Saturday, October 15, 2011

SPORTS>>Beebe girls sweep out Lady Bears

Leader sports editor

Beebe’s volleyball team can’t make the state playoffs, but it had a score to settle when it went to Sherwood to face Sylvan Hills in a 5A East volleyball matchup. The Lady Badgers settled that score by avenging an earlier loss and beating the Lady Bears 3-0 for their second conference win of the season.

“Just winning the rest of them is what we’re playing for now,” Beebe coach Ashley Camp said. “We have new goals set, some higher expectations, and I’m proud of the way they played tonight.”
Camp stopped short of saying it was her team’s best performance of the season, but did see some things she was pleased with.

“I think we may have played our best match against Greenbrier, but this one wasn’t bad,” Camp said. “The main thing that was good to see was that we finished. We’ve talked a lot of about closing things out when we get a lead. We’ve let some go this year, but they stayed focused tonight and finished in each game.”

The Lady Badgers had to rally in game one after falling behind 7-1, and then again 15-8. Lady Bear sophomore Val Jarrett dominated at the net in the early going, but Beebe’s defense began rotating to Jarrett’s side. After a couple of blocks against Jarrett, the comeback was on.

Beebe sophomore Madison Richey took serve with her team trailing by six and stopped serving down 15-14. Richey’s serve was trouble for Sylvan Hills throughout the match.

“She’s got the talent,” Camp said. “We’re working on getting her to be more vocal and assertive out there. Her serve is usually on, and it was on tonight.”

After a kill by Sylvan Hills senior Zaneb Rehman, Beebe’s Stephanie Pollnow served an ace to tie game one for the first time. She also served four straight, giving Beebe a 21-18 lead.

After falling behind 19-23, Sylvan Hills rallied to tie the match, but Beebe broke serve for 24, and junior Morgan Henry served the game out for the Lady Badgers.

The Lady Badgers raced out to a 7-1 lead in game two, only for Sylvan Hills to come back and tie it at 14. Richey again served six straight for the Lady Badgers to start the game, but Jarrett took over at the net and rallied the Lady Bears. Beebe’s Lesslie Colbert took serve with the game tied at 14 and served four straight, including two aces, to put Beebe in control. At 19-16, Richey scored three more on serve, including two more aces to make it 22-16.

Sylvan Hills rallied again to cut the margin to 23-22, but Colbert ended the game with a strong kill to put Beebe up 2-0.

Beebe trailed early in game three, but took its first lead on a service ace by Emily Epperson that made it 10-9. Richey took serve again with Beebe leading 14-11 and served two more aces in a six-point rally that put the Lady Badgers up 20-11.

After some back and forth, Pollnow’s team-high 13th kill ended the match with authority.

Sylvan Hills played the game without four players who took part in the previous meeting between the two teams. It was the Lady Bears’ fourth game with only eight players.

“It’s been one of the toughest years we’ve had,” Treadway said. “We expected to be able to compete this year. We struggled early and some of them just didn’t want to stick it out. The team that’s left, I really enjoy. These girls have stepped up and volunteered to take on roles they’re not familiar with. It’s difficult when you’re shorthanded, but these players we have left have been a lot of fun to work with.”

Richey scored a game-high 21 points on serve, including seven aces. Pollnow also served well, scoring 12 points and also finishing with four blocks.

Colbert had eight kills for Beebe.

Jarrett led all players with 16 kills.

Each team has one conference game left. Beebe travels to conference-leading Little Rock Christian while Sylvan Hills goes to Vilonia.

SPORTS>>Cabot gets offense going, can’t get conference win

Special to The Leader

The Cabot Panthers fought hard to try and earn their first win in conference play Friday night against Little Rock Central but fell short, losing 41-36 at Panther Stadium.

The Panthers appeared to have all but won after taking the lead with less than a minute to go in the game. But Marvell Harris, Central’s speedy standout and nephew to NFL leading rusher Darren McFaddn, broke free on a 38-yard touchdown run on fourth down to give the Tigers the victory.

“We had the lead, we lost it, but the kids didn’t quit. We came back and got the lead, but when you get in open spaces they got some speed. They got the home run hitter and that’s the thing we don’t have. We have to work our way down that field.”

The stands were packed as Cabot celebrated its homecoming, and the Panther offense was solid on its first drive of the game. The Panthers marched down the field on a 10-play drive that ended with sophomore fullback Zach Launius punching it in from three yards out. The PAT was good to give Cabot an early 7-0 lead.

After a three and out on the Tigers’ first possession, Cabot marched down the field with ease on what looked to be another promising drive before fumbling on the Central 11 yard line.

The Tigers recovered, but the offense was still having trouble moving the ball.

On a gutsy call, the Tigers decided to go for it on fourth and inches, on its own 20-yard line. The Tigers tried a quarterback bootleg, but the Panther defense wasn’t fooled as they took down Central quarterback Hayden Wynne in the backfield. The turnover gave the Panther offense the ball at the Central 19 yard line.

With great field position, the Panther offense took only three plays to find the endzone when junior fullback Ian Thompson ran it in from three yards out. The successful PAT from Jesus Marquez gave the Panthers a 14-0 lead with 11:06 left in the half.

After yet another three and out from the Tigers’ offense, Cabot looked to be in control. However, Cabot returner Bryson Morris muffed the punt and Central covered the ball on the Panther 41 yard line.

Four plays later, Central running back Malcolm Robinson ran it in from 10-yards out to keep the Tigers in the game. The successful PAT made the score 14-7 with 8:00 left in the half.

The Panthers got in the endzone again with 3:55 left in the half to increase their lead to 21-7, but Central answered with a five play drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown run from senior running back Marvell Harris. The PAT was blocked by Chase Boyles to make the score 21-13.

The Panther offense tried to get on the board again before the half, but quarterback Zach Craig was picked off by A.J. Tucker. Tucker’s return set up the Tigers for a makeable field goal, but the attempt was blocked by Brandon Schiefelbein to end the half.

Central (5-2, 3-1) came out strong in the second half when Robinson returned the opening kickoff 95 yards to set up another Central touchdown. After the successful two-point conversion, the score was evened at 21-21.

Both offenses went back and forth from there, but two more scores to Cabot’s one gave Central a 35-28 lead with 7:23 left in the game.

After a Central turnover on Cabot’s 21 yard line, Cabot ran 14 plays, all run plays, before Thompson ran it in with 0:58 left in the game to make the score 35-34. Cabot called timeout and called Thompson’s number again as he drove his way into the endzone to give the Panthers a 36-35 lead with under a minute to play.

“That’s a game we could’ve won,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “The kids did play hard, but it’s hard to overcome five turnovers and still have a chance to win the game.

Cabot (1-6, 0-4) outgained the Tigers’ offense with 385 total yards, 369 of those yards coming on the ground. The Tigers put together 362 yards of offense, with 300 coming from the ground.

Launius led the Panthers with 110 yards rushing and a touchdown on 21 carries, while Thompson did his part with 79 yards and three scores on 17 carries.

Central’s standout Harris was the star of the night with 217 yards of total offense and four touchdowns, all of which were on runs.

“I was proud of the way our kids didn’t quit,” Malham said. “They could’ve really hung their heads when we lost the lead, but they kept fighting and we got the lead back. Gosh that clock just didn’t run fast enough there in that last minute.”

Cabot will try and end its six-game losing streak next week when the Panthers travel to Bryant. Kickoff starts at 7 p.m.

The Tigers will host North Little Rock at Verizon Field at Earl Quigley-Bernie Cox Stadium next Friday.

The 5-2 Wildcats defeated Little Rock Catholic 33-17 on Friday to stay in the hunt for the 7A-Central Conference championship.

SPORTS>>Cabot ladies clinch first conference win

Leader sportswriter

Sometimes tough love is the answer.

That’s what Cabot received from first-year coach DeAnna Campbell on Tuesday, and the Lady Panthers responded by capturing their first 7A Central victory of the season over Little Rock Central in five games. Scores in the match were 18-25, 25-23, 13-25, 25-17, 15-11 at Panther Pavilion.

Campbell remained seated alongside assistant coach Becky Steward through most of the match, and did not rescue the Lady Panthers with a timeout as they struggled through a miserable game three in which the Lady Tigers dominated.

