higher property taxes to support the schools than do nearly all the other school districts in the state and they have a larger tax base. In other words, people in Pulaski County sacrifice more for their schools. They have to because the state formula for distributing state aid to the schools automatically gives much less per child to the Pulaski County, especially Little Rock, schools because it is assumed that they can support their education better out of their own pockets. We cannot quarrel with that because the Constitution requires the state to guarantee good education for all children and see to it that they are treated equally by the state regardless of where they are from.

But the subsidization issue is the opposite from what McDaniel suggests. The taxpayers of Pulaski County—everyone, not just home and business owners—subsidize the schools in the rest of the state, not vice versa.

A high percentage of Arkansas’ sales, personal and corporate income taxes, cigarette and other excise taxes comes from Pulaski County. Nearly half of all those taxes are distributed among the public schools of the state. Relatively little of it is returned to the Little Rock and Pulaski County schools but instead supports the schools in places like Mississippi County, McDaniel’s base. The special desegregation aid returns some of it to schools in the county where the money arose.

TOP STORY >> Too many cats, so little time

The Central Arkansas Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals needs the public’s support more than ever. The one-woman animal rescue is operating on borrowed time and borrowed land.

Its headquarters, a portable trailer along a quiet Lonoke County road, is home to about 15 cats and another 35 cats are in foster homes in the area.

Karen Stone, SPCA’s founder and only volunteer, says she needs to have as many cats as possible adopted right away. In the meantime, she will not take in any more animals. “I want to get them adopted out as quickly as possible,” she said.

“I’ve done all of this by myself since November,” she said.

In October, Stone was asked to remove 32 cats from her Jacksonville home where she began her cat rescue in 2008.

She adopted many of the cats from area animal shelters so they would not be euthanized. Finding permanent homes for them hasn’t been easy.

“Most people think I’m certifiable because of what I do,” Stone said.

After the city ordered her to remove the cats, she bought a $10,000 portable building, which a farmer agreed to have placed on his land temporarily.

She does not receive steady financial support. Stone pays the mortgage for the trailer. She buys the cat food and litter, and pays for veterinarian bills.

Her monthly bill for cat food can reach $65.

“I’m out every weekend doing fundraisers at Tractor Supply in Sherwood,” Stone said. She also solicits donations at the Memphis Flea Market in Jacksonville once a month.

Stone recently hired United Fence of North Little Rock, which installed an eight-foot fence around the trailer so that the cats can go outside. “It will help to cut down illness if they can go outside,” she said.

Stone is thankful for the support of many area businesses: Whit Davis donated insulation for the trailer. Lowe’s in Jacksonville gave pressed cardboard, which covers the trailer’s walls, and provided two box fans for free.

Home Depot in Cabot gave two space heaters. RSC on Main Street in Jacksonville loaned a generator for a week. Walmart in Jacksonville provides free $25 gift cards every month. Northgate Mini-Storage lets her use a unit at no charge.

The shelter does charge an adoption fee. “We do vet checks and background checks on pet owners” to ensure that the cats are sent home with responsible people, she said. Almost all of the cats are spayed and neutered.

“I feel so bad. I’ve bottle fed most of them and now they’re stuck out here,” she said. “I love the animals. I’m going to do my best to find them homes,” she said.

To make a donation to the Central Arkansas Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, send checks to P.O. Box 6232, Jacksonville, Ark., 72078, or call 501-366-1293.

Dr. Lee Misak’s office also takes donations to help pay for the SPCA’s outstanding bill there.

His office is located at 2021 N. First St., Suite 1 in Jacksonville. The phone number is 501-982-2581.

TOP STORY >> Sherwood realigns wards

Leader staff writer

Sherwood ward boundaries are changing.

By a 6-2 vote Monday, the council put all of Gravel Ridge in its own ward and moved most of Aldermen Tim McMinn and Steve Fender’s constituents out from under their representation, which is why the two voted no to the new borders.

A city is allowed to make adjustments to ward boundaries after a census count. The 2010 numbers showed the city’s population had increased by 8,000, and the difference in ward populations was as much as 4,000 residents.

The difference in ward populations is not supposed to be more than five percent.

Fender was upset that the majority of the council had agreed to the boundaries at a workshop that he did not attend.

“Some of us on this council do work,” Fender said. “And you always seem to schedule these workshops at the last minute and during business hours. If I had been able to attend I would have recommended we go to five wards.”

The city has four wards and under the new plan still has four wards, but with major shifts in lines to put all of Gravel Ridge in one ward and to keep all ward populations around 7,200.

The Gravel Ridge ward —Ward 4 — extends southward into central Sherwood just enough to include Fender and McMinn’s neighborhood.

McMinn said, “73 percent of the current Ward 4 voters put Fender in office and 65 percent put me in office and now we won’t represent them. It’s an injustice.”

He tried to persuade the council to vote for a different configuration that left McMinn and Fender’s ward fairly intact and split Gravel Ridge, as it is now, into two wards. “This way they get double the representation.”

Fender said neither he nor McMinn lived in Gravel Ridge and neither were planning to move there in the near future “It was unfair to ask them to represent an area we are not familiar with,” he said.

Alderman Charlie Harmon said, yes, he was voted on by his ward, but it was his job to represent all of Sherwood and to vote for what was best for Sherwood, not necessarily just his ward.

Brooks pointed out that she was losing a great portion of her ward too.

Under the approved plans, Ward 1 will take in the eastern side of the city below Gravel Ridge and have a population of $7,386 residents.

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 have 7,125 residents and will be the city’s smallest ward.

Ward 3 shifts to the east and south and will have 7,274 residents.

Ward 4 will include all of Gravel Ridge and the northern middle section of the city. It will be the largest of the four wards with a population of 7,661.

None of the changes leave any of the current aldermen out of their wards.

In other council business:

n Aldermen approved a re-vamping of the advertising and promotion commission 2011 budget, increasing projected revenues from $600,000 to $635,000 to include a donation the commission received from the Trail of Lights.

