Wednesday, April 03, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot playing its best softball as tournament nears

Leader sportswriter

The busy season is here for the Cabot Lady Panther softball team after a third-place finish at the Harrison Invitational tournament over the weekend and the Cabot/Beebe Invitational tournament coming up this Saturday.

The Lady Panthers got off to a slow start to the season with a number of error-prone games, but a 3-1 performance last week that included a 6-1 home nonconference victory over Conway showed tremendous growth, both offensively and defensively. Cabot defeated Harding Academy and Pea Ridge with a second-round loss to Paragould at the Harrison tourney.

“We were averaging four errors a game before spring break,” first-year Lady Panthers coach Chris Cope said. “Now, we’ve cut that back to two. Our defense has picked up. We’ve finally found the right position for a lot of the girls to play, and we’ve had some good individual performances. The bats picking up have also helped us out; we’re finally scoring some runs.”

That defensive improvement was evident in the win over Conway, as the Lady Wampus Cats were unable to answer an early Cabot turn that produced three runs in the bottom of the second inning. Solid defense, along with a dominant performance from Lady Panthers pitcher Kaitlyn Thompson, allowed few opportunities for the guests.

Conway did manage a solo home run in the top of the second, but the three Cabot scores in the bottom of the frame, along with three more in the bottom of the fourth, kept momentum in the Lady Panthers’ favor throughout.

The Harrison tournament started for Cabot on Friday night with a 4-3 win over Harding Academy. The Lady Panthers got out to a 4-0 lead on hits by Heather Hill and Brandyn Vines, with Thompson taking the win in the pitchers’ circle despite a late comeback by the Lady Wildcats.

Cabot was not as fortunate in an 8-4 loss to Paragould in the early Saturday game. The Lady Rams got away early with an 8-0 lead before Cabot started coming back in the final two innings. Hill and Vines once again got the Lady Panthers’ bats going, with the help of a RBI by Kristen Sumler.

Macee Abbott and Rachel Allgood also came away with big hits, but the tournament time limit caught Cabot in the middle of its rally and relegated them to the consolation bracket and a third-place game against Pea Ridge.

Thomson got pitching relief from Kaitlyn Felder, who pitched two innings of shutout softball during the Lady Panthers’ 8-2 victory to secure third place in the tournament. Anderson contributed at the plate with a game-high three hits for Cabot.

The Lady Panthers are now 6-6 overall and 1-2 in the 7A/6A East Conference.

The top half of the bracket for the Beebe/Cabot tournament this weekend consists of games to be played at both schools. The host Lady Badgers take on Dardanelle at 10 a.m., followed by Trumann against Jacksonville at 11:30 a.m. At the same time, Cabot will host Jonesboro Westside with Nettleton-Farmington following at 11:30 a.m.

“Overall, I think it’s going to be a pretty good little tournament,” Cope said. “We heard from Jonesboro Westside, they may not be coming, so we’re trying to find someone else. It may be Forrest City. Farmington is a good 4A program, and they’re usually in the mix, and Nettleton is another team out of that tough 5A East Conference with Beebe.

“On their side, you’ve got Dardanelle, which is another good 4A school. Trumann can get in the mix, and I’m not sure what Jacksonville has this year.”

With the bulk of their East schedule remaining and an eye toward postseason play, the Lady Panthers are looking to gain more experience from back-to-back weekends of invitational tournaments and a different mix of opponents from 4A to 7A.

“It’s always good when you can see teams that are not in your conference, different competition and different pitching,” Cope said. “Right now, you have teams peaking or trying to peak, and it’s always good to get ready for the state tournament. Especially 4A teams because they have regional tournaments, so that’s good for them to see 7A teams to get them ready for that.”