Cabot turned things around at the start of the fourth game, largely on the strength of junior outside hitter Dominika Gubricova, who posted three quick kills to give the Lady Panthers a 3-1 lead. Gubricova also finished strong in the fifth and final game with six more kills for nearly half of the needed points.

“Tonight, I think it was kind of a right of passage for them,” Campbell said. “They have been very dependant on us to teach them and keep them going. We told them tonight, ‘you’re to the point where you need to start doing this yourselves. You’ve got to start making decisions yourself. You’re going to fight or be scared.’

“They took the challenge in the first game in the huddle. They rose to the challenge and they fought.”

Sophomore hitter Bailey Uhiren took charge in the second game with the bulk of Cabot’s kills, including two straight tippers that pushed the advantage to 20-13 for the Lady Panthers. Senior Kori Malloy followed with a kill, but it was Malloy’s sets for assists to both Uhiren and Gubricova that made the biggest difference in the match.

“She’s been working on getting to the ball,” Campbell said. “One of the things we adjusted that helped us was setting. You’ve got to move the ball around, and we had gotten to where we were setting the same person two-three-four times in a row. And so they were able to block them.”

Central’s defense got to Cabot in the third set, forcing multiple errors that led to easy points for the Lady Tigers. Central built a commanding 22-9 lead with help from four straight side-outs against the Lady Panthers.

Gubricova had been relatively quiet until game four, where she came alive with eight kills.

Sam Mantione and Kaitlyn Pitman also contributed kills, as the Lady Panthers began to pull away from a 10-10 tie with seven unanswered points. Gubricova had just three kills through the first three games but finished with 18 for the match.

“She’s our most experienced hitter by far,” Campbell said. “In a go-to situation, she’s going to be one that’s going to get the nod, because she’s fearless, she swings hard and she doesn’t back down. Whenever she gets on a roll and keeps scoring — in volleyball, if you’ve got one that keeps going, you just keep giving it to her.”

There were also strong performances in the backcourt, including a strong night serving and defending by junior libero Hannah Montgomery.

Sophomore Taylor Bitely also had a good defensive performance at the net for Cabot, along with sophomore Lakin Best.

With only a few conference games remaining, the Lady Panthers are a long shot for postseason play at this point. But with young players showing steady improvement on a roster that includes nine sophomores and five juniors with just two seniors, Campbell said there is still plenty to fight for.

“As young as we are, I’m not sure that going and playing a game at state would do more harm than good,” Campbell said. “I think it might scare them more than anything else. Next year, this whole group will be older, and I’d like to go to state older with more experience. A little less fear and a lot more attack, which is what we’ve been working on.”

SPORTS>>Bears finding ways to win, beat Falcons

Leader sports editor

It’s never the same way, but each week the Sylvan Hills Bears find a way to win one-point games. On Friday at nearby rival North Pulaski, the Bears made a pair of defensive stands to hang onto a 32-31 victory over the Falcons. The Bears two previous wins were 7-6 over Mills and 13-12 over Crossett.

Sylvan Hills got a few big breaks and made a couple of big plays to secure Friday’s victory.

The Bears put together their final scoring drive midway through the fourth quarter. Starting from their own 40, the Bears took nine plays to go that distance and caught a huge break when the Falcons were called for pass interference on third and 15. That moved the ball to the North Pulaski 14. The Bears got three yards on first down, then went to their biggest weapon. Tim Finley, 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, took the next two handoffs, and carried the second one six yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

“They scored and put us down and we answered,” Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow said. “I don’t know how we’re doing it. We have good kids. They just keep working and finding ways to win.”

Trailing by one, North Pulaski took possession at its own 28-yard line and made several big plays to stay alive, including converting a fourth down and six and a third and 11.

Once North Pulaski got to the Sylvan Hills 30, things went awry. It started with a delay-of-game penalty. On first and 15 with an empty backfield, quarterback Marvin Davis was forced out of the pocket.

Everyone on the Sylvan Hills defense left coverage to chase Davis, who spotted receiver Kevin Williams all alone at the five, but Williams dropped the pass. On third down, a Bear defender made a big hit on a receiver, knocking the ball into the air, where it was picked off and returned to the Sylvan Hills 35.

The two big breaks, the pass interference and the dropped pass, weren’t lost on the head Bear.

“You know we haven’t had a break the last couple of years,” Withrow said. “I mean nothing. Then these last few weeks things have just bounced our way.”

The Bears milked the clock down from 2:49 to just 52 seconds to go, but gave it back on downs at the Falcon 45.

North Pulaski got 14 yards on first down, but could only get two more from there. The Falcons went for it all on fourth and eight, but the pass was long and all that was left was for the Bears to take a knee.

North Pulaski coach Teodis Ingram couldn’t quite explain how the win got away.

“We’re just snakebit it seems like,” Ingram said. “I think we played our best offensive game of the year, but I don’t think we played well at all defensively. We’ve faced bigger, more physical offensive lines than this one, and played better than we did tonight. I was disappointed defensively.”

The defensive woes started early for North Pulaski. The Bears scored on the first play from scrimmage, a 74-yard pass from John David Miller to Jalen West, who was lined up the right slot of a five-wide set.

North Pulaski took the lead with 1:09 left in the first quarter with a seven-play, 80-yard drive. Hart scampered 19 yards for the score.

Austin Allen’s extra point put the Falcons up 7-6, but it was the last extra point NP would convert the rest of the night.

Miller fumbled the snap on the second play of the ensuing drive, and North Pulaski covered it at the Bear 28. This time it was the home team with a one-play drive. Davis hit Williams with 14 seconds left in the opening frame to make it 13-6.

The Bears caught another break on its next drive. The Bears lost a yard on first down to set up second and 11 from their own 45. It was the last play of the first quarter.

When the ball was moved to the other side of the 50-yard line, the officials put the chains on the 44 instead of the 46, meaning the Bears needed just eight yards for a first down instead of 10.

They converted on fourth down by a half yard. After the conversion Sylvan Hills got chunks of yardage at a time. Jaleel Henson went 12 yards, Anthony Featherstone got an 11-yard reception and Jarron Wade caught a 14-yard pass for the score to make it 13-12 with 8:23 left in the first half.

North Pulaski answered right back, driving 71 yards in nine plays to score with four minutes left. The key play of the drive was the first one, a 43-yard run by Hart. He also had the last, a six-yard scamper for his second score of the game.

But the Bears weren’t done in the half either. Sylvan Hills went 66 yards in eight play to tie the game at 19 with 12 seconds left in the half. Featherstone did most of the work on that drive, catching three passes for 51 yards, but Henson got the last four for the touchdown.

The Bears took the lead back in the third quarter with a nine-play, 53-yard drive. Demarcus Willis capped the drive with a 3-yard run, and the extra point made it 26-19.

North Pulaski scored the next two touchdowns to set up the exciting final minutes. The Falcons got some help with a personal foul penalty, and Courvoisiea Allen caught a 12-yard pass from Davis to cap the drive and make it 26-25 with 2:25 left in the third.

The Falcons got a big break of their own on the ensuing kickoff. West took the kickoff back for a score, but a block in the back well after West was free and clear nullified the return. It almost proved costly. The Bears failed to score on the drive, and NP too the lead moments later.

On second and seven from their own 26, David hit Hart on a receiver screen, and Hart took it 74 yards for the score.

“That guy (Hart) is the best back nobody has ever heard of,” Withrow said. “He’s got moves, speed and he’s a workhorse. I don’t know why no one talks about him.”

Hart finished the game with 262 total yards. He carried 15 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns, and caught four passes for 117 yards and one score.

Davis completed 12 of 23 attempts for 219 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, though there were four drops and one incompletion was a spike to stop the clock late in the game.

North Pulaski And Sylvan Hills each compiled 380 yards of offense.

Sylvan Hills was led by Anthony Featherstone’s 110 total yards. He had five carries for 40 yards and five catches for 70. Henson led the Bears on the ground with 19 carries for 87 yards. Finley had nine carries for 67.

The Bears improved to 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the 5A Southeast Conference. The Bears stay on the road to face Monticello next week.

The Falcons dropped to 0-7 and 0-4 and travels to Crossett next Friday.

