Friday, July 10, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Save Ward library

Ward could lose its little library at the end of the year if the city does not come up with funds for a librarian. The Lonoke-Prairie County Regional System has lost $35,000 in funding after the state legislature cut $1 million in aid to Arkansas libraries.

Area legislators could step forward with a local improvement grant to save the library, or the Ward City Council could cover the shortfall in next year’s budget. Ward is paying for utilities and providing a building for the library, but it will have to do more to keep its library open.

Cabot and many other cities fund their libraries with sales taxes and dedicated millage rates. Cabot’s new library is being paid for with a bond issue that’s funded with a sales tax.

Ward residents should pressure local officials to keep their library open. Once it closes, it may never reopen.

It’s a shame the state has cut funding for libraries after decades of generous support. Your local legislators probably don’t want you to know they balanced the budget on the backs of ordinary people, especially children and seniors. The legislature is cutting funds for prisons and highways and other important programs after the state committed $100 million to Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, which wants to build military vehicles in Camden. If Lockheed Martin gets the contract, Arkansas taxpayers will provide $600 in subsidies for every vehicle built there. Lockheed Martin has annual revenues of $45 billion a year, 85 percent of it generated by military contracts.

Lockheed Martin doesn’t need Arkansas’ subsidies. Their officials have admitted as much: The military vehicles would have been built in Camden even without subsidies.

If those vehicles roll off the assembly line for the next 20 years, they should have a tag that says “Built with $20 million in cuts to Arkansas libraries.”

EDITORIAL >> Teachers’ pay

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District’s school board approved a salary schedule Tuesday that would cut the pay of some veteran teachers by as much as 20 percent and reduce their benefits by half. That’s all the board, administration and consultants are sure they can afford.

New teachers will actually be rewarded under the school board’s new pay scale. Recent grads, fresh out of college, will be paid higher than average for the area, starting at $38,000 a year. But some longtime teachers who had been with the district for decades could have made up to $70,000 plus benefits. Now Jacksonville says it can only offer up to $55,000 and substantially fewer benefits.

Critics worry the new pay plan is intended to punish veteran teachers simply because they have spent their careers with the academically troubled Pulaski County Special School District.

And the new dual-seniority model approved by state Education Commissioner Johnny Key means those who taught in Jacksonville-area schools this year won’t be able to bump their way into teaching for PCSSD after detachment and locking down their higher pay.

Many of the teachers were supportive of separating with PCSSD and forming an independent Jacksonville school system. They knew firsthand what damage PCSSD’s dysfunction was causing their students and campuses.

Leader staff writer Rick Kron, who has taught fifth grade at Warren Dupree Elementary School for two years, spoke against the pay cut during Tuesday’s meeting. He has taught school for more than 20 years, so he faces a harsh pay cut. He told the board the plan does not reward teachers for earning advanced degrees and will drive away seasoned professionals and attract inexperienced faculty who leave the profession soon after starting.

Being a teacher can be a thankless job. It’s also tough being on the new school board, whose members know the city’s schools will not improve much without first building new campuses. And paying for new schools will be impossible without a millage increase and other financial sacrifices.

Though they probably expected some reductions in their pay, the severity of the cuts caught teachers off guard. It did us.

Tony Wood, the new superintendent of JNPSD, promised to review the pay plan next year and raise the pay if the district can afford more.

It will be years before we know if slashing teachers’ pay was worth it. The community is now demanding results from its schools, but nobody knows for certain how to achieve them.

Teachers’ salaries will be an issue in the September school board elections. There are three competitive races: Ron McDaniel vs. Celeste Williams, Richard Moss vs. Marcia Anne Dornblaser, and a three-way race with Jim Moore, Jerald Reichenbach and Barry Roper.

Of the sitting board members, only Moss voted against the pay schedule, which he said was unfair to teachers.

Four other races are uncontested: Board President Daniel Gray is running for the at-large Position 1 seat; board secretary Carol Denise Miles is seeking the Zone 2 spot; board member LaConda Watson is after the Zone 4 seat; and Dena Toney is unopposed for the Zone 5 seat.

The good news is everyone running lives in Jacksonville, whose last representative on PCSSD’s school board voted against Jacksonville having its own district. Times have changed.

TOP STORY >> Cabot’s Trendy Tulip

The Trendy Tulip at 706 S. Pine St. offers modern home décor items that are fun and stylish, many of which are handmade. Its owners are Erica Lemons and her mother, Janice.
The Trendy Tulip’s sign invites customers to the shop, a home that’s been converted into a showroom. Left, Janice Lemons (seated) with her daughter, Erica, in front of a display of sandals.

Leader staff writer

The Trendy Tulip, a new home décor boutique in Cabot which opened in May, specializes in shabby chic design trends.

Erica Lemons and her mom, Janice, own the business.

It is located in a house at 706 S. Pine St., which the duo converted into a showroom and shop.

“We always wanted to do something like this. We made the decision (to open the business) in February,” Erica Lemons said.

The Trendy Tulip is a family business that bloomed from a hobby. “I like to rehab old furniture,” Erica Lemons explained.

Her dad, state Rep. Tim Lemons, makes furniture with her brother to sell at the store. They do custom work, headboards, tables and benches.

“We will sell items for a commission for a 70/30 split. We have household decorations, wall décor, crafts, wreaths that people make,” Erica Lemons said.

The rooms of the house are filled with merchandise. Some have dresses, others have kitchenware and towels, pillows and vases. They try to have a bit of something for everybody’s taste, Janice Lemons said.

She also said they like Pinterest, a social media website, and doing projects. “We have new and gently used pieces,” Janice Lemons added.