Commission expenditures for 2011 include $300,000 for Harmon Recreation Center, $120,000 for the golf course; $154,000 for city events such as the Trail of Lights, Fourth of July, Sherwood Fest and Christmas parade; $10,000 to the parks and recreation department; $25,000 for advertising, and $25,000 toward replacing the youth center roof.

TOP STORY >> Shutdown of school still not a done deal

Leader staff writer

Is Jacksonville Elementary School really closing its doors for good on June 9?




The Pulaski County School Board voted earlier this year to close it to save about $800,000 in annual costs and bus its approximate 300 students to other schools in Jacksonville.

But the teachers’ union has filed a grievance to stop the closing. Attorney John Walker has filed a lawsuit to stop the closing,. Then there are all the desegregation concerns listed in U.S. District Judge Brian Miller’s recent ruling that could affect the decision.

Board member Gloria Lawrence tried to get the board to discuss the closing at its meeting Wednesday night, but after three hours of financial-distress discussion and agreeing to appeal Judge Miller’s decision, no one else was in the mood to discuss it, yet some board members did get a few words in.

Lawrence wanted to see a breakdown on how the district is really saving $800,000. No teacher positions will be cut in the move, plus more buses and gas will be used to transport the students to other schools, she said.

Lawrence also didn’t like the idea of the school closing before the planned replacement school is built.

Board president Bill Vasquez said the closing is part of next year’s budget plans that have been approved by the state. “If you want to keep the school open, you’ll have to find another $1 million in cuts,” he said.

Lawrence said she and others had already found $900,000 worth of cuts.

“But that was before the judge cut off $17 to $20 million in desegregation funding,” Vasquez said.

Lawrence said a number of teachers and parents were concerned about the closing.

Vasquez, who represents that area, said he had not heard one bad comment about the closing.

“Everyone is pleased and excited. Children will no longer have to walk through a bad neighborhood to get to school. They will be bused to other schools and students and parents are excited about that,” he said, adding none of the other schools are any further than the local Walmart.

He added that Jacksonville has way too many elementary schools and most are half-empty, yet the district is having to buy and move at least one portable building to Murrell Taylor Elementary to deal with the influx of students who will come from a closed Jacksonville Elementary.

The issue should be on the agenda for the district’s June 14 meeting.

TOP STORY >> Spending cuts proposed for solvency plan

Leader staff writer

Pulaski County School District has so many financial problems that it has developed a 35-point plan to combat all the shortcomings.

Anita Farver, the district’s chief financial officer, presented the plan Wednesday night. The school board made about a dozen changes or adjustments before approving the plan.

The plan comes on the heels of a scathing state audit of the district, numerous thefts, fraud and misappropriations and a general lack of financial control.

The latest includes the district having to pay $100,000 in penalties and interest for payroll taxes not paid on time to the IRS.

The district will also “monitor expenditures related to desegregation funding.” Not knowing where years of desegregation funding went is one of the reasons U.S. District Judge Brian Miller recently ordered a halt to $70 million in payments to the three county districts, included PCSSD.

Paying bills on time was a recurring problem through the 90-minute presentation by Farver.

According to information given at the meeting, the district pays 81 percent of its bills within 30 days, meaning it’s late on much of the rest and incurs additional fees.

“We’ve got to do better,” said board president Bill Vasquez. “We can’t be paying late fees with taxpayers’ money.”

Adding to the dilemma are too many bank accounts spread out without central control.

It seems each school in the district has its own activity account and makes deposits in whatever bank it wants —39 schools and 39 different bank accounts.

“It’s 2011,” said board member Sandra Sawyer. “We should be able to find one bank with branches in all our areas.”

The plan will rein in the various accounts and make it harder for abuse to occur.

The districts also recently revamped its cell phone contract, so it no longer has to pay roaming charges. It has also tightened rules for the use of the 100-plus cell phones the district has signed out.

Superintendent Dr. Charles Hopson said many of the problems were caused by 20 years of past practices. “A lot of past practices were loosely organized,” he said, and that has come back to bite the district.

The multi point plan calls for the finance office to highlight all purchases over $1,000 for the board to see without having to dig through reams and reams of paper. It also has more checks and balances, so items like a jet ski — Vasquez’s words — are not purchased.

Vasquez recommended the district set up a hotline, similar to what the Air Force has, to report fraud, waste and financial abuse. “It would be anonymous, of course, and we would get a report each month,” he told the board.

One thing the approved plan will do is generate a number of new and extra reports for the board to look at and question at each board meeting.

Two keys of the 10-page plan include setting a “tone at the top promoting a commitment to financial prudence” and to monitor all expenses to remain in the budget.

The plan also calls for discontinuing the use of blanket purchase orders, reconciling bank statements in a timely manner, and tighten and document employee travel reimbursement.

Payroll and accounting duties will be segregated or spread around to ensure no individual or department is either overspending or improperly spending funds.

Overtime hours will be monitored better. Farver said no one on contract will work overtime unless written approve has been obtained from human resources.

The district will also change its policy on checks it issues, going from 180 days for redemption to the industry standard of 90 days.

District inventory, particularly at the warehouse, will be checked more regularly, issuance and use of gift cards are now prohibited and the allowable uses of district credit cards will be tightened.

SPORTS>> Standouts in soccer get honors

Leader sportswriter

Searcy players led the way on the Arkansas Activities Association’s list of all-state soccer honorees with eight of the total 17 names from the local area.

Four Lions and four Lady Lions were named all state, tying Searcy with Bentonville and Valley View for the most selections from a single school.

The Lions, who wrapped up their fifth-consecutive 6A state title last week with a 1-0 victory over Russellville, had four seniors make the list, including four-year starters Isia Garcia and Steven Seitz. Defender James Adkins and Andrew Moore were also named all state.

Seitz was the team’s leading scorer in both his junior and senior seasons.

“He was the main scoring threat on our team,” Searcy coach Walter “Bronco” King said. “He was scoring a lot for us up until midway through the season, then he started getting double and sometimes triple teamed. He recognized that, and gave opportunities to some of the other guys.