Cabot was scheduled to play a varsity doubleheader at Mountain Home last night depending on the weather, and will host Jonesboro on Thursday.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke roughs up on Cardinals

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke baseball team stayed in first place in the 4A-2 Conference race with a 10-1 win over Dollarway on Monday. Starting pitcher Zack Risner left the game after throwing five innings of no-hit ball. He walked a runner in the second and Dollarway reached on an error in the fifth inning for the only two Cardinal base runners of the first five innings. Risner struck out eight to go with the one walk.

Blake Gooden took the mound in the sixth inning and after recording two quick outs, gave up back-to-back base hits and Dollarway’s only run of the game. He struck out the next batter for the last out of the sixth, then fanned the side in order to end the game with four Ks in just two innings of work.

Lonoke got eight base hits, walked five times and had six batters hit by pitches. The Jackrabbits had just two runs after three innings, and added a single run in the fourth for a 3-0 lead. They finally blew things open with five runs in the fifth and added two more in the sixth to set the final margin.

Two-hole hitter Christian James was the only player in the game with multiple hits. The second baseman went 3 for 4 with two RBIs. He also reached once on a hit batsman and scored one run.

Lonoke’s first run was unearned. Gooden reached on a two-out error and moved to second when Guy Halbert was hit by a pitch. Madison James then singled to drive Gooden home.

Garrett Spears walked to lead off the second inning and moved into scoring position when Nick Graves was hit by a pitch. A grounder by Shane Pepper advanced the runners and a groundout by Christian James scored Spears.

Graves walked to lead off the fourth inning and stole second base. Pepper was hit by a pitch and a single by James loaded the bases. Graves then scored when Dollarway committed another error off the bat of Gooden.

The big fifth inning started with a single by Risner. Spears walked with one out and Graves singled to drive in Risner’s courtesy runner Cody Martin. Pepper then hit into a fielder’s choice where the throw went home, but the catcher dropped the ball, leaving Spears safe for the fifth run of the game. Christian James then singled to score Graves and Halbert doubled to drive in Pepper and James and make the score 8-0.

After a scoreless sixth, Graves led off the top of the seventh by again getting hit by a pitch. Pepper singled and two passed balls moved him to third and scored Graves. Christian James was hit and Pepper scored on a sacrifice fly by Gooden to set the final margin.

The Jackrabbits, 11-5, are scheduled to host a nonconference game against class 6A Sheridan on Thursday.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot girls win meet at Vilonia

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Lady Panthers won the Vilonia Eagle Invitational track meet on Thursday. Their score of 83 narrowly edged out conference mate North Little Rock by nine points. Nettleton was a distant third with 59 points while Jonesboro, 48, and Conway, 45, rounded out the top five.

North Little Rock also finished second in the boys’ meet, scoring 87 points and also finishing nine points behind the host school Vilonia. Heber Springs, 72, Conway, 64, and Little Rock Christian Academy, 46, rounded out the top five. The Cabot boys finished seventh with 31 points while Beebe scored 20 and Sylvan Hills and North Pulaski scoring six points each.

The Cabot girls have the potential to score in every area, and are emerging as the favorite to repeat as conference champions this year.

“Our girls are pretty strong and we’ve set one of our goals to winning conference,” Cabot assistant coach Chris Beavert said. “Anything can happen so we need to be at our best. For state, right now on paper it looks like Bryant is going to be hard to beat, but we’re going in trying to win it. You never can tell what will happen.”

Cabot junior Micah Huckabee won the 800-meter run with a personal best time of 2:26.67, almost a full five seconds ahead of second-place Tory Sanders of Searcy. Huckabee was second in the 1600 and teammate Marlene Sheehan picked up a point by finishing eighth. Her better event was the 3200, in which she took fourth place, while teammate Megan Duncan was eighth and North Little Rock’s Irenia Ball was fifth.

Cabot sophomores Tori and Lexi Weeks swept the top two spots in the pole vault. Tori cleared 11 feet, six inches while Lexi went 10-6. Lexi Weeks was also fifth in the long jump. Thursday’s vaults don’t approach what either is capable of. Tori has cleared 12-6 this and Lexi 12-5 this season.