Friday, October 14, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Big banks robbing us

Don’t tell us that the laws aren’t written for the big guys. The payday lenders are back in Arkansas charging everything from 120 percent interest to highway robbery. But this time, they are some of the nation’s biggest banks and it’s all perfectly legal.

It took 10 years, but the state succeeded two years ago in chasing out all the loan sharks who were making “payday” loans at interest rates 10 to 20 times the rate (17 percent) allowed by the Arkansas Constitution. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel harassed the payday lenders and the Arkansas Supreme Court finally—finally!—just flatly ruled that it was all illegal. It took a few months after that for McDaniel to shutter the last storefront lender.

The payday lenders took advantage of people desperately needing a little cash by contracting with them to advance them a few hundred dollars in exchange for a big chunk of their next paycheck. People would get trapped in the cycle and have to renew the loan, each time at usurious rates.

Now, three of the nation’s largest banks—Regions, US Bank and Wells Fargo—are offering their customers the same deal. The interest runs from 120 to 500 percent. That clearly violates the state Constitution, but it’s permissible under the Gramm-Leach financial deregulation law of 1999. That was the Republican law, written by Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, that pretty much told the financial houses to go do their thing and the federal government wouldn’t be watching anymore. We know how that turned out on a national scale.

One provision allows the payday lending in states like Arkansas. An out-of-state bank can charge whatever interest rate it chooses in Arkansas regardless of the state’s restrictions as long as that interest rate is permissible in the bank’s home state. Federal law, of course, trumps state law, so the lending practices are legal. The banks insist that the huge charges are not interest rates but “fees.” The state Supreme Court has always said fees were a sham. You can call it whatever you like but it is interest.

McDaniel has been suing online payday lenders in Arkansas and he’s studying what he can do about the big banks. The answer is, probably nothing, though we hope he is resourceful and finds a way. It is going to take action by the U.S. Congress to restore the protections for Arkansas people, and that is a virtual impossibility. The big drive in Congress now by the tea-party evangels and others is to get rid of the few protections for consumers put into the financial regulation act that Congress passed last year, the so-called Dodd-Frank law.

Put another restriction on the bankers just to protect a few poor saps in Arkansas? No way. Just ask the members of our own congressional delegation—any of them. They know from whence the campaign money flows. —Ernie Dumas

EDITORIAL >>Womack talks cents

Let’s ignore his motivation and be grateful to U. S. Rep. Steve Womack for the idea and maybe the courage. Womack, our new Third District congressman, introduced a bill to end the sales-tax exemption for online sales.

The bill is not likely to pass because too many in Womack’s Republican Party view it as a way to get more money into government coffers. Scores of Republican congressmen and senators signed pledges never in all their lives to vote for anything that would raise taxes or otherwise give government at any level more money to spend.

But this is a bill that ought to attract the support of conservatives and liberals alike and especially all those politicians who shed tears for the small businesses of America. This is a bill for small businesses everywhere, and big businesses, too. It provides a level playing field for retailers. Now the tax system puts local businesses at a huge disadvantage by giving a big break to online businesses like Amazon.

Yes, Womack’s motive can be faulted. Walmart is the big exponent of the legislation because Amazon and other online businesses would have to start collecting and remitting the same taxes that Wal-mart and every other local store must collect. Wal-mart, which is headquartered down the road from Womack, is his biggest backer; he’s sometimes referred to as Steve Womack (R-Walmart). But so what? In this case, Walmart’s interests just happen to coincide with the broad public interest.

Big online retailers like Amazon have removed their physical nexus in states like Arkansas that have enacted laws requiring the remitting of sales taxes so that they will not have to collect the taxes. By skipping gross-receipts taxes, its products have a competitive pricing advantage over local stores, including Walmart—a 6 to 8 percent advantage in Arkansas.

The states and local governments, not just local businesses, have an interest in passing Womack’s bill. Yes, the current Republican mantra is that government is evil and it must be starved, but most people don’t believe that. The encroachment of tax-free retailing by the online businesses has not only weakened and closed many bookstores, sporting goods, hardware and clothing stores but it has slowed or halted the natural revenue growth of the state government, cities and counties.

Sales tax revenues, the chief source of funds for cities and counties, have flattened in recent years because more and more shopping and selling have occurred online and tax free while the needs of government, for prisons, police, teachers and health care, have continued to rise.

Let Steve Womack take care of his friends and benefactors down the road at Walmart. For a change, he’s also doing the people’s business.

TOP STORY > >Middle school officially open

Leader staff writer

Parents and community leaders walked down the halls of the new $31.5 million, 197,000- square-foot Sylvan Hills Middle School after a ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday.

The modern building off Johnson Drive opened in August. It replaced the 56-year-old school built in 1955 as Sylvan Hills High School. Enrollment of sixth through eighth grades at the school increased 141 students from 656 last year to 797.

Many people had positive things to say about the school. Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman said the new middle school is great for the community.

“We’re excited about it. Everyone is positive about the school,” she said.

Hillman attended junior high in 1976 at the old middle school building.

“It looked the same as the day it closed (2011). We’ve come a long way since,” Hillman said.

The building separates grade levels into three separate “dens” or pods. Each pod has 16 classrooms, a conference room, a computer lab, a teacher’s workroom, a seminar room with seating for 100 students for projects or combining classes; and two commons area for students.

Hillman said having the grade levels separated in pods means fewer discipline problems and classes running more smoothly.

The school has nine separate science labs, three per grade level; two band rooms, two choir rooms and two art rooms. The school has six career-education classrooms, an athletic gym that holds 1,200 students and a practice gym. The cafeteria also has a stage.

Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Dr. Jerry Guess said the building shows the commitment of the community to the students and educators.

“It was built, engineered and designed well,” Guess said.

State Rep. Jim Nickels (D-Sherwood) said, “It is marvelous. The old middle school was not in great shape. It is something to look at with pride, a positive for the school district.”

“This was the largest crowd I have seen at a Sylvan Hills Middle School open house. It has brought the community and parents together, so it has to be good,” Nickels said.

Nickels’ daughter, Kris Smith, is the middle school’s band director. His grandson, Grant Smith, is a sixth-grader at the school.

“It is amazing. I like it. It is going to be a wonderful school,” Alderman Toni Butler said.

Alderman Ken Keplinger liked how the middle school is one building but separates the three grade levels. He also likes the school’s Zeroes Are Prohibited (ZAP) program.

When students don’t do their homework, they are pulled out during their lunch free time. Students eat and then finish their homework.

“ZAP needs to be in all the schools in the district,” Keplinger said.

Jacob Wagner, an eighth-grader, compares the new middle school to the old one. “The rooms are lot bigger. In this school you have to walk more, but it is inside and we have air conditioning, finally,” Wagner said.

“It is a lot more organized. I like the Promethean boards better than the white boards. There is no gum under the desks. It is a treat to be here and we should treat it a lot better than the old school,” Wagner said.

TOP STORY > >Jacksonville plant hires more workers

Leader staff writer

Business is up at a manufacturing accessories plant despite the struggling U.S. economy. It is hiring workers and acquiring new machines.

Crosby National Swage, 2511 W. Main St. in Jacksonville, provides parts to the booming oil industry and for projects worldwide, including 44,000 pieces holding together the Millennium Dome in London, which is the size of three football fields.

That is just one of the company’s many accomplishments, said vice president and general manager Mike Chandler, beaming with pride.

The Crosby Group acquired the plant in 1969. National is the world leader in the manufacture of swage fittings used in the fabrication of wire rope slings and pendant lines for cranes. National offers its patented “Cold-Tuff” process that gives mechanical properties equal to or exceeding those of stainless steel swage fittings.

The plant employs about 90 people, who work in two 12-hour shifts. It is trying to pump that number up to 103. National is looking for machine operators and a few individuals to help out with the heat-treating process. The pay is between $18 and $20 per hour.

The machines are fed specifications and they can mold a part to those specifications. Thereare two types of CNC machines, a mill and lathe. A mill machine doesn’t turn a part inside it, but it works on a stationary piece. A lathe machine does turn the part as it molds it.

National Swage is expecting one $250,000 CNC mill machine to arrive in two weeks, Chandler said. The company has also ordered another $500,000 CNC lathe machine and a drilling machine.

Chandler said the plant does four things to what it receives in an inventory of about 1.2 million parts. One of those four processes is using the machines to shape parts.