“Over the course of four years, he developed a reputation as one of the guys opponents needed to shut down.”

Garcia, the Lions’ main team captain, was named MVP during the state finals victory over Russellville.

“He has to rank up there as one of the best center-midfielders in the state,” King said. “He knows what to do in just about any situation. We would not be as good as what we are without him.”

Adkins, a three-year starter, became one of the team’s main defensive players over the past two seasons.

“He’s a young man who started as a sophomore, and was our only sophomore defender at the time,” King said.

“Last year, he picked his game up. We’ve had outstanding defense the past couple of years, and James has been a big part of that.”

King described Moore as the glue that held it all together.

“Andrew is another one of our team captains,” King said. “He was the main communicator as to where everyone should be and where the ball needed to go. Overall, he was one of our main team leaders.”

Moore and Garcia were also named to the East all-star team, and will represent Searcy one more time in Fayetteville next month during all-star week.

For the Lady Lions, Averie Albright, Jade McCoy, Elliot Scarbrough and McKenna Smith were named all state. Lady Lions senior Kerry Moon did not make the all-state list, but was named to the East all-star team along with Scarbrough, who was also an all-state selection in basketball.

Senior midfielder William Hidalgo was Cabot’s only selection for all state on the boy’s side. Hidalgo signed with St. Louis University to play college soccer before suffering a mid-season hamstring injury that kept him off the field for most of the last half of the season.

He returned for the Panthers’ first round state tournament game against Fort Smith Southside and was part of a vital penalty kick that changed the complexion of the game in the second half.

Hidalgo was also named to the East all-star team.

While Hidalgo’s selections for both honors were well deserved, teammate and senior classmate Logan Spry’s name was curiously absent from both lists.

Forward Alexis Lewis was the all-state selection for the Lady Panthers team under first-year coach Kerry Castillo. Castillo was named as an assistant on the East all-star coaching staff.

Jacksonville junior forward Taylor Ruple was the only other local all state selection from Class 6A. Ruple has been the Lady Red Devils’ leading scorer over the past two seasons, and finished the year with over 40 career goals.

North Pulaski had one player from each team make all state. Spencer Johnson was named from the Falcons team while Jennifer Waylan made the list for the Lady Falcons.

For Sylvan Hills, Armando Garcia and Jeremiah Persson were both named all state for the Bears while Calyn Fulton and freshman Abi Persson made the list from the Lady Bears squad.

SPORTS>>Astin, Baxendale lift Hogs to West title


Saving the first game and winning the second game of the doubleheader sweep that gave the Arkansas Razorbacks the SEC West title also got Barrett Astin named the SEC Freshman of the Week.

The SEC announced the honor for Astin, of Forrest City, from its office in Birmingham, Ala.

Astin recorded the final out of Arkansas’ 2-0 victory over Ole Miss in last Saturday’s first game at Baum Stadium and pitched four scoreless innings of relief as the Hogs came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat Ole Miss, 5-3.

Sylvan Hills’ DJ Baxendale got the save.

“When I took the ball from him I told him, ‘You gave us the chance to get back in this game, man. Great job,’” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of Astin.

Without Astin’s save and victory, the Razorbacks would not have won the West and would not have been in Hoover, Ala., to open the first round of the SEC Tournament against Alabama.

The Hogs went into the doubleheader last Saturday knowing a loss would mean a five-way tie for first place with Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Arkansas could have stayed home on the tiebreaker or won the West outright to head to Hoover, which with Astin’s and Baxendale’s help is how it worked out.

“It was a good deal,” Astin said. “We knew what we had to do and we did it.”

Along with sophomore lefty Trent Daniel, of Bryant, Astin (5-1 with a 2.74 ERA and two saves) tops out of the bullpen. He was even better in the SEC at 2-0 with a 2.43 ERA and his two saves.

Baxendale, the sophomore right-hander who went 8 1/3 innings in a 2-1 loss to Ole Miss on Thursday night and came back for Saturday’s second-game save, also was honored by the SEC this week, this time off the field.

Baxendale was already named to the USA National Team this summer and on Monday he was selected to the SEC’s All-Community Service Team.

Baxendale is a member of the Arkansas Student Athlete Advisory Committee and has volunteered for community service projects including the Sweat Hogs program, the Book Hogs Read to Win program and the SEC Together We Can food drive.

Baxendale has also volunteered his time to Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

SPORTS>>Cabot’s Benton links winner

Leader sports editor

Nicklaus Benton tore through the final five holes at Greystone’s Cypress Creek Course on Tuesday to win the USGA Public Links qualifying and the official invitation to the Public Links Championship on June 27-July 2 at Brandon Dunes in Oregon.

Benton, of Cabot, had a birdie, par, birdie, par and Eagle over the last five holes to claim the Public Links’ lone qualifying spot.

Benton shot a five-under 71-68—139 for 36 holes and his score came despite a lost ball on No. 6.

The victory places Benton in his first USGA National Championship.

Jace Long of Dixon, Mo., is the Public Links first alternate with a 71-70 – 141. First-round leader Brian Whittle finished at 69-73 – 142 and tied for third with Corbin Renner, of Little Rock, with a 71-71 – 142.

Searcy’s Tim Harrell shot 77-80—157 to tie Mountain Home’s Richard Zimmerman for 16th.

Benton’s father Jeff and brother Colby tied for 10th with a 77-73—150 while Nicklaus’ mother Shelley, the Greystone women’s club champion, served as her son’s caddy.

Rounding out the family affair, Kaylee Benton is the current standings leader for the ASGA Junior Girls Player of the Year.

Nicklaus Benton recently shot a 37-37—74 to finish in a tie for fifth at the 2011 U.S. Open Qualifying at the Chenal Country Club Bear Den Mountain Course.

He just missed earning one of the top four spots that would have placed him in the sectional qualifying round June 6.

The Public Links Cham-pionship was first played in 1922.

The event allows public course golfers, with a USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 4.4, a chance to play for a national championship.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

TOP STORY >> Bribe plot entangles 2 districts

Leader staff writer

How far will the repercussions from the supposed bribe of a Pulaski County Special School District Board member go?