“They’ve got the top two spots in the state right now and they’re even nationally ranked with their heights,” Cabot head coach Leon White said.

North Little Rock’s Malika Monk won the long jump with a leap of 17-7. Beebe’s Madison Richey was second at 16-11. Monk also won the triple jump and took second in the high jump and fourth in 100-meter dash.

Richey took third in the triple jump and was fourth in the high jump. Also scoring in the triple jump was North Little Rock’s Lagradia Nelson, who finished fourth, and Cabot’s Rochelle Mallory finished sixth.

Monk’s teammate Lagradia Nelson took second in 200-meter dash, finishing .43 seconds behind Forrest City’s Nikirah McKinney’s winning time of 26.37. Lexi Weeks was third and Cabot’s Ladaysha Evans fifth.

Lady Wildcat Shadeanna Gatlin won the grueling 300-meter hurdles with a time of 52.20. She just beat out Mallory, who finished in 52.57. Beebe’s Jamie Jackson was fifth at 53.49. Gatlin also took second in the 100-meter hurdles behind CAC’s Logan Talbert.

Cabot’s Haley Buford finished second in the discus and fourth in the shot put. North Little Rock’s Tashika Harris was fifth in the shot.

North Little Rock’s Brandi Hughes, Makayla Daniel, Ashleigh Taylor and Nelson won the 4x100-meter relay while the Cabot team took fifth and Beebe seventh.

Cabot won the 4x400 relay with the combination of Huckabee, Evans and the Weeks sisters. North Little Rock was third and Beebe sixth in that event. Beebe beat out the local competition in the 4x800, with the team of Cecily Brock, Katie and Taylor McGraw and Rachel Treece finishing third behind LRCA and Conway.

The Cabot boys are stronger than usual in sprints this year, and put both of its entries in the top six on Thursday. Jordan Burke took second place while Alley Layton placed for the first time this year in sixth. Layton’s time of 11.67 was a personal best and makes him the fifth Cabot sprinter to earn points this season.

“He’s our alternate for the relay team, but he’s worked really hard and gotten better,” Beavert said. “With him coming on like he has, we feel comfortable with any of the five guys on that relay team. We think they have a chance to break a school record.”

The CHS record of 43.5 in the 4x100 relay was set in 1984. This team, consisting of Burke, Seth Hoggard, Zach Launius and Chris Henry, ran a 43.9 at Vilonia, which was good for second place behind North Little Rock’s Kavin Alexander, Martinez Butler, Rodney Bryson and Altee Tenpenny. Their winning time was 43.4.

The top eight in the 100-meter dash was loaded with local coverage area runners. North Little Rock’s Altee Tenpenny was fourth and Fabian Lewis was eighth. Sylvan Hills’ Quincey Flowers was fifth and Keyundra Hardimon was seventh. Conway’s Brandon Cox won the event with a time of 10.98 and Forrest City’s John Williams was third.

Alexander won the 200-meter dash with a time of 22.61.

SPORTS STORY >> Appleby shining at LA Tech

Leader sports editor

Of all the dozens of former Jacksonville Red Devil basketball players to move up and play college basketball in recent years, none have experienced the kind of success that Louisiana Tech guard Raheem Appleby has experienced in his first two years at the Conference USA school. Appleby returned to Jacksonville High School on Friday to take part in a benefit game to raise money for state championship rings earned by the JHS boys and girls teams. Appleby’s younger sister, sophomore Shakyla Hill, was the starting point guard for the Lady Red Devils. Appleby was on Jacksonville’s title team in 2010.

“It’s real special for both of us to have a championship now,” Appleby said. “I’m very proud of her and what her and that team has been able to accomplish.”

He worked himself into the starting lineup just a few games into his freshman year at Louisiana Tech, and was the team’s leading scorer this season as a sophomore. He averaged 14.9 points per game and scored 30 or more twice this year. In his lone visit back to central Arkansas, he hit the game-winning shot to beat UALR at Jack Stephens Center.