That inventory is shipped out as finished products about eight times per year, which means National Swage sells about 10 million products each year.

Workers at National Swage powder coat, heat-treat, use machines on and cold extrude parts before shipping them out as finished products.

Powder coating a product involves bonding phosphate to the metal of a part and then paint bonds to the phosphate. The purpose of the process is cosmetic, Chandler said.

Powder coating ensures that the paint on a part never wears or chips off because it is chemically bonded to the metal through several rinses and a 400-degree oven that melts the powdered paint onto the part.

Some parts require heat-treating. They go into a 1,700-degree oven. The process makes a piece both hard and ductile, which means it can be pulled but it won’t break, Chandler explained.

The parts are put through non-destructive testing before they are branded with the plant’s logo and bagged to be sent out.

One test magnetizes the part and then washes it with phosphorous that is attracted to any cracks in a piece. A black light reveals any imperfections in the product.

Then a part could go to another testing method in which a machine pulls it with the force that is equal to two and a half times what is approved as the part’s safe working load.

The assembly section helps with the tools workers need to do their job in manufacturing the products. There is also a die shop. Swaging is a forging process in which the dimensions of an item are altered using a die or dies, into which the item is forced.

Chandler spoke to the Jacksonville Rotary Club a few weeks ago and said his company is making parts for the lucrative oil industry, which is doing well worldwide.

Although construction isn’t great in the U.S., it is doing well in other places. About half of the parts the plant produces for construction are shipped to other countries.

. He spoke about the on-the-job training through Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy (WAGE) program.

Ken Bunch teaches in the WAGE instruction room built specifically at the plant to seat up to eight employees. The company offers 640 hours of training and workers are paid to receive the training.

Chandler told Rotary members National’s productivity went up 25 percent after implementation of the program and its annual bottom line increased from $10 million to $18 million.

The Crosby Group boasts 1,600 employees at three U.S. plants, one Canadian plant and five European plants. It is a worldwide leader, selling products everywhere, including China.

Chandler told Rotary Club members the plant can compete with those in Mexico and other places that could pay workers less.

“We are ahead of our competition in quality,” Chandler said. “With a slight advantage and a slight head start, we can compete with anyone in the world. We have that.”

TOP STORY > >Principal loses job at a long hearing

Leader staff writer

The meeting room and hallways at the administrative office for Cabot schools were full for a Wednesday night hearing of the the school board, which decided Suzanne Proctor would not get to keep her job as principal at Northside Elementary School be-cause she went out of state for several days without telling anyone.

Two Cabot police officers stood against the wall inside the boardroom to keep the peace after one officer reported overhearing in the crowd that there would be trouble if the board ruled against the principal.

Teachers, parents and even a few students were on hand to hear the fate of the woman they described as going far beyond job requirements to see to the needs of students and parents.

Some, including Proctor’s attorney, Charles Finkenbinder, complained that Proctor re-quested an open public hearing and she didn’t get that since her supporters were forced to stand outside.

It took about six hours of opening statements from lawyers and testimony from witnesses and almost an hour of deliberation for the board to reach its decision.

They voted unanimouslyagainst Proctor and upheld Dr. Tony Thurman’s decision as superintendent to fire her.

“We must hold our administrators to the highest level of accountability,” board president Dean Martin said of the decision.

Proctor’s attorney said he would likely file an appeal in circuit court within two weeks.

Proctor’s offense was undisputed:

She left her job for three days around the Memorial Day holiday: Sept. 1, Sept. 2 and Sept. 6. She went without asking, even though she knew she was required to tell Thurman if she was out of her building for six hours or more.

She went on a vacation, even though she knew the assistant principal would also be away.

She left her building without an official in charge, except for a veteran counselor and classroom teachers. But Proctor said, “I didn’t abandon the children or their parents. I have a very capable staff.”

Where she “messed up,” she said was in not telling Thurman she was leaving.

The question the board had to answer, her attorney said during his opening statement, was what should happen next.

“Does the board have to trash her career or can they do something else?” Finkenbinder asked. “Can they back the superintendent and still preserve her career?

“She is an exemplary, effective principal,” he said. “There were a number of options, but the district chose the harshest one.

“She made a mistake. It was an error in judgment. She should have known better and something should be done, but not termination,” the lawyer said.

Thurman learned on Sept. 6 that Proctor was out of her building when K-6 curriculum director, Dr. Harold Jeffcoat, stopped by for a classroom walk-through and reported her absence.

It was during his interview with Proctor after she returned on Sept. 7 that Thurman said he learned that she was away during the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death.

If she had told him she needed time off even though the assistant principal was also scheduled off, he would have found a way to cover her building and granted her request, he testified.

“Why could you have not done that?” Clint McGue, attorney for the district, asked Proctor.

“I wish I knew,” Proctor said. “I made a mistake. I made a terrible mistake.”

Although the specific reason for the termination was that Proctor left her building unattended, Thurman testified that he could no longer trust Proctor because she wasn’t completely truthful with him when she returned, and he believed she had told some of her staff not to cooperate with him during his investigation—even though she was told to not contact any of them during her suspension.

Plus, she had no regard for rules and procedures, he said.

McGue said that Proctor was not grieving on the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death but on a beach in Florida.

Thurman testified that her explanation for leaving was that she needed some time off.

Testimony from two employees revealed that she was with a friend named Bobby, and that she had not appeared to be grieving or distraught before she left.

McGue pointed out that her trip with her friend was originally scheduled for a week earlier, which was not the anniversary of her husband’s death and she had planned that trip without asking for time off either.

Thurman said it was obvious that the parents love Proctor, he said, “She put her own personal wants above the needs of the district.”

“There is no way to make a decision that bad seem right,” he said.

“I can think of no good reason why any principal entrusted with so many kids would think it’s OK to just leave,” he said.

Two parents testified for Proctor, telling the board what she did may have been wrong but that her staff was capable of taking care of emergencies. And they wanted her to stay.

Chad Hale said he never heard anyone say anything bad about Proctor. She helped his son who was being bullied, Hale said.

Mike Lambert said she always helped him with his sons’ issues.

“I always leave feeling better,” Lambert said.

Proctor should be disciplined but not discharged, he said.

“If she instills the right qualities in her staff, she can be a good leader even if she’s not there,” he said.

But the highest praise came from Cindy Stinnett, Proctor’s secretary.

Stinnett denied claims that Proctor was out of the office frequently for beauty appointments and noted that Proctor’s glitzy appearance was only a fraction of the person she is.

Proctor often worked through lunch, on weekends and evenings, she said. But where she stood out the most was with the students.

“Kids go to her office just to get hugs,” Stinnett said. “She genuinely loves those kids and they know it. They love her.”

“Do other principals love their kids?” McGue asked.

“I’m sure they do, but they surely don’t show it like she does,” Stinnett said.

Although she didn’t give a reason for not telling Thurman that she was taking personal days, Proctor maintained that grief was the motivation. Her husband died in September 2010 and she coped by working.

By March she said she was beginning to feel like she would get through it. But as the anniversary approached she felt like she had to get away.

As for going with a male companion, she turned to the audience and said there was not a woman in the room who wouldn’t have done the same thing.

“I didn’t want to be home alone wallowing in self-pity,” she said.

Thurman said Proctor’s contract ended Wednesday night with the board’s decision. However, she is entitled to pay for any accrued vacation, sick leave or personal leave.

Michele French, the former principal at Ward Elementary, has been filling in at Northside since Proctor was suspended with pay on Sept. 8 and will continue there indefinitely.

When asked if considering the swell of support for Proctor if he has had second thoughts about firing her instead of opting for a lesser punishment, Thurman said, “We considered every option for punishment in regard to the actions of Ms. Proctor but ultimately felt that termination was most appropriate.”

As for the support from the parents, Thurman said the district administration expects all its principals to build that sort of relationship within their school community.

Thurman explained Friday why the overflow crowd couldn’t get into the hearing room:

“My regard to complaints that they weren’t allowed into the hearing...We’ve had a couple complaint calls regarding the fact that not everyone had a seat inside the boardroom during the hearing,” he said.

“We have held every previous termination hearing in the same location. Ms. Proctor has attended many meetings including a termination hearing in this room and was aware of how many it could accommodate and was notified of exactly where it would be held well in advance.