She noted, “I do mostly crafty picture frames, rag swag, lamp shades and Mason jar paintings.

Erica Lemons added that the store has “jewelry, home décor, aprons, Yellow Box sandals.”

Janice Lemons said they try to sell a lot of Arkansas-made products and candles, too.

“We thought our town needed something that you wouldn’t have to go to Little Rock to get. Business is going great. People are interested because we’re in an old house,” she continued.

“We wanted it to feel like a home, and customers can pick up and touch things,” Janice Lemons said.

She also explained, “I’ve always been a stay-at-home mom. Now that the kids are grown, it is something for us to do. I like to decorate and accessorize things.”

The Trendy Tulip is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

“Everybody needs a little trendy in their life. It is fun,” Erica Lemons said.

Janice Lemons said, “If there’s something you are looking for, we’ll try to get it for you.”

The Trendy Tulip’s website is

TOP STORY >> Disparity in pay to teachers remains key issue

Leader senior staff writer

The most any Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District teacher — even one with a doctorate and 17 years experience — will earn when the district detaches in the 2016-17 school year is $55,500, unless more money becomes available and the board increases the salary schedule.

That same teacher working for the Pulaski County Special School District would earn $69, 206 or more.

The JNP salary schedule approved 5-1 Tuesday night does not reward teachers for advancing beyond a master’s degree with 15 hours of credit and 28 years of experience.


If the two school districts had a single seniority center, advanced-degree teachers working at schools this year that will become part of Jacksonville-North Pulaski in 2016-17 could bump teachers with less seniority working for PCSSD and hold onto their higher-paying jobs when JNP detaches.

But PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess proposed, and state Education Commissioner Johnny Key approved, a two-seniority center, so for this year, Jacksonville-area teachers can only bump within that same future district.

Otherwise, Guess said, he feared that PCSSD would end up with a large number of highly paid teachers trying to protect their standard of living. That would be to the detriment of PCSSD budget at a time the district is trying to escape the sanctions of being in fiscal distress.


This is a bad deal for the high-end Jacksonville teachers, who made life and lifestyle decisions based on those salaries. If they bought a house and got a mortgage based on making $65,000 a year, and now they make $10,000 to a year less, that could be a serious problem.

“We value their experience,” said JNP chief of staff Phyllis Stewart, “but we understand if you’ve become accustomed to a standard of living.”

“It was the intent of the board to give PCSSD employees in these schools as much time as possible to make those decisions toward their future,” she said.

Tony Wood, in his first few days as JNP superintendent, said he wants to give the teachers all the money he can, but, right now, there’s little money and a lot of uncertainty.


He said the board would revisit the salary issue after the three-quarter year enrollment numbers this year for the schools that will become JNPSD. But they simply can’t compete with PCSSD for the most experienced and educated teachers.

“Not knowing what our revenue stream will be, we have to be cautious, stay on sound footing and maintain financial stability,” Stewart said.

The current budget is predicated on an enrollment of 4,000, but it could be as high as 4,400 students, which multiplied by the $6,500 minimum foundation aid per student from the state would increase revenues by about $2.5 million.

By way of example, Leader staff writer Rick Kron teaches math full time at Warren Dupree Elementary School. His students have won national competitions on economic issues.

“With health benefits, at PCSSD, I’m at $66,719, but if I’m hired by JNP, salary and benefits will total $54,480,” he said Friday.

CUT OF $12,000

That’s a cut of more than $12,00 a year.

Can he afford it?

“I’m going to have to look at it real close,” he said. “Can I afford it? No. Do I want to go elsewhere? No.”

Kron doesn’t have a mortgage, but he’s still paying off student loans.

He said he’ll give the board the benefit of the doubt — that this is all they believe they can afford, and that, if they find more money, they’ll pay better.

If the district does get increased enrollment numbers next March and can increase pay, that will be “cutting it real close,” he said. “That’s about when other districts begin hiring.”

His truck is closing in on 300,000 miles, but he doesn’t know if he can afford a new one.

JNP’s going to have quality teachers, he said, “but not enough.”

Kron also cited a national study that found half of all new teachers quit the profession within five years.


The new district will be in good shape to attract some of the best newer teachers, with a starting salary of $38,000 — nearly $4,000 a year more than PCSSD and more than all local districts except Cabot, which starts at $40,575 this year.

Not only will JNP pay experienced teachers much less than PCSSD currently pays some of the same teachers, but the monthly contribution toward health insurance and other fringe benefits will be only about half as much.

PCSSD puts $300 a month toward each teacher’s fringe benefits, while JNP has committed to put “at least” $153 — the required state minimum — toward health insurance and $12 a month toward dental insurance.

The PCSSD fringe benefits and salary schedule were negotiated over several years with the district’s two unions, which were decertified when PCSSD was mired in fiscal distress and the state took over.

Bryant paid $150 for fringe benefits and Searcy $177, according to Stewart. Those are neighboring districts with similar enrollment sizes.

Top pay will be about $6,000 less than Cabot, $14,000 less than PCSSD and Little Rock and about $9,000 less than North Little Rock, but most of those schools are considerably larger than JNP and have deeper pockets.

TOP STORY >> LRAFB renews fleet of C-130s

Leader senior staff writer

With the arrival of its 24th C-130J Thursday at Little Rock Air Force Base, the 19th Airlift Wing is just four planes shy of its allotment of 28, according to Tech Sgt. Jason Armstrong, a base spokesman.

The last of those planes is slated for delivery next summer, Armstrong said.