So far, one of the two people purported to be behind the event, Mills High School Principal Mike Nellums, has been placed on administrative leave with pay for the rest of the school year, and he could end up being fired from his $103,000 position for violations of the state ethics code.

Nellums was formerly the principal at Jacksonville Middle School and was reassigned. At that time he sued the district and reached a settlement last year of $50,000 plus $25,000 for attorney fees. The settlement also includes a letter of recommendation from then school board president Tim Clark if ever needed.

Nellums is also a member of the Little Rock School Board. That board’s president, Melanie Fox, said the incident does concern her, but there are only three ways a school board member can be removed. They either have to commit a felony, miss three meetings in a row or move out of their zone.

“It’s my understanding that no charges are going to be filed, he’s attending meetings and is still in his zone,” she said.

The other person involved in the incident, according to Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley was Clark, a current PCSSD school board member and former board president, who has denied any involvement in the incident. Witnesses say he may have provided $2,500 in cash to video another board member accepting a bribe.

Just like Nellums, he can’t be removed from the board unless he is charged with a felony, misses meetings or moves.

But it can make it tough for the PCSSD board to move forward with both Clark and Gwen Williams, who allegedly took the bribe, on the board.

Williams said she will sue for entrapment and humiliation.

Charles Hopson, Pulaski County Special School District superintendent, said Monday, “Prosecutor Larry Jegley is correct in noting that the alleged scheme involving board member Tim Clark and PCSSD principal Mike Nellums is a ‘distraction’ which, in my opinion, takes the focus off our very important mission of educating our children. As it should, the public expects school administrators, educators, and elected officials to maintain exemplary standards of professional conduct and provide competent leadership.

“Accordingly, under our new administration, I continue to stress the importance of transparency and accountability, and I am hopeful that the problems of the past will take on less significance as we move toward the future.

“Although Mr. Jegley found no criminal action, it remains to be seen if the alleged actions by Mr. Clark and Mr. Nellums were violations of ethical standards which would warrant further corrective action by this district and/or the various state boards. Today, PCSSD placed Mr. Nellums on administrative leave pending further investigation by the District.

What is clear is that despite this distraction the District will continue to “turn the corner” as was recently stated by a board member of the Arkansas State Board of Education during its meeting.”
The board will be meeting Wednesday evening — not to discuss this issue, but to look at options regarding the recent desegregation ruling by federal Judge Brian Miller, which takes about $17 million in funding away from the district.

The bribery incident goes back to last summer when many board members received a videotape that appeared to show Williams taking a $100 bribe from a contractor.

“I didn’t do it. I’m innocent,” Williams said last August, and then referred all other questions to her attorney, William Proctor Jr. She is having her lawyer field all calls on this latest turn.

All board members, except Williams, received a letter and two recordings last summer that apparently showed her taking a $100 bribe.

The one-page letter delivered to most board members at their homes included the typed name but no written signature of a man identifying himself as Ricky Weathers, who said he was a masonry specialist from North Little Rock.

“I’ll give ya’ll a chance to get this woman straight,” the letter said about Williams. “All I can say is ya’ll need some help on this school board. This woman is a crook and doesn’t care one bit who knows. Somebody ought to call the police on her.”

The man told board members in his letter that he was seeking a contract to pour concrete sidewalks at Harris Elementary School, which is in Williams’ school board zone 7 in the McAlmont community.

“After speaking with Mrs. Williams, I was concerned about her general integrity and intent,” the letter said.

“Mrs. Williams in a roundabout way told me if I took care of her, she would take care of me. I’ve done school work before but never had a board member tell me that. She kind of stated that she needed some help with her bills, and could use some help getting her car fixed. It did look like it needed some shocks or something.

“The contract is a state contract for concrete work so I thought I should just help her,” he said in the letter, “but to protect myself and to let you know how it really works out here, I videotaped and audio taped the meeting.”

Neither the videotape nor audiotape seem to be clear or conclusive enough to say for sure that a bribe took place.

After almost a year of investigation, the prosecuting attorney released a three-page letter May 20 stating that the man purported to be the contractor was a man named Ervin Bennett.

Bennett, who volunteered to cooperate with authorities, said he was brought into the scheme by Nellums and Clark. He said Nellums and Clark believed that Williams was taking bribes and that they wanted to prove it.

Cell phone records show that the three did make numerous phone calls to each other the month before the incident occurred.

The person who actually filmed the “bribe” was identified as Craig Tissue.

Clark was interviewed by Pulaski County sheriff’s deputies and Jegley said it was apparent that he was trying to “perpetuate the ruse.”

Clark, in an email statement Tuesday, accused the prosecutor of cutting a deal with Bennett in return for immunity against prosecution.

“We believe individuals in Mr. Jegley’s office offered Mr. Bennett immunity and it appears those people based their report entirely on this man’s allegations. Mr. Jegley’s office did not contact me prior to releasing last week’s report,” Clark wrote in the e-mail.

“I never asked Mr. Bennett or anyone else to contact Gwen Williams to make any type of bribe. Mr. Bennett called me a number of times and that is reflected in phone records. He asked for money, and I never gave him a cent.

“I never recruited Mr. Bennett to do anything, much less provide him with a script. I met with Mr. Bennett once and recorded the conversation. During that conversation, he again asked for money. I never gave him a cent. I told him to call the police numerous times. There are witnesses to these conversations that overheard my telling Mr. Bennett to contact the police.

“I have never laid eyes on Mr. Tissue (the private investigator). I did not hire him; I did not give him money, and I did not ask him or anyone else to create a video. I did not give money to Mr. Nellums to give to Mr. Bennett, Mr. Tissue or anyone else.

“Gwen Williams originally stated the money was a gift, and $100 was in the envelope. Mr. Bennett said the envelope contained $250. I don’t know what was in the envelope because again, I had nothing to do with it.

“I am extremely disappointed that reports have circulated that dispute the actual events that occurred. I am innocent and will make every effort possible to clear my name. I intend to set the record straight once and for all.”