“Neither Ms. Proctor nor her attorney notified the district that they were requesting the meeting be held in an alternate location as to provide every person with a seat that chose to attend. The district would have certainly moved the meeting had a request been received,” Thurman said.

“We made it a priority to make sure the media was provided the opportunity to be present since this would guarantee the validity of an open meeting and ensure the story would be presented to the public,” Thurman said.

TOP STORY > >PCSSD says it’s getting a lot better

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District’s population is up, technology is improving and progress is being made, but Dr. Jerry Guess, the superintendent, said Thursday the district would more than likely remain under state control for two full years—the maximum allowed.

But what Jacksonville resident Rizelle Aaron wanted to know and asked the superintendent was simply, “Who is really running things? Are you in charge, or is Dr. Tom Kimbrell (the state education commissioner) telling you what to do?”

Aaron was one of just a handful of parents and teachers at the district’s annual report to the public in the district’s board room off Dixon Street in Little Rock.

Guess said the report is usually given at a board meeting, but since PCSSD doesn’t have a board he was presenting the information himself. “It’s a privilege and pleasure to give this report,” Guess said. “We’re off to a very good startfor this school year.”

He said the number of students has increased. “Our last count of students, Pre-K to 12, is 17,700. That’s up considerable. I’m glad patrons are returning and seeing that we are offering high-quality education.”

Guess said the meeting was to inform the public on the direction of the district, give an update on test scores and discuss any regulation changes.

In answering Aaron’s question, Guess said the board appoints or hires the superintendent to manage the district’s day-to-day operations.

“Since this district has no school board, Dr. Kimbrell is the school board and he has given me the opportunity to run the day-to-day operations,” said Guess who consults with Kimbrell often.

“Believe me when I say, I have enough responsibility to scare the dickens out of me,” Guess said.

Going through his eight-page report, Guess reminded everyone that the district was placed in fiscal distress by the state, which removed the seven-member board and the former superintendent on June 20.

Guess was hired by Kimbrell, on a one-year contract. “I hope it will be longer,” Guess said. Dr. Don Stewart was brought in as a consultant to provide technical assistance and oversight. William Goff, a certified pubic accounting working in the Arkansas Department of Education was recently named the new chief finance officer.

Guess said that the PCSSD “may remain in fiscal distress and operate with Dr. Kimbrell as its board of education for up to two years.”

Among the positives or improvements that Guess cited were that all schools were fully accredited, and the district had refurbished or refreshed 4,000 computers to advance the district’s technology level, test scores had met standards on test scores for the first time in years and if it can do it again this year the district will be out of school improvement.

“We’ll still have some schools on the improvement list, but the district will be out,” he said.

He said a “big piece of our success” has been increased and improved staff development. Guess said the district was “engaged in an aggressive campaign to implement the new state Common Core standards.”

Guess said the district’s website has been revamped and had 1.6 million hits since April, and that the district has 6,000 friends on Facebook.

He boasted the district opening a high school in Maumelle and a middle school in Sherwood. Guess said everyone involved in the design and construction of the new Sherwood school did a great job. “We’ve had no problems,” he said.

But while he celebrated those two new schools and an elementary school the district opened in Chenal three years ago, not all is rosy with facilities.

“PCSSD facilities average 41 years old with the oldest being built in 1952. As the schools age, the district is experiencing an accelerated rate of system failure. In addition to the stressed infrastructure, many facilities require construction projects in order to comply the Americans with Disabilities Act,” he said.

Guess said to streamline operations, Jacksonville Elementary was closed and the STAR Academy, which was at Jacksonville Middle School, was moved to the high school.

The city of Jacksonville has expressed interest in the closed elementary school and has met with Guess. “It’s a closed school and I’m happy to see Jacksonville express an interest in using it,” the superintendent said. He said he will look at options and consider what is best for the district.

Dr. Robert Clowers, executive director of academic accountability, gave an overview of state and federal mandated test scores. He said the district was improving and doing well at the elementary level, but relatively flat in the middle schools and on the juniorliteracy test.

“We need to do better,” he said, adding that the district was vigorously looking for ways to improve.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

TOP STORY >> Ward raises meter fees to pay for water project

Leader staff writer

Ward City Council on Monday approved a $5 monthly water meter fee to begin paying off loans that will fund the almost two-decade-old Lonoke-White Water Project to bring water to Central Arkansas from Greers Ferry Lake.

That comes out to $2,100 from each customer over the 35-year-loan period, Mayor Art Brooke said. He added that no one could build a well and draw water for less than that. The fee is not tied to water usage.

In September, it was announced that the project would finally be constructed using borrowed money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. The USDA will loan $24.5 million at 4.25 percent interest or lower and ANRC will loan $25.7 million at 4.5 percent interest or lower, Woody Bryant, the project manager who has seen several financing plans fall through, told The Leader.

The cities and water associations that are part of the project include Jacksonville, Ward, North Pulaski Water, Beebe, Austin, Furlow, Grand Prairie Bayou Two and Vilonia.

Attempts to fund the project in the past have failed because the money was to have come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but EPA money can’t be used for projects where the need is not immediate.

The water associations and cities that will benefit from the Lonoke-White Project have enough water for their immediate needs. The project is to take care of growth and to conserve ground water.

The $25 million or so that will be ARNC’s part of the funding will come from bonds backed by the state.

If both the USDA and ARNC agree that the project can move forward without the design and right-of-way acquisitions for the newest members—Beebe, Jacksonville, Vilonia and Furlow—then the parts of the project, such as the intake and main pipeline that have been ready for construction for almost a decade, can be bid.

If agencies supplying the financing want the entire project ready to go before any of it is started, then it will be ready to bid in about six months, Bryant said last month.

The council agreed to table a controversial parking ordinance and hold more committee meetings to come up with a workable solution to residents parking on the street and causing problems with others’ access to the roads and their driveways.

Brooke said the ordinance wouldn’t work because the language is confusing and it cites state laws that can change frequently.

Alderman Jeff Shaver said, “Cities aren’t forthcoming with parking ordinances. You’re (Brooke) right, it’s a headache.”

Alderman John Staley told the council that it wasn’t enough to just ask people nicely not to park on the street because they are not polite back and tell policemen they will do what they want to do.

Brooke said after the vote, “I want to thank you guys for the work you’ve put into this. I can see where this has turned into a monster.”

The council also voted on two candidates to fill a vacancy and then welcomed Lee Schoonover to the council.

Schoonover retired from the Army Corp of Engineers. He has lived in Ward for about 35 years.

Schoonover told the council that he was on the city’s first planning commission, has worked with numerous cities and mayors, has collaborated with City Engineer Tim Lemons on projects, he knows budgeting, coached baseball and took Ward’s children to Cabot to play football.

He said he was a mentor to children, recently arranged for speakers to go to local schools to discuss the importance of democracy and wants to continue serving the city and its children on the council.

The council urged his opponent, firefighter Bobby Tarno, to seek a position on the council when one becomes available.

Members also voted to accept the lowest bid for improvements to the Peyton Street Fire Station driveway. The bid was $56,497 from Dawson Asphalt and Sealing and the council’s approval is contingent on references for the company being checked because the city has not worked with Dawson. The project can now be started before wet weather arrives and it will be constructed in 45 days.

Lemons told the council he was meeting with the Arkansas Highway Department right-of-way director Tuesday and hoped to receive authorization to putt the safe routes to schools project out for bids.

He said additional information requested for a grant application to fund Hwy. 367/319 intersection improvements have been submitted. The city is waiting to see if a grant will be awarded.

The contractor for the new Stagecoach water tank should begin foundation work between Oct. 15 and Nov. 7 and the city also may have the opportunity to lease antenna space to cell service providers, Lemons continued.

EDITORIAL >> Who wants gridlock?

Gov. Mike Beebe made a few off-the-cuff remarks last week at a Lions Club meeting that ought to resonate with everyone interested in good government, regardless of their political persuasion. He worried that the Arkansas Capitol might become like Washington, where party hatreds have begun to produce gridlock that prevents the government from doing the people’s business.

The partisan bitterness in Washington began a quarter-century ago and has now reached its zenith—make that its nadir—where even casual friendships between members of the opposing parties are forbidden and any effort at collaboration is punished. The rivalry nearly caused the government to renege on its debts for the first time since the War of 1812, and it has impaired the nation’s ability to rise from the economic abyss created by the financial collapse of 2008.