The C-130J, a state-of-the art combat airlifter that can carry a bigger payload, fly faster and take off and land on smaller runways than the earlier incarnations of the Vietnam-era plane, is deployed in support of humanitarian and combat missions around the world.

Tail No. 05771 was delivered from the Lockheed-Martin plant in Marietta, Ga., with 19th Maintenance Group Commander Col. Dan Lockert officiating, according to Tech Sgt. Armstrong.

Lockert presented the “key” to the aircraft to Senior Airman Edward Armstrong, the 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated air crew chief.

The base received its first C-130J March 19, 2004, when it was delivered to the 314th Airlift Wing, according to Armstrong, the spokesman.

The C-130Js are the newest of the C-130 models, slowly replacing the legacy fleet of H models. In 2012, the C-130J flew 23,000 sorties, moved 55,000 tons of cargo and 133,000 passengers, factoring heavily in tactical operations around the globe.

SPORTS STORY >> Ladies hit the hardwood at Gina Cox Center

Leader sports editor

Lonoke, Jacksonville and Beebe took part in a 10-team girls’ basketball camp Thursday at the Gina Cox Center in Lonoke, and all three local head coaches were pleased with how their teams looked this early in preparations.

Host coach Nathan Morris was cautious about putting too much into his team’s successes on Thursday, but all things considered, was still happy with the performance.

“You know, this time of year you never really know who everybody’s got,” said Morris. “This is NCAA evaluation time, and a lot of kids are with their AAU teams. We had some, but the ones we had got back on Wednesday, so we were able to have all our kids there when a lot of other teams probably didn’t.”

Lonoke has only one regular starter returning from last year in Jarrelyn McCall, and one spot starter who played a lot off the bench in post player Ashlyn Allen. Everyone else will be brand new to varsity basketball.

“We’re going to be very young but we feel pretty good about where we’re headed with this group,” Morris said. “We’ve got McCall coming back as our leading scorer, and a post player that saw significant minutes with Ashlyn. We’ve got one other senior and a couple of juniors. Other than that, we’re going to have a lot of sophomores and two ninth graders.”

The sophomores and freshmen made up last year’s 4A-2 junior high, regular-season conference championship team. That team lost the district tournament championship in double overtime to Southside-Batesville.

“They were good but they weren’t a dominant junior high team,” Morris said. “So it’s not like we’re getting a bunch of players that ran through everybody they played. But we are getting a team that I like a lot. They get up and down the floor. They’re athletic. It’s just a fun group to work with. They work hard in practice, easy to coach and they have the potential to play an exciting brand of basketball.”

Beebe coach Greg Richey may have left the camp the most exhilarated. He was without four starters, including three who are still nursing ACL injuries and one with an injured back. The Lady Badgers were decimated with injuries last season. Two of the starters were cleared to play before this camp, but Richey played it safe and kept them out.

Despite missing that many players, Beebe beat Mount St. Mary, Sheridan and Clarendon.

“We left there feeling pretty good about ourselves, especially after the Sheridan game,” said Richey. “We haven’t played any this summer. We’ve just been practicing and lifting weights. Cassidy Elam and Hannah Camp were released last week, but there’s no reason to risk getting them hurt this early. So we just held them out. Gracie (Anders) should be cleared in September.

“We’re just a really deep team right now and when we get the five back we didn’t have today, we’ll be even deeper. They’ve all just improved. There’s really not a lot of difference in any player out there. I can substitute and it doesn’t drop off or change what we’re doing. No superstars, they all just play really hard, and that’ll get you a long way.”

Jacksonville returns several players that saw significant varsity minutes last year, though it has to find a replacement for the 5A-Central’s leading scorer from last year, Antrice McCoy.

Desiree Williams and Alexis James are the two leading returning scorers, but Jacksonville coach Crystal Scott singled out Asiah Williams and Emily Lovercheck as two players that stood out on Thursday.

“Those two played a lot last year but they’re going to have to play bigger roles this season,” said Scott. “Asiah Williams had a really good day in particular. Alexis had to catch a flight after the first game and she’ll be gone for two weeks. But we’re going to rely a lot on her. Right now we don’t have a true point guard, and she’s the one that’s probably going to have to take on that responsibility. She ran the point for me in ninth grade so I know she can do it, but I’d rather put her at the two.”

All three teams and seven others, will convene for another camp at Jacksonville next Thursday, then will play at Beebe the following Tuesday.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot seniors roll by Eagles

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Centennial Bank senior American Legion team had little trouble against the Little Rock Eagles on Thursday night at Brian Wade Conrade Memorial Field, as the hosts beat the visitors 13-3 in five innings.

Cabot (11-10) scored three runs in the first inning to take an early lead, but didn’t build a big lead until the last inning. Centennial Bank led 7-3 after four innings, but exploded for six runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a 10-run lead and end the game on the sportsmanship rule.

Centennial Bank starting pitcher Adam Hicks held Little Rock scoreless in the top of the first, and Cabot took the lead for good in the bottom half of the inning.

Blake McCutchen and Hayden Vinson reached base on a couple of errors by the Eagles’ middle infielders to lead off the bottom of the first. Logan Kirkendoll laid down a sacrifice bunt the next at-bat to advance the runners, and both scored the following at-bat on a two-RBI single to shallow left field by Austin Null.

Null later scored the third run for Cabot on a passed ball.

Little Rock answered with two runs in the top of the second, but Cabot scored a run in each of the second and third innings to maintain a three-run lead at 5-2. The Eagles scored their final run in the top of the fourth. Cabot added three more runs in the bottom half of the inning before reeling off six in the fifth.