Jegley concluded that Clark and Nellums were not trying to capture an actual crime but the appearance of impropriety.

The prosecuting attorney wrote that the “juvenile cloak-and-dagger means to discredit Williams would verge on the ridiculous if it weren’t for the sad fact that both these men hold important positions in the education of the children of this community.”

Jegley went on, “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.”

But because no charges will be filed against them, the pair will continue to be school board members.

School board president Bill Vasquez would not say if Nellums should be fired. “It’s just another personnel matter,” he said. Nellums was a vocal critic of Vasquez, who consolidated Jacksonville’s single-gender middle schools in 2008. But the board president says he takes no joy in Nellums’ downfall. “There’s no joy in that stuff,” he said.

As for Clark, Vasquez said, “(He’s) still a member of the school board in good standing. Arkansas law is very clear, you have to go AWOL or commit a felony” to be removed from a school board.

TOP STORY >> Ruling: PCSSD wasted money

Leader staff writer

State Rep. Mark Perry was glad to see U.S. District Judge Brian Miller’s decision to cut off $70 million in desegregation funding to three Pulaski County school districts.

“He saw what the state legislature has know for a long time. We’ve known that the districts haven’t used the money right for the past 20 years. If you had a chance to listen to my legislative colleagues, they are fed up,” said the representative whose district covers a large segment of Jacksonville.

“We need to see what kind of appeals will be filed, but this shakeup is long overdue,” Perry added.

“There’s a lot to be determined yet,” said Daniel Gray after reading Judge Brian Miller’s recent ruling in the Pulaski County Special School District’s decades- old desegregation lawsuit.

The PCSSD School Board agreed with Gray’s assumption and has called a special meeting for 7:30 tonight to discuss the ruling and look at options.

Gray, who is chairman of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce’s education committee, said he was encouraged by the tone of the ruling.

“The tone was that things are working and haven’t been working for a long time. That’s what we’ve been saying,” said Gray, who is also a member of the Jacksonville World Class Education organization and the Jacksonville Education Foundation, groups dedicated to improving schools in Jacksonville and working diligently to get the city its own school district.

“As long as we are a part of the county district we will work with PCSSD and are all in for the students,” Gray explained.

Gray is happy just to see a decision come from the courts. “This judge seems more open to changing the status quo than past judges,” he said. “And I think he will be faster making decisions. I’m no attorney, but I think this opens up opportunities for us.”

Gray’s chamber committee is set to meet June 13 and the judge’s ruling and its implications will be the main focus of discussion.

Judge Miller ruled PCSSD and North Little Rock School District had partially met the requirements of the desegregation suit and ordered an end to $70 million in annual desegregation payments to the three Pulaski County school districts. PCSSD’s cut is around $17 million a year.

The judge said that the state of Arkansas was using a carrot-and-stick approach with the three school districts in Pulaski County 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.”

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.”

Patrick Wilson, legal counsel for the Jacksonville Education Foundation, said the foundation applauded Miller’s courage and “appreciates the fact he is trying to do something other than the status quo.”

Wilson said unfortunately there will certainly be appeals. “That process had already started and we will monitor those in our efforts to move forward with our own district,” he said.

Attorney Mike Wilson said the judge ruled that PCSSD 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 said the local groups pushing for the standalone district need to push harder now.

School board president Bill Vasquez said under the ruling, “It will be six to seven years before we can break away.

“While we are hermetically sealed to the district, the kids deserve the best,” he said.

Vasquez feels the district has the ability to fix Jacksonville’s failing schools and repair facilities.

He said the district would focus on building schools and bringing technology to classrooms.

“According to the judge, the worst schools in the district are in Jacksonville,” he said.

“The quicker we address (the district’s problems), the quicker people are going to bring their kids to our schools,” he said.

“We’re going to have a state-of-the-art junior high school, and following that up with a state-of-the-art high school,” he said.

“It’s not going to be easy, but it’ll be worth it,” he said.

If PCSSD builds new schools that educate children well, Vasquez believes the district can win over many Jacksonville residents who have been working to break away.

Jacksonville’s schools will be some of the best in the district within 10 years, he said.

In the meantime, Vasquez is hoping the district can retain the desegregation funding from the state that the judge ordered cut. “We’d like to keep it all and work on a phaseout,” he said.

He said the judge’s ruling was surprising in that it called for an immediate halt to most desegregation funding. “We’ve been looking for a three-, five- or seven-year phaseout.”

Vasquez said that he understood the judge’s frustration with the district’s desegregation efforts. “We’ve taken the money and not done the job to the detriment of poor black students,” he said. “We took the money and ran.”

He said he has faith in Superintendent Dr. Charles Hopson’s ability to get the district back on track to achieving unitary status.

“Dr. Hopson went to segregated schools until he was a junior in high school down in Prescott. He went to UCA in the early ’70s at a time when it was tough to get in” as a black man, Vasquez said.

Jonathan Feldman contributed to this report.

TOP STORY >> Sherwood decides to delay tax vote

Leader staff writer

There will be no vote in Sherwood on raising the sales tax to fund a new library and animal shelter until at least May 2012.

In a 5-3 vote Monday night the council decided to wait until the next primary election and save the city up to $15,000 in election costs.

Alderman Tim McMinn, who pushed for the delay, said he had no problem with the idea of a new library and animal shelter.

“Both are essential parts of the community, but the cost of living is going up. Even though the price of gas has dropped this past week, we all know it’s going to go back up and with all the flooding there will be a major food increases. There are just a lot of factors to look at,” he said.

McMinn continued, “The people will still get to vote on the issue,” adding that 1 percent may not sound like a lot but it adds up.

“Timing is everything and right now is not the time to ask for a tax increase,” he told the council and a full chamber of guests.

“A special election will cost the city. Can’t we defer this until the primary election in 2012 and then there’ll be no cost to the city,” McMinn suggested.

He still felt that way after being told by the mayor that the Central Arkansas Library System, of which Sherwood is a part of, would be willing to pay for half the special-election costs.