By all accounts, Appleby had a great freshman year, but the Bulldog coaching staff saw room for improvement. They wanted to make a drastic change that Appleby wasn’t entirely comfortable with at first.

“They told me I needed to change my shot,” Appleby said. “They said I shoot too much of a set shot and that I needed to get elevation. It was hard at first but I did it and I think it’s helped me.”

A willingness to take coaching has helped Appleby throughout his career. It’s a skill players either have, or develop, while playing for Jacksonville High School’s demanding coach Vic Joyner. Appleby believes coming from such a program helped him be more successful earlier than many other freshmen.

“Everybody in this level is really good, as far as talent,” Appleby said. “Some guys adjust to it better than others. I think there are a lot of factors, but the program they come from is definitely one of them. It’s a lot more physically demanding in college. Practices are a lot harder with a lot more conditioning. Some guys can adjust to it and they get better. But it is a lot of hard work.”

Appleby has kept up in the classroom and is on pace academically to be a junior next year. He says the toll on the players to keep up with class work is not as difficult as it’s sometimes made out to be.

“If you do your schedule right you can work it out where you’ve got time to get stuff done you need to get done,” Appleby said. “They have people that help you with that. After that you just have to do it. It’s just up to you.”

Appleby is majoring in sociology but is thinking about changing majors before his upperclassman years begin and work towards majors starts in earnest.

On the court, the Bulldogs finished 27-7 and went undefeated, 14-0, at home. They claimed the season’s second-longest winning streak at 18 games and appeared to be on their way to an NCAA tournament berth when that 18th consecutive win left them 26-3 and unbeaten in conference play. But things fell apart from there. Tech lost its last two regular-season games against conference co-champ Denver and second-place New Mexico State. Tech then fell in the first round of the conference tournament.

“We thought we had a chance to get in even after losing those last two,” Appleby said. “But we didn’t play well in that tournament game and that cost us.”

The Bulldogs shined on their biggest stage of the season in the first round of the NIT, beating the ACC’s Florida State 71-66, and Appleby shining brightest by scoring 27 points.

The season came to an end in round two with a 63-52 loss to Southern Miss, but the future looks bright for the Bulldogs. They only lose two seniors who averaged 19 and 10 minutes per game. Everyone else returns, including the entire starting five and the first four off the bench.

“We improved a lot from last year to this year, and if we can keep on improving we have a chance to be a really good team next year.”

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville parks get 2 awards

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville made quite a splash recently when two of its water-related activities earned prestigious awards from the Arkansas Parks and Recreation Association.

The city’s parks and recreation department was named Therapeutic Recreation Pro-gram of the Year for the swimming lessons it offers to people from all walks of life and Natural Resources Program of the Year for its youth fishing derby.

Jacksonville’s swim program stood out from others across the state because it includes classes for individuals with special needs. Last year, three swim instructors have branched out to include private lessons for people with disabilities.

Aquatics manager and instructor Diane Novotny said the program has served people with disabilities since the community center at 5 Municipal Drive opened, which was in 1995.

The swim lessons are taught privately or in a small group setting depending on the needs of each participant. The classes range from 30 to 40 minutes long, but they can last as long as necessary to meet the needs of each student.

Novotny said that while 10 to 15 years ago she was teaching children diagnosed with Down syndrome how to swim, many of her current students have been diagnosed with autism.

According to, autism is a general term for a group of complex disorders involving brain development that are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

“Children with autism have significant sensory difficulties. They tend to overreact or under react to stimuli and have strong reactions to some textures,” Novotny explained.

She said the water provides a safe environment that calms and soothes the sensory input autistic children crave.

About the award, Novotny said, “I was really, really pleased for my instructors. It’s nice to see that we’re not only looked at for swim lessons but for the therapeutic benefit of the swim lessons.”