Collin Thames got the fifth inning started with a single to right field and Lee Sullivan walked the next at-bat. Thames then scored on a Braden Jarnagin single to right field, and Sullivan and Jarnagin later scored on a pair of passed balls, which made it a 10-3 game.

Cabot scored its 11th run on a Logan Edmondson stand-up double to deep right-center field.

Dylan Bowers scored after reaching earlier in the inning on an error at shortstop. Edmondson scored the next at-bat on a stand-up double by Brandon Jones, which put Centennial Bank up 12-3.

Jones advanced to third base shortly after on a passed ball, but was thrown out at home on a 6-2 fielder’s choice that was hit by Caleb Harpole.

After Harpole’s at-bat, Michael Shepherd hit a single to right field. That should’ve given Cabot runners at first and second, but the throw from right field to the infield was way high and off the mark. As a result, Harpole was able to score all the way from first base, giving Cabot a 10-run lead and, therefore, ending the game on the mercy rule.

Hicks earned the win on the mound. He threw all five innings and recorded seven strikeouts, while allowing six hits and just one walk. Only two of the Eagles’ three runs scored were earned.

Cabot outhit Little Rock 10-6. Edmondson, Shepherd and Thames led Cabot with two hits each, while teammates Kirkendoll, Null, Jones and Jarnagin had one hit apiece.

Josh Bucher and Lance Nolen were the only Eagles with multiple hits Thursday night. They each had two.

SPORTS STORY >> Coach likes the effort at Conway team camp

Leader sports editor

The Beebe football team had another good offensive performance at the Conway High School team camp on Wednesday. Conway’s camp features a slightly different format than most camps, designed to make defenses work fast while giving offenses time to get plays ready.

Six teams were on hand, including Conway, Beebe, Morrilton, Little Rock Christian Academy, Clinton and Dardanelle. The teams divide into starting offense and starting defense and go to opposite ends of the field. On each end, one defense will play five plays against every other offense in rapid succession.

Offenses have their plays ready by the time its their turn, meaning a defense may have to face Morrilton’s wide-open spread formation, then Beebe’s dead-T, making that adjustment in a matter of seconds.

“It’s a little different but I like the way we do it here,” said Beebe coach John Shannon. “You don’t really get to have drives or anything, but your offense and defense gets a lot of work against a lot of different looks.”

The format also allows offense and defense to get equal work. Right now, Beebe has a few players that Shannon says will have to play both ways. The camp is divided into two sessions as well, meaning Shannon used all his starters on offense in the first session, and all defensive starters in the second session. That meant several backups got plenty of work on each side when projected starters were elsewhere.

“Right now we’ve got a few that, if we had to start today, would have to go both ways,” Shannon said. “This camp set up like it is, it gives us a chance to play some of these kids we hope can step in and add some depth. They get some experience and hopefully keep improving so we can have fewer people on both sides.”

Conway, being a top 7A team and at least two classifications larger than everyone else there, enjoyed the most success on both sides of the ball. Few plays against the Wampus Cat defense yielded much of anything, but Beebe’s offense caused the host team some trouble.

Even when much of Beebe’s offense featured backups, the Badgers broke one big play against the Wampus Cats. It was a simple run right by Jo’Vaughn Wyrick, who was lined up at fullback while Trip Smith played defense at the other end of the field.

“Since we split up, I don’t get to see much of the defense, but I was very pleased again with how our offense executed,” Shannon said. “The first session especially, when we had all our starters on offense, looked really good. We’re replacing almost our whole offensive line. Right now it looks like they’re coming along pretty well. There’s a long way to go, though. We still need to get a lot better.”

Beebe received somewhat of a surprise when one publication that recently came out had the Badgers ranked No. 3 in the state in Class 5A.

“I guess that’s based on having those two 1,000-yard backs returning,” Shannon said. “We’ll find out just how good those two guys are if this line doesn’t keep improving. But overall I’m pretty pleased with where they’re at right now. I’d say they’re probably a little farther along than I thought they’d be at this point.”

Wednesday’s effort at camp was the third-straight day of what Shannon called “A really good week so far.” According to the head Badger, the team arrived on Monday ready to work after two weeks off for the mandatory dead period, in which athletes cannot step onto campus athletic facilities or have any contact with coaches.

“Actually, I’d say it’s probably the best first week after the dead period that we’ve had, as far as work ethic goes,” Shannon said. “All three days they came with a lot of energy. I hope that continues.”

Beebe goes back to the Conway camp the next three Wednesdays in July before fall camp begins in August.

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke County teams making most of 7-on-7

Leader sportswriter

Cabot High School hosted its fourth 7-on-7 football exhibition Wednesday at Panther Stadium, with five other schools taking part.

Other than the hosts, Lonoke, McClellan, J.A. Fair, Hazen and Des Arc were the teams competing. The five teams each played a total of four short exhibitions, and the two Lonoke County schools each made plays throughout that period.

Neither Cabot nor Lonoke will rely heavily on the passing game once the actual season starts, but having some summer competition to work on specifics is something both schools welcome.

“We had great effort,” said Cabot defensive coordinator Randall Black. “We’re trying and our kids are going to try, but the bottom line is we’re going to have to make some plays. That’s what we’re really emphasizing.”

Finding depth at certain positions is something else Black and the rest of the Panther coaching staff hopes to achieve and then develop as the summer progresses.

“Basically, we’re looking for the five, six, seven player,” Black said. “We’re looking for some depth.”

Cabot hosted another 7-on-7 meet Monday, but that consisted largely of JV players. Many of Cabot’s starters, though, were on hand Wednesday, including junior All-State quarterback Jarrod Barnes.