Supporters of the library and animal shelter were hoping the council would approve the idea of the two-year, one-cent temporary sales tax and set a special election as only residents can actually approve a tax hike.

The tax, according to City Clerk and Treasurer Angela Nicholson, would bring in about $4.7 million.

Bobbie Roberts, president of CALS, said the new library would cost about $3.8 million to build, stock and furnish. His estimate did not include the purchase of the land. He recommended at least two to three acres.

No cost was brought up for the plans of a new “state-of-the-art” animal shelter.

Any leftover funds from the tax would go for road repair and maintenance.

Alderman Steve Fender made it clear before the vote was taken on the issue that he would vote no to raising taxes. “There’s never a good time to raise taxes and this is an especially bad time,” he said.

Fender said he would love to see the library go forward, but philosophically couldn’t vote for it.

Alderman Ken Keplinger was leaning toward setting up the special election even though a survey he did showed people were in a 50-50 split over the idea.

“I had my doubts about the CALS survey, so I went to Walmart and asked the same questions,” he explained.

His finding showed people were more in favor of the animal shelter than the library.

“But what I found out talking to the people was that for every one person who was a Sherwood resident, three were not. So we would have a lot of non-Sherwood people paying this tax, and that’s a good thing.”

Roberts told the council that the library was 22 years old and was “doing all it could with what it has.”

He called the Amy Sanders Library an energy hog and non- ADA compliant. Roberts said it had no wireless technology and no room to expand.

Roberts said that since 1993, “basically the start of the Internet, usage had gone up 178 percent and computer use up 1,265 percent.”

He also said 54 percent of the city resident’s were card carrying members of the library.

“It’s hit a plateau. Now it’s a community decision whether or not to take the next step and join the other communities that have new libraries,” Roberts said.

He added the biggest expense of a library is the cost of running it “and you are already paying for that.”

Voting to delay the election on the tax issue to at least May of next year were aldermen McMinn, Fender, Kevin Lilly, Toni Butler and Mary Jo Heye.

Against the delay were aldermen Keplinger, Charlie Harmon and Marina Brooks.

SPORTS >> Hatcher, NP football part ways

Leader sportswriter

North Pulaski football is in the same predicament as it was the previous two years — the Falcons have no head coach.

Terrod Hatcher stepped down after one season as head coach two weeks ago, just before the start of spring practice. Athletic director Tony Bohannon oversaw spring practice with the help of assistant coaches Bobby Vaughn, Jay Darr, J.D. Pendagraft and Greg West.

Hatcher was promoted from offensive coordinator, after his players lobbied him to take the job, for the 2010 season. The Falcons won one game against Crossett, 38-13, in Week 8.

Hatcher’s predecessor, Rick Russell, coached the Falcons in 2009 and also went 1-9, with a Week 3 victory over Little Rock McClellan.

Russell left last summer to return to Jacksonville High School as head coach and led the Red Devils to the second round of the state playoffs. Hatcher, who had served under Russell as offensive coordinator in2009, took over just before the start of fall practice and at 23 was one of the youngest coaches in the state.

Sources said Hatcher, an Arkansas Tech graduate, was returning to school. Attempts to reach him by phone were unsuccessful.

Hatcher’s resignation is another bump in the road for North Pulaski football.

Bohannon was coach of the Falcons from 2002-08, going 5-65 in seven seasons.

The team has had one winning season in 33 years, and has never qualified for postseason play.

“You have to have a coaching staff that works well together,” Bohannon said. “And no detriment to the kids, but you’ve got to have the numbers also — and some stability.”

Hatcher played defensive back and running back at Jacksonville High School under longtime coach Johnny Watson. In a twist, Russell was Hatcher’s defensive coach at Jacksonville.

Hatcher started school at Arkansas State then transferred to Arkansas Tech. Upon graduation, Hatcher briefly coached at Fuller Middle School before joining the varsity staff under Russell.

There was hope when Hatcher was promoted late last summer. The program, long in search of an identity, had enthusiasm with a popular coach who was close to his players in age.

But it wasn’t long before Hatcher’s frustration began to show and he became known for making few excuses for losing performances.

Through the confusion of Hatcher’s departure, Bohannon coordinated spring practice.

There were 26 players who turned out, all but three of whom were sophomores and juniors.

“Spring went great,” Bohannon said.

“We didn’t bring out all the ninth-graders. We just went with the ones who had already been out here and going through offseason. I think we had three ninth-graders out there.

“At semester, we tried to move up what we could.”

SPORTS >> Searcy claims fifth state soccer title

Leader sportswriter

Searcy survived a tense defensive struggle to beat Russellville 1-0 and claim its fifth straight soccer championship at Fayetteville’s Razorback Field on Saturday.

Junior center-midfielder Manuel Ruiz passed to sophomore forward Cam Woodruff for the game’s only goal in the ninth minute of the second half on Woodruff’s straight-ahead shot from 10 yards out.

Russellville double-teamed Searcy senior forward Steven Seitz, allowing Woodruff to exploit an open lane. Seitz nearly got the Lions’ first score in the final minute of the first half but Cyclones goalkeeper Martin Acosta made a save.

The Lions started to build offensive momentum late in the first half, but it was a defensive adjustment early in the second half that proved to be the difference for Searcy (20-1).

“We wanted to press and make a charge, but things weren’t happening,” Searcy coach Bronco King said. “So I subbed in an extra defender, and we went back to our old familiar format with four back and two up top.

“Up to that point, it had been a defensive struggle, but about two minutes later is when we were able to score.”

Searcy’s five straight titles tie the program with Harrison for most consecutive state championship victories.

Russellville, though thought of as the underdog, proved to be a formidable adversary for Searcy when the Lions took a 3-1 victory over the Cyclones (16-6-2) in a non-conference match in April.

The mid-season meeting made an impression on King, who now has three state championships in three seasons as coach.

“It did cross my mind,” King said of a potential rematch with Russellville in the final. “I knew they looked good the first time we played them, and I told the guys not to be surprised if we saw them again on down the road.