Eighty-five children, those with special needs and many without, have signed up for April classes, which are full, she said.

To sign up for classes in May, visit the community center.

An average of 100 people take swim lessons at the center each month, Novotny noted.

Classes are not held in December or August. Morning classes are offered in June and July. Evening classes are held January through July, in October and in November.

The swim lessons are just one drop in the bucket of the parks and recreation department’s success.

The other award winner, the youth fishing derby, was established — in partnership with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and other community sponsors — in 1997 as a way to introduce youth to fishing and as an opportunity for families to spend time together outside.

Recreation Coordinator Dana Rozenski said the program is important because “I think so many times families get caught up in TVs and video games, iPhones and electronics. We need to be outside. We need to be exposed to nature.”

The derby is an annual event held at Dupree Park Lake, 1700 Redmond Road, on a Saturday in June.

The Game and Fish Commission stocks the lake with about 400 catfish the week before the event, according to Rozenski.

Between 125 and 150 children, ages 15 and under, usually sign up to compete.

The operating budget for the derby is $800, which covers the prizes and other expenses. Donations from local businesses and the Game and Fish Commission are also used for prizes.

In 2012, the event had 116 registered participants and many more who showed up without registering.

The parks and recreation department provided six paid staff members, including two of the maintenance staff, who watched the lake after it was stocked. Two volunteers were also on hand to help.

The youth fishing derby has been a standalone event in the past, but that will change this year, Rozenski said.

The city’s last Wing Ding Festival was held in 2011.

The event is being replaced this year with Jacksonville’s first FestiVille, which will be held June 21-22 at Dupree Park.

Ashland Chemical hosted a free fishing derby every year during the Wing Ding Festival.

Rather than having the youth fishing derby and another fishing derby at the festival, Rozenski said the company would host a fishing derby for all ages during FestiVille.

Details about registration are still being worked out, she noted, but the derby will be held at Dupree Park Lake on June 22 during FestiVille.

Other upcoming parks and recreation events include:

• Park of the Month from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 13 at North Lake Park, 1 Tennis Court. The event is free.

• CPR Challenge from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 11 at the community center. The cost is $50.

• Park of the Month from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 11 at Paradise Park, 1 Paradise Park Road. The event is free.

• School Out Celebration and Movie in the Park at 5 p.m. Friday, May 24 at Splash Zone, 201 W. Martin St. Admission is $5.

• Park of the Month from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 1 at Jimmie White Park at 115 Cheyenne Trail. The event is free.

• Pool Side Cutie Contest from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, June 8 at Splash Zone.

TOP STORY >> Option is closer on Medicaid

Leader senior staff writer

A quarter of a million working poor in Arkansas are a little closer to getting health-care insurance after an endorsement Monday by the speaker of the House and the Senate president pro tem—both Republicans.

And 500 Mississippi County area residents are a little closer to high-paying jobs as the Senate passed, by a vote of 26-6, SB 820, authorizing millions of dollars in state bonds for the $1.1 billion Big River steel plant.

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) voted against the plant. Now it goes to the House Agriculture and Economic Development Committee.

On Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in a short letter to Gov. Mike Beebe, wrote that Arkansas’ proposed private option health-insurance plan appeared to be consistent with the federal Medicaid expansion statute requirements.

In a Monday news conference, Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, and Senate President Pro Tempore Michael Lamou-reaux, R-Russellville, endorsed the private option for health care expansion, and, late Tuesday, Republicans released their version of the in-lieu-of-Medicaid expansion with some caveats.

In part because of the skepticism of Republican lawmakers over Medicaid expansion -— part of what they call Obamacare — the state has opted for another route generally known as private option, although it will still be Medicaid funded.

Democrats were waiting to see the Republican plan late Tuesday, Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville, said.

“I like it,” Perry said about Sebelius’ letter. “It gives us the green light to implement the Medicaid expansion.”

He said Democrats would review the Republican plan, agree on some things and get it done.