Barnes made some good reads and throws in Cabot’s first two exhibitions against Hazen and J.A. Fair, as well as against Lonoke in the third. The Jackrabbits, though, took first possession and scored first on an unlikely play.

After two incomplete passes by senior quarterback Savonte Rountree to start the drive, which began at the 40-yard line, Rountree threw into heavy coverage but connected with receiver Justin Meadows for a 40-yard score.

On Cabot’s first drive, Barnes completed an 11-yard pass on the first play, and two to his brother Holdyn Barnes on plays two and three that resulted in 29- and 10-yard gains.

On the next play, Jarrod Barnes connected with teammate Bret Locke for a 5-yard touchdown. The Jackrabbits, though, answered with another score on their second possession.

The first two plays were completions. The first was a 13-yard Rountree to Meadows completion and the second was a 17-yard completion to Casey Martin. Rountree’s third pass was dropped, but the next was another Meadows touchdown.

On that play, from the 10-yard line, Rountree, taking the snap at the right hash mark, rolled left and connected with a wide-open Meadows in the back left corner of the end zone for another Lonoke score.

Cabot’s next possession saw Barnes complete his first three passes, two of which were to Bryce Crockom. The fourth play was an incompletion, but Barnes found Easton Seidl for a gain of 10-plus, which put the ball at the 9-yard line.

Jarrod Barnes connected with his brother again for a 7-yard gain on the next play, and then Crockom for a 2-yard score.

On Lonoke’s next possession, Rountree completed a 15-yard pass to Logan Dozier on the first play, but the next two passes were incomplete. Cabot then took possession for one more play at the 40-yard line, and Jarrod Barnes threw a perfect deep ball to the corner of the end zone, where he found his brother Holdyn, who made the jumping catch into tight coverage for a stellar 40-yard score.

In Lonoke’s final exhibition against McClellan, the Jackrabbits’ secondary gave up another 40-yard score on the last play of the scrimmage, which wasn’t the way head coach Doug Bost wanted to end the day.

“It’s laid back here, but at the same time, when you’re getting work done, and to get beat when they say last play of the game – you know they’re going to chunk it in the end zone because it’s the last play, and when you get beat twice like that, it’s disappointing. That’s just a lack of effort and concentration.”

Lonoke did, though, have a number of good things to take away from Wednesday’s meet, and Bost pointed out his quarterback as one that showed improvement since Monday’s 7-on-7 meet at CHS.

“Savonte came in (Wednesday) morning to work on some footwork,” Bost said. “Monday, his footwork wasn’t that good, so he came in and did a little extra work and it showed. He threw better balls today than he did Monday.”

Rountree had a good day overall, but Meadows was the player of the day for Lonoke. He made the play of the meet against McClellan. On that play, he made a one-handed catch with his left hand in the back of the end zone for a 20-plus-yard score, and he later made another one-handed deep catch.

“We’re going to play him some at inside (receiver) and some at outside,” Bost said of Meadows, “so we can move him around to try and get some matchups that we want out of him, run game and pass game. So he’s a good weapon.”

Martin, a baseball standout that didn’t play football last year, also showed promising signs Wednesday, as well as the returning Jackrabbit skill players.

“To get Casey back, he gives us some good speed,” Bost said. “He runs good routes. Logan was our third leading receiver last year and he’s back for us this year. Josh (Coleman) can catch the ball. Jawaun (Bryant) is back and I think he was our fourth leading receiver.

“We got those guys and this is good practice for them, offense and defense.”

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

TOP STORY >> Murder accomplice pleads guilty

Leader staff writer

Crystal Lowery was sentenced on Tuesday to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to the kidnapping and killing of real estate agent Beverly Carter.

The victim’s body was found Sept. 27 in a shallow grave near Hwy. 5 in north Pulaski County. Carter was reported missing a few days earlier, when she didn’t return from showing a house in Scott.

Lowery, 42, of Sherwood, looked frightened and teary-eyed upon entering Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright’s courtroom. She will be eligible for parole in 21 years.

Prosecutors dropped the capital murder charge against Lowery down to a first-degree murder charge in exchange for her guilty plea and promise to testify against her estranged husband, Arron Lewis.

Lowery, who previously pleaded not guilty, told reporters as she was leaving court that she was sorry for Carter’s death.

Chief deputy prosecutor John Johnson told reporters the victim’s family was pleased with the verdict and it would help them start to seek closure.

He also said Lowery’s plea bargain was a good deal for the state. Her testimony will give the jury a different perspective from investigative files in the already “strong” case against her husband, Johnson explained.

He added that no plea deal had been offered to or requested by Lewis.

The victim’s relatives, friends and co-workers filled most of the crowded courtroom and left without commenting.

The investigation showed that Carter had texted Lowery’s phone. The victim’s phone was found in Lewis’ possession.

Lewis, 34, confessed to police but later told a State Hospital therapist it was coerced because he was beaten and interrogated for 12 hours.

Lowery has filed for a divorce from Lewis, who has contested it. Divorce documents filed with the court state that she didn’t know he had been convicted of seven felonies when they wed on April 20, 2014.

Lewis, of Gravel Ridge, will stand trial Jan. 12 for the capital murder and kidnapping of Carter. A pre-trial hearing is set for Oct. 5.

A mental evaluation submitted to court earlier this year declared that he is mentally competent to stand trial. It also found that Lewis has antisocial personality disorder.

According to the report, he told a therapist from the State Hospital that he could prove Lowery is innocent.

A mental evaluation was not requested for her, and Lewis told the therapist he would not seek a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease of defect.