“I think they kept that in mind. The guys knew they were going to have to play hard.”

Seitz and senior team captain Isai Garcia also became a part of state soccer history as four-year starters on four state championship teams.

Seitz, Searcy’s leading scorer the past two seasons, and Garcia, the Lions’ versatile center midfielder, began their careers as freshmen under former coach Jeff Davis, and have both played in the last four 6A state championship games. Garcia was named MVP on Saturday.

“It’s real special for those guys,” King said. “The main thing that was different for them this year was that we were playing somebody different. It was a harder task to achieve.”

Searcy’s four previous titles came with victories over conference foes Jonesboro and Mountain Home.

“If I’m quoting Steven right, he said it’s one of the things that will stick out the most over these past four years to him,” King said of the hard-fought victory over Russellville.

Seitz and Garcia are part of a group of 11 departing seniors, but with 13 juniors, nine freshmen who were contributors this year and another group of talented freshmen moving up next year, Searcy has a chance to edge Harrison for the consecutive state-titles mark.

King anticipates a group of 50-60 underclassmen will report for tryouts next week.

“I got to looking, and we’re losing 11,” King said. “But we have nine or 10 guys coming back that got to see a lot of playing time this year, so we’ve got a little experience coming back.

“Plus, I anticipate a lot of younger guys coming in. Hopefully, we’ll have another group that can go out and break that record next year.”

SPORTS >> Jackson is new coach for Falcons

Leader sportswriter

The North Pulaski High School athletic department and principal Jeff Senn have recommended Jacksonville High School assistant Roy Jackson to succeed basketball coach Raymond Cooper.

Jackson, a 1992 graduate of Jacksonville High School, won out over nine other applicants for the job and will take over pending approval from the school board.

“It’s always been a lifelong dream of mine to coach a high school basketball program,” said Jackson, who applied after Cooper left to become basketball coach at Mills. “When coach Cooper left, it was a perfect opportunity for me to come in. I know a lot of the kids from playing against them, and I know the ins and outs of that rivalry.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity for me to prove myself.”

Jackson received his teaching degree at the University of Central Arkansas and began his coaching career as an assistant at Lake Charles (La.) Boston High School, where he was part of a state championship program in 2004.

Jackson returned in 2005 to take a position on the Jacksonville athletic staff.

He began coaching the boys freshmen team and served as assistant under coach Victor Joyner, who came from North Pulaski to take over the Red Devils program the same year and was replaced at North Pulaski by Cooper.

“We knew about his discipline and work ethic,” North Pulaski athletic director Tony Bohannon said of Jackson. “He’s knowledgeable of the game. We’ve watched him coaching the ninth-grade teams and seen him with the senior-high teams and we know he’ll do a good job and pick up the slack.

“It will be different, but he’ll be a good fit here.”

The basketball ties between the cross-town schools are strong. Players from both programs are teammates in summer AAU basketball, not to mention Joyner’s previous experience at North Pulaski.

“He endorsed me,” Jackson said of Joyner, his mentor over the past six seasons. “He told me it would be a great idea, and that was where he got his start. It’s a good program, and I’m a home-grown boy, so it’s just a great opportunity.”

Girls varsity basketball coach Katrina Mimms moved from North Pulaski to Jacksonville in 2006, and North Pulaski football coach Terrod Hatcher, who recently stepped down, played at Jacksonville.

Cooper, who will remain in the Pulaski County Special School District at Mills, led North Pulaski to a state runner-up finish in the 5A tournament in 2009 and took the Falcons to the semifinals the following year.

“I know coach Cooper and coach Joyner left some big shoes to fill,” Jackson said. “But I’m ready to strap on those boots and ready to get to work.”

Jackson was already meeting with his new players when contacted by a reporter early Monday afternoon.

Though in different classifications and conferences, North Pulaski and Jacksonville schedule two games a year. They often meet in the annual Wampus Cat Classic invitational tournament in Conway in early December and in the annual Red Devil Classic at Jacksonville during the holiday break.

In December, the Red Devils, on their way to this year’s 6A state final after winning the championship in 2009, held off a late charge by the Falcons to claim the Red Devil Classic championship.

Jackson and Joyner won a state title at Jacksonville together in 2009 and were 6A state runners-up to Little Rock Parkview in March.

Even though he will compete against his former head coach and is taking over Joyner’s former program, Jackson said he is ready to begin his own era.

“It’s going to be a little different, but I’m up to the challenge,” Jackson said. “After that many years in Jacksonville, and coming from that school.

“It’s going to be real exiting; it’s going to be the kid going up against his mentor.”

SPORTS >> Harbin outduels Howard to win MVP

Leader sports editor

CONWAY — Jesse Harbin wasn’t the Major League draft prospect with the college scholarship offer in his pocket.

He was just the guy who sparked Jacksonville’s 6A state championship victory.

Harbin was named most valuable player after the Red Devils beat the Searcy Lions 6-5 at Bear Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The junior right-hander pitched 4 2/3 innings in relief of Noah Sanders and hit a two-out, two-strike, three-run double that tied it in the bottom of the seventh.

“Hopefully it fell down and it did. Happiest feeling in the world man,” Harbin said of his bases-clearing drive into the right-field corner.

For most of his stint on the mound, Harbin, who opened the game at third, squared off against Searcy standout Dillon Howard, the University of Arkansas signee who is projected by some experts to go somewhere between the 23rd and 29th pick of the Major League draft next month.

Howard, as he has done throughout his high school career, pitched commendably.

The right-hander worked seven full innings and allowed just three hits, after Harbin’s double in the fourth was erased on appeal, and took a 5-1 lead into the seventh.

But after Jacksonville starter Noah Sanders singled, Kenny Cummings reached on an error and D’Vone McClure walked to load the bases, Howard hit Jacob Abrahamson to drive in a run.

Patrick Castleberry popped up for the second out to bring up Harbin, who hit a 0-2 pitch just inside the right-field line to tie it. Harbin, who failed to touch first after doubling to left-center off Howard in the fourth, wound up 2 for 4 with a single, his double and four RBI.