So who likes Washington, and who wants to see the example replicated at Little Rock? Well, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr sort of likes the idea, but, really, who else?

Beebe’s little homily should have brought nothing but cheers, but it got condemnation instead. The Republican leader of the House of Representatives, though he and his party had not been fingered by the governor, protested that Republicans had not been partisan at all beyond raising some new ideas and that Beebe was just wrong. Beebe had said the Senate had worked through disagreements amicably, although the partisan division there was about the same as in the House of Representatives. Republicans are three members shy of a majority in the Senate and seven short in the House. But the House got bitterly partisan and Beebe said it “scared” him. He said it was the governor’s job to get legislators to overcome their natural partisan jealousies and solve problems.

Then the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette weighed in. Its lead editorial Tuesday castigated Beebe for wanting harmony and collaboration. Beebe is just scared of Republicans and their emerging force in the legislature, the paper said. It implied that Beebe longed for the good old days when Democrats ran everything without dissent and the governor could demagogue the race issue whenever he needed to be re-elected. The paper insinuated that Democrats now are left to scare people about Hispanics rather than blacks. Our recollection is that this was not a Democratic but Republican tactic, although the GOP’s peerless leader, Mike Huckabee, never subscribed to it.

John Burris of Harrison, the House Republican leader, said he never detected partisanship in the lower chamber. Let’s remind him of one example.

Republicans everywhere, as far as we can tell, oppose the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the big health-insurance reformation law that Congress enacted in 2009, which is perfectly proper. Three Republican U.S. senators had been working with Democrats to craft a bipartisan bill based on the Republican health bills of the 1970s and ’90s and the system adopted in Massachusetts under Gov. Mitt Romney. They were ordered by party leaders to retreat and leave it as a Democratic bill. Not one Republican voted to allow the bill to even come to a vote in either house.

A central provision of the law is the creation of insurance exchanges where individuals and businesses can go in each state to buy a private insurance policy that fits their needs and pocketbook. But Republicans, mainly in the House, have blocked any effort by the state to set up its exchange despite pleas from the governor, the medical establishment, the state surgeon general and the state chamber of commerce. If Arkansas does not set up its own exchange, businesses and individuals without insurance will have to shop for a policy on a federal exchange—in Washington—where the premiums might be more expensive and the rules harder to live by.

The obstruction has only one objective—to make the new system unendurable for Arkansans if that is possible, simply because if it works Democrats might get credit. Nothing the Arkansas legislature does, on the exchanges or anything else about the federal law, will have the slightest effect on whether any or all of the provisions of the law go into effect. That is in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court—and the Congress if it so chooses. But the Republicans can make things much harder and costlier for the people of Arkansas by forcing them to go to Washington to satisfy their needs. Maybe they will then get mad at Democrats. That seems to be the hope.

Does that qualify as needless and pointless partisanship? Only a few years ago such obstructionism was unheard of, by either party. Remember only five or six years ago, a Republican governor was getting nearly everything he sought from an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. Huckabee frequently complained about the Democrats, but they worked through nearly every one of their differences.

Which way do you think is better?

—Ernie Dumas

TOP STORY >> Hopson: Betrayed by state in ouster

Leader executive editor

Charles Hopson, the ousted superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District, is still bitter about the way he was dismissed when the state took over the failing district in June.

He thought he had a good working relationship with state education commissioner, Tom Kimbrell, who, Hopson says, urged him in 2010 to take the superintendent’s job and assured him a state takeover was unlikely.

Seth Blomeley, a spokesman for Kimbrell, says, “That is false.”

Hopson has filed a $500,000 federal lawsuit against the state and the school district for voiding the last two years of his three-year contract. He was paid $242,000 a year, plus some benefits.


As soon as he was fired and the school board dissolved, Hopson says agents from the state Education Department showed up at his office and humiliated him by telling Hopson “to clear out his desk and to leave immediately,” according to his lawsuit, which also seeks unspecified punitive damages.

A Prescott native, Hopson was hired as PCSSD superintendent in April 2010. He was among four finalists for the post.

Hopson, who has Jacksonville roots, is the son of a minister and school cook for the Pulaski County schools. His mother, Lucy Hopson, lives in Sherwood.

He worked for two years as a special education teacher at then-Northwood Junior High in PCSSD.

Hopson, who lives in Oregon, is in Arkansas visiting relatives. He found time for an interview and visited the King Biscuit Blues Festival last weekend in Helena, where his wife’s family lives.

Defendants in the suit include Gov. Mike Beebe, who approved Hopson’s firing; Jerry Guess, the interim PCSSD superintendent who succeeded Hopson, and Kimbrell.

Hopson, who was previously deputy superintendent in the Portland, Ore., schools, says he didn’t want the PCSSD job at first. He says he relented after the education commissioner told him to come back home.


In an answer to Hopson’s lawsuit, the Education Department denies these allegations. “These claims are false. Defendant Kimbrell provided no such assurances to Hopson,” the state said in its response.

The state says that instead of filing a lawsuit, Hopson should have worked toward improving the district and avoiding a takeover. The state points out that PCSSD “was not identified as in fiscal distress until March 30, 2011; nine months after this alleged conversation occurred.

“During that time, Hopson had the opportunity to not only repair the conditions leading to the fiscal distress determination, but also to learn all of the true (sic) facts of the PCSSD’s fiscal problems existing as of July 2010, and the actions taken in the district (including by Hopson himself) that lead to the fiscal distress identification nine months later and state assumption of control of the district two months after that.”

The state argues Hopson’s contract was voided after the takeover and it can’t be sued anyway because of “sovereign immunity.”


Hopson claims he called Kimbrell after receiving an anonymous call warning Hopson against taking the job because of the rumored takeover.

According to the lawsuit, “Kimbrell gave plaintiff to understand that the department did not have the ability to successfully take over and run the PCSSD…. He stated that the Department of Education was without resources sufficient to undertake the running of the Pulaski County Special School District. Kimbrell explained that (Hopson) should not be concerned to take his job.”

“Based upon the representations of defendant PCSSD and Kimbrell…, he agreed to take the post,” the lawsuit says.

“Kimbrell reassured the plaintiff that he would be safe in taking the position,” the lawsuit alleges, “even though the PCSSD had been identified as a potentially ‘fiscally distressed’ district.”

Hopson recalls receiving “a faxed letter from Kimbrell before signing my contract that the district was being identified for fiscal distress. I also received a call from a former superintendent warning me to think twice before coming because of a possible takeover and the validity of my contract if that occurred.”

“I called the commissioner about the letter and the phone call,” he told us. “I also called Tim Clark, the board president, about my hesitancy to move my family across country with the fiscal-distress designation.


“The commissioner implied in his conversation with me that ADE did not have the resources to take over the district, but would work with me if I still decided to come to help the district. I believed in the promise and potential of the board and district. I did not back out of my commitment to sign the contract, but I did request more safeguards be negotiated into the contract to protect my family.”

Hopson thinks he’s being blamed for decades of failure, even though he had the job for just a year.


“The biggest regret from my year as superintendent was that I genuinely thought my relationship with the commissioner and ADE was established around support and assistance. I directed the cabinet to give them full access to both the good and the ugly within the district so we could work cooperatively with them to right the ship.

“I had gone to a state board meeting only days before the takeover to thank the commissioner and the state board for their partnership with PCSSD. I was exposed June 20th to a commissioner and department I did not recognize. It left me feeling that the entire relationship that year was nothing more than trickery and deception to gain my trust for this moment.

“June 20th was the extreme opposite of the supportive, courteous, and helpful tone I had enjoyed with ADE up to that date when the commissioner came to my office with state troopers like I was a common criminal.”


“Lord knows I tried my best to get the ball rolling to improve conditions in the district, but (the state Education Department) and politics emerged as my biggest hurdles,” he told us.

“They evidently have a better plan, and I wish them the best, but I will not allow them to harm my family by disavowing my contract,” Hopson told us. “I was far from perfect, but I would rather go down in a fight to the end than simply be politically correct and promote the status quo of failure.”

“No family of a superintendent in this state or country —which essentially makes such huge sacrifices so we can do this work — should be subject to the tremendous harm and damage of not having the protection of a contract related to the high risk in this occupation,” Hopson told us.