The accused elected to not cooperate in the evaluation of his mental state at the time of the alleged offenses. He denied kidnapping and murdering Carter, according the report.

Lewis previously said he would be representing himself, but a motion submitted last month for the court to appoint a public defender has since been approved.

In the motion, Lewis claims he was “not being given a fair opportunity to examine physical evidence and present a defense.”

Having violated his parole, Lewis is incarcerated at the Tucker maximum-security unit.

The typed divorce complaint Lowery filed states that the two separated on Aug. 27, 2014. It also asserts that they have no shared property, debt issues or children and no children are expected.

Lewis’ handwritten answer disputes all of her claims and states that his wife may be pregnant. It also argues that the two have shared property, debt, a bank account and two dogs that ownership of has not been resolved.

Lewis more recently filed a motion to dismiss the divorce if Lowery has no objections. It states that division of property and debt is no longer practical and that they should finalize their divorce at a later date.

TOP STORY >> School board filings end

Leader senior staff writer

While U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall could intervene in the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District’s first board election after he meets with desegregation litigants at 1:30 p.m. July 20, JNP Attorney Patrick Wilson said Tuesday afternoon he doesn’t believe that will happen.

John Walker, attorney for the Joshua Interveners in the sprawling Pulaski County desegregation, has challenged the five-zone, two-at-large school board arrangement chosen by the Jacksonville-North Pulaski district and petitioned Marshall for the conference.

Walker maintains that configuration flies in the face of desegregation agreement requirements and could hurt minority representation.

The current, appointed school board, with five black and two white members, voted unanimously for the five-zone, two-at-large configuration after studying several proposals from Metroplan.

As of close of filing at noon Tuesday, three current, appointed board members — all of them black — are running unopposed and two have an opponent, according to documents on file in the Pulaski County clerk’s office.

School elections will be Sept. 15.


Current JNP School Board president Daniel Gray is running unopposed for at-large Position 1. The current vice president, Ron McDaniel, is being challenged by Celeste Williams for at-large Position 2.

Carol Denise Miles, the board secretary, is unopposed in her bid for the Zone 2 seat, and board member LaConda Watson is unopposed seeking the Zone 4 seat.

In Zone 1, school board member Richard Moss is being challenged by Marcia Anne Dornblaser.

Jim Moore, Jerald Reichenbach and Barry Roper will face off in a three-way race for the Zone 3 seat.

In Zone 5, Dena Toney is running unopposed.

Although JNP is not a party to the desegregation case, Marshall said Tuesday that it would be permitted to file a response to Walker and address the court on those issues, according to Wilson.

It is conceivable that he could stop the election, Wilson said, but “I don’t know that the odds are very good that he would do that. A couple of boards have already approved of the 5-2 model.

“I think its clear that the board in place has seriously considered the different plans,” Wilson said, “and took the racial impacts into account.”

In Lonoke, Ross Moore and Charlie Hunter are running for the Zone 2, Position 1 seat that was held by Karen James, who was elected to the seat for a one-year term to finish her husband Chris’ term. He passed away in 2013.

Angela Sumner is running unopposed for Zone 3, Position 2. Johnie Watson was reappointed to the position in 2014. He was appointed to the position in 2013 after the late Rick Pennington vacated the seat.

Matt Boyles, who holds the Zone 2, Position 7 seat, has moved to another part of town and is running for the Zone 4, Position 5 seat against Melissa Swint.

The Zone 4, Position 5 is held by Karl Pennington, who moved to another part of town. The Zone 2, Position 7 seat is open and will be appointed.

In Cabot, Sarah Owen is running unopposed. She is a new candidate and will succeed Fred Campbell, who is stepping down.

Beebe school board member Janet Hines is unopposed.

TOP STORY >> Teachers pay plan approved by board

Leader senior staff writer

Over the sighs and grumbling of teachers, the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School Board on Tuesday night approved, 5-to-1, a front-loaded salary generous to new teachers, but which leaves experienced teachers with advanced degrees feeling cheated, perhaps looking for new jobs.

That’s especially true when compared to the Pulaski County Special School District, where the salary tops out at nearly $70,000. The proposed JNP schedule starts at $38,000 for first-year teachers, nearly $4,000 more than PCSSD, but it tops out at $55,500.


On the motion of board vice president Ron McDaniel, four other board members voted to accept the district’s first salary schedule for the 2016-2017 school year, with the proviso that it be revisited after the three-quarter year enrollment figures in the 2015-2016 school year. That’s time enough to increase the salary if it appears the district will have enough students to justify it financially. An increase of 400 students would result in additional revenue of about $2.6 million a year, Superintendent Tony Wood said—money that could help increase the salary schedule.

Joining McDaniel were board president Daniel Gray, Secretary Carol Miles, LaChonda Watson and Robert Price.


Board member Richard Moss encouraged the board to value the human resources and find a way to pay employees, particularly teachers, better. His was the dissenting vote.
Employee salary and benefits will account for 75 percent of the anticipated operating revenue for the

first year, based on a projected 4,000 student enrollment, according to Beverly Williams, a consultant who toiled over the alternatives.

The state provides $6,300 in minimum foundation aid per student, and that’s the lion’s share of the money available, she said.

“Clark County is screaming for teachers, and here you are throwing them away,” said Dupree Elementary School math teacher Rick Kron.

“It’s an insult and demeaning to Jacksonville and could slow the district’s dream of greatness by years because you are banking on the unknown,” Kron said. “The pay scale clearly does not value experience or education.”

Kron said the new salary schedule would cut his pay by 20 percent and cut his benefits nearly in half.