McClure provided the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the eighth.

“Last year Jesse didn’t hit a ball to the left side of second base and then he comes out and hits a gap and then one down the line,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said of Harbin’s day at the plate. “He’s put in a lot of hard work into it and it paid off for him.”

Howard, who moved to shortstop when Preston Tarkington relieved him to start the eighth, was hitless in four at-bats.

While the state championship eluded Howard, who with the Lions was making his third straight finals appearance, he is headed for further adventures either with coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks or an as yet-unnamed Major League team if he is selected, as expected, high in next month’s draft.

“He’s had a great career here, a great senior year,” Searcy coach Clay McCammon said. “We’re going to miss him. He certainly pitched well enough to win that ballgame I felt like.

“But we’ve got 14 seniors, we’re going to miss them all.”

Harbin will be back next year, but many of his teammates won’t. With so many upperclassmen graduating, Harbin felt a sense of urgency to get a championship this year.

“It means a lot to me but it means more to these seniors, we have 13 of them,” Harbin said. “I had to go out there and get it done for them and thank God I did.”

Harbin induced a first-pitch double play ball to get Jacksonville out of a jam when he relieved Sanders in the fourth.

Though he was touched for home runs by Mike Brown and Reid Haggard, Harbin helped himself at the plate and wound up with his third victory of the state tournament.

“What else can you say? He’s a bulldog, he’s always been a bulldog,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said. “He deserves the MVP.”

SPORTS >> Rallying Red Devils go extras, win it all

Leader sports editor

CONWAY — Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows took a solitary knee and a quiet moment near the dugout while his celebrating players made all the noise on the field at Bear Stadium.

Moments later, Burrows issued his last command of the Red Devils’ improbable 2011 state tournament.

“Go get it,” Burrows said, and his players readily obliged, grabbing the 6A state-championship trophy they had just earned with an unprecedented comeback and 6-5, eight-inning victory over Searcy.

Down to his last strike and the Devils’ last out, most valuable player Jesse Harbin hit a tying, three-run double with two outs in the seventh and D’Vone McClure drove in Nick Rodriguez with a sacrifice fly in the eighth.

Harbin, who relieved left-hander Noah Sanders in the fourth, returned to the mound to finish it out, surviving a walk to Reid Haggard and getting Preston Tarkington to fly out to left fielder Logan Perry to end it.

“They battled, they battled,” said Burrows, who began to smell victory when the Devils loaded the bases in the seventh. “You just see it sometimes and it happens.”

No Arkansas high school team had ever rallied from four runs down in the seventh to win a state title, but the feat was in character for Jacksonville, which entered the state tournament as the No. 6 seed and had to win an extra-inning game and ride out a rain delay just to reach the championship.

“You need things to fall your way and they did for us this year,” Burrows said. “It feels good.”

It was another frustrating finals appearance for Searcy, making its third straight appearance after losing the previous two championships and with well-rested Major League prospect Dillon Howard on the mound.

Searcy won the regular-season doubleheader with Jacksonville, getting a 6-1 victory from Howard and a 6-4 victory from Tarkington.

“We talked about some various things about Howard and we worked on some various things in practice,” Burrows said. “We only took a strike one inning. As 10th-graders, we took a strike against him and he threw a no-hitter.”

On Saturday, Howard largely shut down the Red Devils, giving up just three hits — after Harbin’s fourth-inning double was taken away on appeal — but Jacksonville loaded the bases in the seventh when Sanders singled, Kenny Cummings reached on third baseman Mason Wyatt’s throwing error and McClure drew a walk.

Howard hit Jacob Abrahamson to drive in a run and make it 5-2.

“When Abe got to first base I knew that on any hit we could score from first,” Burrows said. “He’s done that many times. I really felt like when he got to first it was going to happen, and it did.”

Harbin then lined Howard’s 0-2 pitch down the line and into the right-field corner to tie it. Searcy catcher Hayden Mercer said one of the Jacksonville runners didn’t touch home, which is painted onto Bear Stadium’s completely artificial infield, but when the Lions appealed, Howard was ruled to have thrown an illegal pitch that was called a ball.

McCammon said the ruling was one in a series of events that cost Searcy, going all the way back to the first run the Lions surrendered in the first inning.

“We had a couple routine plays there in the last we didn’t make,” McCammon said. “That was the difference. There was a big at-bat where Jacksonville got the call and we didn’t but it was a good ballgame.

“I’m happy for coach Burrows. They did a great job; they’ve had a great run here and I feel for my guys because they worked hard and they deserved it. They just came up short today.”

Tarkington relieved Howard to start the eighth after Searcy got two men on with two out but stranded them in the bottom of the seventh.

With one out, Tarkington walked Rodriguez, hit Sanders, threw a wild pitch that advanced Rodriguez to third and then walked Cummings. That brought up McClure, who flew to right, deep enough to bring home Rodriguez.

“We had to come in and get on a roll with the sticks and thankfully we did,” Harbin said of Jacksonville’s late offense.

McClure walked and scored Jacksonville’s first run on Harbin’s single in the first.

Searcy left two on in the first and stranded two more in the second, but tied it on Reid Haggard’s RBI double.

Jared Haggard made it 3-1 with a two-out, two-run double off Sanders in the Searcy third. The Lions loaded the bases against Sanders with a pair of walks and two singles in the fourth, but Harbin came on with one out to induce an inning-ending double play.

Mike Brown homered off Harbin to lead off the fifth and Reid Haggard belted another homer with one out in the seventh to make it 5-1.

“I feel for them right now; they’re hurting,” McCammon said after the lead got away. “That’s a tough game to lose. You’ve got to give Jacksonville credit; they battled and stayed in there and never quit.”

Harbin gave up four hits, struck out three and walked two in his 4 2/3 innings. Howard struck out five and walked three while giving up just three hits through seven innings.

While Searcy was a top seed making its third straight state championship appearance, Jacksonville was in its first final since winning its only other championship in 1987. The Red Devils were the top seed with a first-round bye the previous two seasons, but bowed out in the second round both times.