“I can respect and honor the decision by the commissioner to go in a different direction, but I will not allow anyone to hurt or jeopardize the living standards of my family,” he added.


“The thoughts running through my mind at that time were I left Oregon after 20 years to come back to my native state to be treated like an inmate. Maybe I should have really heeded that call I received from the former PCSSD superintendent warning me of the risk of a takeover and to think twice before signing on the dotted line.

“Despite the feelings of regret about ADE, had I to do it over again, I still would have come for the original board of seven that hired me. The cause was right and there was great opportunity in the challenges for the students of PCSSD.

“I am blessed by having been a part of this 11-month experience as superintendent of PCSSD.”

He knows there’s talk about breaking up the school district. “Whether Jacksonville splits or stays with the district, I just hope the best comes out of this for the students,” Hopson said.

He’s optimistic about his future and thinks he’ll land another superintendent’s job elsewhere. “I was highly recruited for large urban superintendent slots across the country before accepting PCSSD,” he said. “I have reconnected with that network and my name is currently in two large national urban searches.”

TOP STORY >> Group pushes school choice to raise scores

Leader staff writer

Charter schools are helping children in Pulaski County receive a good education despite interference from the Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts, according to Luke Gordy, executive director of the Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation.

Gordy spoke to the Sherwood Rotary Club last week about local education efforts.

He focused on how charter schools are helping Pulaski County’s children receive a good education and how North Little Rock and Little Rock School Districts are hindering what the foundation stands for.

“We are strong believers in choice,” Gordy said.

He said the foundation doesn’t care about the delivery method — public, private, homeschooling — but it wants high-quality education for Arkansas students, which is often not found in traditional public schools.

Gordy said integration issues sometimes get in the way of the foundation’s objectives. He told the club that a judge has said, “My black child doesn’t have to sit next to a white kid for a good education.”

The reason the Little Rock and North Little Rock districts filed the lawsuit against charter schools is because they want the $70 million in desegregation funds to keep flowing into county schools, Gordy said. About $40 million of that funding goes to Little Rock schools.

“If we made decisions based on what is right for the children, we would make the right one every time. That doesn’t happen very often,” he added.

Little Rock’s argument in the lawsuit is that it’s trying to support minority students, which are being disproportionally served in the public school system, Gordy said.

He told Rotary Club members that the charter school in East End has 4,000 children on the waiting list to enroll. That means people aren’t happy with public school education and think charter schools are providing better quality education, Gordy added.

Another option for high-quality education are public magnet schools, but those require a 50-50 ratio of black and white students and 70 percent of those on the waiting list for such schools are black, he said.

Gordy said Arkansas is one of the few states where research shows charter schools have outperformed public schools.

“The teacher is the primary single element in the classroom,” Gordy said. One advantage of charter schools is that they can hire teachers who have professional experience in a field but not necessarily a teaching certificate, while public schools require such a certificate.

A Rotary Club member asked if there was any statically information on neighborhood schools vs. big school districts like Pulaski County. Gordy directed members to look at

Both Sherwood and Jacksonville have expressed interest in splitting from Pulaski County Special School District and forming their own districts of “neighborhood schools.”

When asked about the difference between charter schools and public schools, Gordy explained that a charter school contracts with the state Education Department. A charter school is public once it is approved. It can waive some requirements, such as hiring teachers that aren’t certified or licensed. It can also be closed down by the state if it decides to take its charter, or contract, away.

A Rotary member said bureaucrats like big school districts because fewer outsiders can penetrate their ranks. Other members agreed.

Gordy was asked about a voucher system coming to Arkansas. He said the state isn’t ready but the foundation has been talking about that for the past seven years. A voucher system is one in which parents get a voucher for the cost of a student’s education and they can bring that to whatever school they want their children to attend.

Several countries use vouchers. “That’s getting into something we’re not ready to tackle yet,” Gordy said.

He added that charter schools, while contracted by the state to have a certain number of students, could go back and ask the state permission to grow and enroll more students.

Gordy said children are not to blame for their poor test scores. “Parents have low expectations. It’s not the kids who are under-performing. Kids will rise to the occasion.”

SPORTS >> Beebe wins 5A East title

Leader sports editor

Beebe doubled up on team tennis championships in the 5A East Conference this year. The Badgers’ boys and girls team won the league title last week with 17 points apiece, each team finishing well ahead of second-place Nettleton.

The Nettleton boys scored 11 team points while the Lady Raiders scored nine.

“Everyone played really, really well,” Beebe tennis coach Carla Choate said. “We had 10 players earn points for us, so it really was a team effort and they’re all going to state.”

The Lady Badgers swept the top two positions in girls’ singles. Sarah White won the singles championship, just getting past teammate Madeline Poe for the title.

Partners Casey DeRoche and Annlee Glass took second in girls doubles, while Sarah McDaniel and Chloe Breckenridge too fourth in girls doubles. Than Kersey and Ben Groves won boys doubles. Jared Aschbrenner finished as boys singles runner up, while KJ Maples took third in boys singles.

The class 5A state tournament is Oct. 17 and 18 at Hot Springs Lakeside. The host school will be one of the favorites heading into the tournament.

“They have a really strong team,” Choate said. “Greenwood is also always very good. It will be a great tournament.”

SPORTS >> Schedule gets tough for Bison

Leader sportswriter

Carlisle’s 6-2A Conference schedule kicked up a notch last week with the first of three local rivalry games, starting with England. The Bison passed that test, winning 30-14 over the Lions. That theme continues this week when Des Arc visits Fred C. Hardke Field.

The Eagles, under first-year coach Dustin Prescott, are down somewhat this season by their standards with a 3-3 overall record, but their 2-1 conference record makes them 6-2A contenders just the same. Des Arc opened league play with a 38-8 loss to Hazen, but recovered the following week with a close 34-30 win over England. The Eagles kept themselves in the conference hunt last week with a 45-20 victory over struggling Palestine-Wheatley.

“They’re a young group, but coach Prescott has those guys getting better and better each week,” Carlisle coach Scott Waymire said. “Des Arc is one of those teams that is going to compete on every snap. We’re going to have our hands full.”

The Bison were in somewhat unfamiliar territory last week against an England team that kept it close through the first half. Carlisle led 8-7 at the half, a big contrast from its first two conference games in which the Bison had all but mercy ruled their opponents by the break.

“It was a tough ballgame,” Waymire said. “They did a good job of keeping the ball out of our hands.”

That scenario could play out again this week against Des Arc, which is now a triple-option team under Prescott. It is a scheme that can be centered on ball control, but the Eagles have also been quite productive the past two weeks scoring a combined 75 points.

But for Waymire, the rivalry aspect takes precedent.

“It’s a big rivalry game,” Waymire said. “You don’t have to worry about records or any of that to get up for Des Arc. They’ve been in every ballgame, and they’re peaking at the right time. It should be a great night for high-school football.”

With most of the Bison’s easy conference tests behind them in the first two weeks of league play with big wins over Marvell and Clarendon, only Palestine-Wheatley remains next week and Hughes in Week 9. But for this week, and the regular-season finale at Hazen, those local rivalry matchups will also be the determining factors in the Class 2A playoff seedings. The Hornets are also unbeaten in conference up to this point, and with Clarendon, Marvell and England remaining on their schedule leading up to the Week 10 showdown with the Bison it could come down to a battle between unbeaten teams to decide it all at the end.

“There’s so much ball left to be played,” Waymire said. “And we have some hard games coming up. We just have to go one game at a time. We want to take care of Des Arc this week. We can’t look ahead.”

SPORTS >> Falcons, Bears still eye playoffs

Leader sportswriter

Local teams collide this week when Sylvan Hills makes the brief journey up Hwy. 107, onto Jacksonville Cutoff and up Harris Road to Falcon Stadium for a 5A-Southeast Conference game against winless North Pulaski. The neighboring rivals haven’t put together a pretty season so far, but each still has at least an outside shot at the playoffs.

Sylvan Hills, 2-1 in league play, is sitting much prettier than the winless Falcons. North Pulaski faced the toughest portion of its conference schedule in the first three weeks. With the Bears, Mills and Crossett coming up, wins in all three games still give the Falcons a shot at their first playoff appearance in school history.