“We knew there would be some sacrifices and challenges,” said Gray. “When you see it on paper and it affects friends and community members…but we can’t be emotional. We have to base it on fact, and it has to be sustainable.

“We all wish these numbers were greater,” said Price. “We have to make hard decisions.” He asked Williams if she could come back with better numbers for the teachers, but she said it would obligate 80 percent of projected revenues for salaries and benefits and she didn’t recommend it.

“We could be bankrupt, back in fiscal distress in one day,” said Miles.

Earlier, during public comment, Gwendolyn Harper, speaking for the Jacksonville NAACP, said she was disappointed by the lack of transparency in the hiring process and criticized JNP for recommending the hiring of Bobby E. Lester as an assistant superintendent, even though a black woman scored two points higher on the evaluation.


Subsequently, PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess refused to hire Lester, saying it would send the wrong signal at a time when the district was trying to achieve unitary status.

Following an executive session, the JNP board accepted Lester’s letter of rescission, refusing the position Harper and Joshua Intervenor attorney John Walker were concerned about.

The board authorized Wood, who started work July 1, to advertise requests for qualifications for architectural, design and construction management companies to oversee design and construction and rehabilitation of district facilities, including a new Jacksonville High School.

That would almost certainly require local voters to approve a property-tax millage increase.


In other action, PCSSD Director of Maintenance Brad Montgomery said all teacher materials from the old Jacksonville Middle School had been moved into the appropriate classrooms at Northwood and that the old Jacksonville Middle School sign would soon grace Northwood.

He said two portable building would be brought to the site for additional classroom space, and outfitted to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Charles Blake, director of transportation, said eight to 10 new buses would be needed to accommodate the move to Jacksonville Middle School and that bell schedules would have to be revised at elementary, middle and high schools to accommodate the change.

“Buses are not the problem,” Blake said. “The problem is bus drivers.”

He said the particulars will be posted online at least two weeks before school starts.

EDITORIAL >> Tony Wood gets to work

As superintendent of the newly formed Jacksonville-North Pulaski County School District, Tony Wood has taken on the biggest challenge of his career. He took over for Bobby Lester last week, having previously been Searcy’s superintendent and education commissioner under former Gov. Mike Beebe.

Wood will oversee the largest urban-renewal effort the city has ever attempted. Residents hope that new schools will lead to an economic recovery by attracting young families who have chosen Cabot and Sherwood in recent years.

For decades, the Pulaski County Special School District neglected the city’s schools, and it could take a long time to transform them into high-functioning academic institutions.

Wood knows it will take several years to rebuild the city’s school system. His leadership will be tested early on when he will be tasked with convincing residents to raise their property taxes to pay for new schools while many teacher salaries and benefits are drastically cut.

Many of the schools will be demolished, but, more likely, several campuses will be shuttered and consolidated, which could make many parts of town look vacant and unappealing.

The city needs a new high school, middle school and a few elementary schools. Plans are already in place to make North Pulaski High School a new middle school and consolidate North Pulaski and Jacksonville high schools. The district will save millions of dollars by shutting down many of its campuses, but funds will be needed to build new schools, including a new high school and new elementary schools.

The downside would be leaving several neighborhoods with vacant school buildings that sit idle for years. The advantage would be to sell those properties to help pay for new schools, especially if supplemented by a millage increase. It would also free up prime locations to build new homes and businesses.

The old Jacksonville Middle School land near Hwy. 67/167 is often mentioned as a good location for a shopping center. But what about all the other sites?

District officials should hire urban-development planners to determine where schools should be built. They should also explore ways to build new schools and rehabilitate old ones with financing from the county’s PACE program that allows nonresidential property owners to update electrical systems and remodel in energy-efficient ways with low-cost loans that are repaid through their property-tax bills.

Jacksonville city officials should lobby County Judge Barry Hyde to expand PACE to homeowners. Realtors could also remodel aging properties with modern amenities. Families will be enticed to move to town. Think of the jobs that could be created.

As The Leader’s John Hofheimer noted in a recent article, Scientific American named PACE one of its top 20 “world-changing ideas.”

Wood’s work will determine the future of Jacksonville. He and the school board must spell out their vision of what is needed. They’ll probably be tight-lipped about details until after the September school-board elections, but that will be a mistake in the long run. Let’s get those details before the school board elections.

SPORTS STORY >> Quiet leaper learns about limelight

Leader sports editor

World-class long jumper and sprinter Jeff Henderson isn’t used to a lot of attention, and isn’t even comfortable with it, but he’s learning how to handle it with the help of his coach, Al Joyner.

Henderson, who finished second in the USA Championships in Eugene, Ore., two weeks ago, and who has the two longest non-wind aided jumps in the world so far this year, got a small taste of the kind of spotlight he can expect if he continues the trajectory he’s on.

Henderson came home last week after the meet in Oregon, and immediately received one media request after another from local outlets. He left on Sunday to begin training for the Pan Am Games in Toronto that begin July 17, but not before being the guest of honor at a community wide send off party on Saturday.

“I’m not really into all this,” Henderson said on Saturday, pointing to the throngs of people filling up the yard and adjoining lots to his parents’ house in McAlmont. “Coach has told me it’s just something that’s going to happen, so I’m just trying to go with it.”

Henderson, who won the USA championships in 2014 and has ultimate goals of breaking the world long jump record and winning an Olympic gold medal, is aware that Saturday’s party will pale in comparison to the national and international attention he’ll receive by achieving those goals.

“I know it’s going to come and I’m ready for it,” Henderson said. “Coach has helped me a lot in preparing for it.”