“We’re ready to get it resolved and do what’s best for the citizens of Arkansas,” Perry said.

Legislative leaders are in the final stages of preparing bill language to accompany the required supermajority vote to use the federal funding.

Although Beebe said Sebelius’ response was positive when he raised the issue in February as governors traveled to Washington, members of the General Assembly have awaited written confirmation that the federal government would fund private option here in lieu of Medicaid expansion.

While far from a done deal, private option seems to appeal to Republicans because it operates through private enterprise and it seems distanced from Obamacare while still providing health insurance for the working poor. Democrats tend to like it because expansion is funded by Medicaid and the end result is the same, although the cost is not necessarily the same.

In her April 1 letter — a response to a March 13 memo from Beebe seeking her blessing for the plan — Sebelius expressed support for the private option concept, according to Beebe.

“On behalf of the administration, I would like to express our interest in the innovative approach to further expanding access to health insurance coverage through plans participating in the Health Insurance Marketplace that Arkansas is considering,” the secretary wrote. “The concept in the memo appears to be generally consistent with the requirements of the Medicaid statute; we look forward to reviewing your demonstration proposal.”

Sebelius wrote, “Recognizing the decisions facing your General Assembly and the impact on your Health Insurance Marketplace, let me assure you that we will work with you on this innovative approach for Arkansas. To that end, on Friday I released additional guidance I hope will help inform states like Arkansas as you work to finalize your plan.”

Beebe said, “This is the written confirmation we’ve anticipated after our February meeting in Washington, D.C. Now it’s time for action in Arkansas.

He continued, “Members of the General Assembly and my administration have built a model that will provide working Arkansans with greater access to health care through private-sector insurance companies. Our innovative approach can create a national example of a state using Medicaid premium-assistance funds in an insurance marketplace that best serves its citizens.”

Beebe remains cautiously optimistic that support for the Arkansas private option continues to build, according to a Tuesday press release.

While most lawmakers expressed support for some version of extended health care, some have expressed a desire for consideration either at a special session or at next year’s financial legislative session.

Rep. Patti Julian, D-North Little Rock, said Tuesday, “Let’s move forward during the current session. Some want to wait until next year. I’d like to see us deal with it now.”

She said Sebelius’ letter will make it easier to pass a health care insurance bill, especially since a recent study by the Department of Human Services suggests the costs will not be as great as initially anticipated.

Meanwhile, nearly all of the tax-cut bill is being held in committee awaiting consensus, according to Julian. She said lawmakers are waiting to figure out how much they can afford to cut.

“We passed through a lot of bills (Monday),” she said. “We suspended the ruling requiring 48 hours between passing a bill out of committee and considering it on the House floor.”

Now it can emerge from a committee with a do-pass recommendation one day and be considered on the floor the next.

“I suspect we will work long hours and perhaps Saturdays to ensure we get business done before April 19,” Julian said.

Julian, who is on the House Transportation Committee, says the bill to move hundreds of millions of dollars a year from the state’s general fund to finance roads and highways failed by a single vote to get out of committee.

She said she originally liked the idea of moving sales taxes from vehicles, tires, batteries and auto parts, but she realized that those hundreds of millions of dollars would be at the expense of higher education and other programs funded by general revenues, including a lot of programs that benefit cities in her district.

TOP STORY >> Date closer for kickoff of new district

Leader staff writer

The time is right for Jacksonville to have its own district as soon as this fall. That was the message that Dr. Walter Simpson, Daniel Gray and members of the Jacksonville/North Pulaski Education Corps delivered to more than 200 people who attended a Tuesday night meeting at the community center.

The local education group had Simpson brief the crowd on his 55-page feasibility study of Jacksonville breaking away from the Pulaski County Special School District and his study that echoed what five other previous studies have said: Jacksonville has the community support, the tax base, and revenue to support its own school district without upsetting any of the desegregation issues being monitored by the federal court.