The Bears improved to 2-1 in conference play last week with a 13-12 victory over Crossett in a game where Sylvan Hills sputtered on offense until the final minute. The Bears went 76 yards in just over a minute to keep the Eagles winless. The win was similar to Sylvan Hills’ narrow 7-6 victory over Mills University Studies the week before.

The Falcons have competed hard despite final scores that do not necessarily indicate how well they have played at times.

North Pulaski, 0-6 overall under first-year coach Teodis Ingram, lost 30-7 to West Helena Central to start its 5A-Southeast Conference schedule before falling 40-14 to Watson Chapel and 49-14 on the road last week at White Hall.

“The games we’ve seen, they’ve played hard,” Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow said. “They have some smaller guys on defense this year, but they’re real fast to the ball. They played well against White Hall. I think the score looked worse than what it actually was.

“They look good from what we’ve seen. They’re well coached, they get to the ball fast on defense, and their tailback (Derrick Hart) looks pretty good.”

For the Bears’ offense, junior quarterback J.D. Miller has become the X-factor. Miller sustained a shoulder injury the week before the Mills game, and was limited to hand offs.

That was also the situation for most of the game against Crossett last week, but with the Bears trailing 12-7 late with no timeouts, Miller dug down and led a scoring charge in which he went 5 for 7 for 76 yards, including a 6-yard strike to senior receiver Anthony Featherstone in the end zone with five seconds remaining.

A healthy Miller could spell trouble for North Pulaski, but a limited Miller could make the Bears one dimensional again this week.

“Who knows?” Withrow said. “We want to try and mix it up a little bit – get some play action in there. We don’t know how much he can actually throw. It all depends on his shoulder. I think if he can get in there and mix it up, we’ll be okay.”

Both teams have had their issues with losing key personnel to injuries. Senior fullback Willie Frazier returned to the lineup for North Pulaski last week after spending time off for a hamstring injury, but the Falcons didn’t have Hart in the loss to White Hall, and he’s still questionable for this week.

The Bears have lost players to injuries and discipline issues, but found a spark last week in sophomore running back Quincy Flowers, who looked solid running on a number of sweep plays against Crossett.

“He’s one of these guys that’s worked hard all year,” Withrow said. “He’s a good athlete, and he’s taken advantage of some of the injuries we’ve had. He’s done a fantastic job playing defense and special teams also.”

Although the Falcons are winless this season and have not beaten Sylvan Hills on the gridiron since the two teams entered the same conference in 2008, Withrow is in no mood to underestimate anyone after a couple of near losses the past two weeks. “I don’t take anyone lightly,” Withrow said. “We’ve won two games by one point in the last minute the last two weeks – we’re not taking anything lightly.”

SPORTS >> Devils, Lions meet with a lot on the line

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville makes a short trip to Searcy this Friday to face a team bent on revenge. The Red Devils won 12-7 last year over a Searcy team that rolled into Jacksonville with a new coach and a lot of confidence from already having more wins than in previous seasons.

This year, the Lions are 4-2, which is one win more than this time last season, and enter this week’s game after a valiant comeback effort last Friday in a 34-24 loss to West Memphis. Jacksonville is 2-1 in league play while Searcy is 1-2. This game will be huge in determining seedings for the class 6A state playoffs.

Jacksonville coach Rick Russell believes his squad is going to catch Searcy at its best.

“I think they’re going to come into this game really focused,” Russell said. “I think they really expected to come in here and get a win last year, and they still have that motivating them.”

Searcy at its best, at least offensively, will be difficult to stop. The Lions have averaged 34.7 points per game this season, and have done it with a multitude of schemes. The main difference between this year’s Lions and last year’s is this year the team is running the ball much more often out of power sets. That’s forcing teams to scheme to stop the power running game, and opening things up for talented quarterback Desmond Stegall’s strong throwing game.

“Offensively they’ve been a machine,” Russell said. “They have a very big offensive line, and their linemen are moving a lot better than we’ve seen in the past. Plus, they’ve got a 6-foot-5, 230-pound tight end that can move and catch the ball.”

Russell said he’s seen film from Searcy’s games against Parkview and West Memphis, and each game highlights a different strength in the offense.

“Against Parkview, they controlled the line of scrimmage and ran the football,” Russell said. “West Memphis matched up with them a lot better. They attacked the line of scrimmage, so Searcy threw it a lot more. They had success doing both.”

And when there is pressure on the quarterback, Stegall is one of the best quarterbacks in the state, throwing and running.

“The thing about him is he has all the tools,” Russell said. Jacksonville is used to facing dual-threat quarterbacks. Mountain Home and Jonesboro also have very talented quarterbacks, and for the most part, Jacksonville has contained them well.

The Red Devils shut out Mountain Home, then held Jonesboro’s vaunted offense to just seven points for the first 35 minutes of the game. Suddenly the Hurricane scored 27 in the last 13 minutes to steal the win.

Still, Russell believes his defense can contain Stegall as well as it has other, similar quarterbacks.

“We’re not going to be able to go toe-to-toe with them on the line,” Russell said. “We have some stunts. We’re going to have to utilize our quickness and play very sound technique. We’ve got two guys on our line who are really quick, so we’re going to have to try to take advantage of that.”

Last week, Jacksonville enjoyed great play from a few sophomores who have worked their way into the main rotation. Russell was especially pleased with performances by Jacob Price at linebacker, Darrelle White at tackle and Titus O’Neal at defensive end.

“They all played some very productive reps for us Friday night,” Russell said. “I told everybody this week there are no starters. We have group one and group two, and we’re going to start competing in practice for the chance to play. When they get that chance, it’s all about what they do with it.”

Jacksonville may need a few junior varsity players to step up their game. Several starters are nursing injuries. None have been determined out for Friday yet, but some extra depth would be helpful.

“This has been really physical football in the 6A East this year,” Russell said. “Everybody has gotten bigger and stronger. It’s been a tough few weeks. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up, but that’s just football. We’re going to keep working.”

SPORTS >> Cabot ladies beat Lake Hamilton

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Lady Panthers got a long-awaited win Saturday at the Conway Midseason Invitational tournament. The Cabot ladies opened pool play with a 2-0 win over Lake Hamilton by scores of 25-17 and 25-21.

In their other pool games, the Lady Panthers split two sets with Springdale high, winning game one 25-14, then losing game two 23-25.

In the final round of pool play, class 4A powerhouse Valley View beat Cabot 25-14 and 25-18.

The Lady Panthers lost a coin toss with Russellville to see which team would advance to the gold bracket of tournament play. The coin toss made Cabot the top seed in the sliver bracket, where it played its second match in three days against North Little Rock. The Charging Lady Wildcats won again 25-18 and 25-21, but it was much closer than the conference match the two teams played two days earlier.

Cabot coach Deanna Campbell said there was a logical explanation for the better performances in Saturday’s tournament.

“It was the first time in six matches we had the same lineup on the court for two matches in a row,” Campbell said. “We’ve had so many injuries and sicknesses, we just haven’t been able to keep a consistent lineup on the floor.”

It was strong service games that led Cabot to wins in its first three sets of the tournament.

Against Lake Hamilton, sophomore Bailee Uhiren scored eight points on serve in each of the two games. Her classmate Lakin Best also got eight points on serve in game one, and five more in game two.

“That’s 16 of our 25 points right there from two players,” Campbell said. “Both of them were serving very strong for us. It was encouraging to see.”

Taylor Bitely, also a sophomore, joined the effort, scoring five points on serve in game two against the Lady Wolves.

Cabot has lost two players for the rest of the season, including starting junior setter Brylee Staten.

Senior Kori Maloy has stepped in to fill the role of setter, and showed significant improvement in the Conway tournament.

“It’s been tough because Brylee was our most consistent player and also our most experienced,” Campbell said. “Kori has worked hard and learned a lot of things about playing the position, and you could see some of those things she learned taking place on the court. It’s just been about adjustments for us all season with so many new players and so many players missing matches.”

Campbell hopes playing eight games over the weekend with the same lineup will pay dividends as the end of conference play approaches with Cabot still searching for its first win.

“I think we’re definitely improving,” Campbell said. “I knew it was going to be like this but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch happen. These young players are very talented but they are just sophomores and they haven’t even been through a real offseason yet. I’m very excited about next season because I think we’re going to see a totally different team.”