Starting off his presentation, Simpson said he worked in PCSSD as a teacher in 1966 and the district was in disarray then. (See editorial, p. 6A.)

Gray asked the residents to sign a petition and to also help gather signatures showing the state school board that Jacksonville was ready, willing and able.

According to state requirements, the city has to present petitions with at least 2,000 signatures (10 percent of the registered voters within the boundaries of the new district). The petition will ask the state board in June to go before federal Judge D. Price Marshall and ask him to give Jacksonville the approval to hold a special election.

Former Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien, who is a member of the local education group pushing for the district, explained that the steps sound convoluted but because the Pulaski County Special School District is under federal monitoring, the federal courts must give approval.

O’Brien said the city was at this point back in 2003, but the PCSSD board was against the city and took the city to court, where the judge said no to an election, even though the city was just weeks away from voting.

“This time we are going to the judge before setting the election in motion,” O’Brien explained.

Once the judge says the city can hold an election, the question on the ballot will be a simple “yes or no” question: Does the city want its own school district?

Gray said it is the education group’s hope that there will be enough signatures on the petition to present it to the state Board of Education at its June meeting.

The feasibility study is geared toward 2013-14 being a transition year for the new Jacksonville school district, which would be fully operational for the 2014-15 school year.

Two concerns expressed by the crowd were about payments for the new Maumelle High School and Sylvan Hills Middle School.

Ivory Tillman said it wouldn’t be fair for the proposed Jacksonville school district to be saddled with debts for those two schools.

Gray said the education group’s lawyer is verifying what is in the bond paperwork. He explained that a resolution approved by the PCSSD school board in 2009 said any new Jacksonville school district would not be saddled with the debt. The bond agents are on record agreeing with that and saying, if that isn’t in the legal paperwork, it should be clarified.

Another parent had heard that both Maumelle and Sher-wood are looking at forming their own districts. She was afraid that the efforts by those cities would hurt Jacksonville’s effort.

O’Brien said there was nothing to worry about — that those cities would not get their own districts anytime soon.

“PCSSD just built brand new, elite schools in Maumelle and Sherwood. The courts are not going to let them break away,” he said. He added after the meeting that Maumelle could not comply with federal desegregation requirements—it would be too white.

The state law that allows Jacksonville to break away states any new district must have at least 4,000 students and the district it is breaking away from must have at least 4,000 students. Neither Sherwood nor Maumelle has 4,000 students.

Simpson has calculated Jacksonville’s numbers three different ways, and the student numbers run from 4,300 to 4,700. PCSSD would be left with about 13,200 students.

According to the study, PCSSD is currently 43 percent black. Once Jacksonville breaks away, PCSSD would be 41.6 percent black and the Jacksonville district would be 46.7 percent black. Both would be within the acceptable federal range for desegregation.

Other concerns expressed by the audience were about staffing and Bayou Meto Elementary.

Martha Whatley with the local education group said there is a precedent for staffing because, many years ago, Little Rock took over parts of PCSSD.

She said the teachers and staff were given the option to stay at the school under the rules of the new district or transfer to a school in PCSSD. She expected something similar would happen in Jacksonville.

A parent was worried about Bayou Meto, explaining that half the school’s students filter into Jacksonville Middle School and half into Northwood Middle School. Northwood would not be a part of the new district.

Gray said, based on the boundaries approved by PCSSD, all Bayou Meto students would be part of the new district.

Simpson made it clear that Jacksonville’s new district would not be without challenges.

He said the number one problem for the proposed district would be the condition of the schools.

The new district would take in 10 operational schools and two closed schools. Out of the 10 open schools, five are in such poor shape that the state would probably recommend they be replaced instead of being remodeled to be brought up to state standards. Simpson said, based on historical data, the state should fund about 48 percent of the new schools, but certainly would not be able to do all of them at once.

The proposed Jacksonville district would encompass 100 square miles and include all of Jacksonville and north Pulaski County. PCSSD encompasses more than 700 square miles.