Henderson sat at a foldout table alone to eat a rare large meal, but was soon, perhaps out of his comfort zone, making the rounds. He greeted and talked with relatives, neighbors, high school friends and even some media.

He even stepped into the center of everyone’s attention when his niece Ciara Hall, one of the top 10-year-old sprinters in her hometown in Oklahoma, challenged him to a race.

After faking a start and laughing while Ciara charged towards the finish line, Henderson joked that he had to get her tired to beat her. But even that didn’t work as Henderson gave up three quarters through the race while trailing.

After the Pan Am Games, Henderson will go back to the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, Calif., to prepare for the world championships in Beijing that runs from Aug. 20-31. A world championship win in China leading into an Olympics year will likely place Henderson squarely as the favorite in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and bring the added attention that comes with being at the top.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot takes lumps at its 7-on-7 meet

Leader sports editor

The Cabot football team hosted its third 7-on-7 meet on Monday, the first day back from the mandatory dead period enforced by the Arkansas High School Activities Association. Monday’s meet featured Lonoke, Hazen and Des Arc, and a drastically depleted Cabot squad.

The Panthers had only three defensive starters at the meet and neither the first nor second-string quarterbacks were on hand for the event. The results showed as well.

The Panthers faced Hazen, then Des Arc and finished against Lonoke.

“This is really more or less a JV squad we’ve got out here tonight,” said Cabot defensive coordinator Randy Black. “But we want to do it this way because we’ve got to find some depth. It didn’t look real good defensively, but that’s why we do these things, to try to get better.”

The Jackrabbits looked good offensively in all three matchups, but head coach Doug Bost says improved conditioning should make them even better.

“It’s the first day back and we’ve got to get in shape,” said Bost. “We’re about to start a lot of running. We haven’t done any since summer started. We’ve been concentrating on lifting weights and getting stronger. We’re going to hit the weights a little more and then we’re going to work on conditioning. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Cabot’s first matchup went poorly for the Panthers. Hazen stopped two Cabot drives on downs and three more with interceptions. The Panthers were able to score once on a pass deflection that fell into an unintended receiver’s hand, but the Hornets scored on five of their six drives.

Cabot beat Des Arc 3-1, and then lost to Lonoke by the same margin, again scoring on a deflected pass that dropped into the arms of Cale Eddington.

“The tip drill was our best play,” Black said.

When the two Lonoke County teams met, the Jackrabbits scored first on a 30-yard fade pass from Savonte Rountree to Justin Meadows. The Lonoke receiver went up high over cornerback Cody Skinner to pull down the pass in the back left corner of the end zone.

Cabot picked up one first down, but was on its last play when a Skinner pass intended for Easton Seidl popped over Seidl’s shoulder and into Eddington’s hands at the 12-yard line. Eddington then outran a Lonoke defender to the right corner pylon for the score.

Cabot got a timed sack on Lonoke’s first play of the ensuing drive, but gave up a touchdown on the second play. Rountree found Casey Martin cutting up the middle near the 25-yard line. Martin made the catch and ran untouched into the end zone.

Cabot’s next drive ended with an interception after Seidl was accidentally tripped while running his route. With no officials present, Black made no protest and possession changed hands. Cabot stopped Lonoke on its next drive, but also failed to score again.

Lonoke’s next drive took several plays. It was almost stopped before one first down, but Logan Dozier made a catch near the home sideline and juked a defender to gain enough yardage to keep possession.

Lonoke’s next first down put the ball at the 2-yard line. On second down, Cody Nabors knocked down a pass intended for Meadows. Lonoke’s final play looked almost exactly like the last, with Nabors coming over Meadows’ shoulder to get a hand on the ball, but this time Meadows held on for the touchdown.

“Justin’s got great speed and he’s going to be a key part of things for us,” Bost said of Meadows. “We got one back that we lost after ninth grade in Casey. He’s a good addition for us. He’s the second fastest kid we’ve got and he showed some good things today.”

After opening up the quarterback position in the spring and encouraging competition for Rountree, the returning starter from last year has secured the position again.

“We looked at Dozier and he’s going to run some wildcat quarterback for us, but Rountree has come a long. He’s throwing a nice ball and making good reads. He’s looking pretty good back there. But he’s like the rest of us. We’ve got some improving to do.”

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville gets past Sheridan

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville’s Gwatney Chevrolet senior American Legion team picked up a nice road win on Monday, beating Sheridan 6-4 in extra innings at the Sheridan Youth Baseball Fields. Jacksonville got an outstanding performance on the mound from left-hander Colton Goodman. He threw all eight innings, giving up six hits and two earned runs while striking out four and walking four.

Sheridan, which consists of several players from the Yellowjackets’ Class 6A high school state championship team, had several other opportunities to score, but Goodman came through with clutch outs in tight situations.

The Jacksonville offense gave him a lead to work with right away. In the top of the first inning, Ryan Mallison hit a one-out double to right-center field. With two outs, Laderrious Perry doubled to straightaway center to drive in Mallison. D.J. Scott then singled to right to score Perry and give GC a 2-0 lead.

Sheridan cut the margin in half in the bottom of the second. Nick Whitley hit a leadoff double before Goodman got back-to-back groundouts. The second one advanced Whitley to third base. He then scored on a single by Tyler Cleveland.

Jacksonville got its first three batters on base in the third, but Courtland Mc-Donald was caught stealing after a single over second base. Mallison and Caleb McMunn then walked, and Mallison was thrown out on a 6-5 fielder’s choice by Perry.

Scott then got his second RBI of the game, this time with a base hit to left field that scored McMunn from second base. But Jacksonville’s lead was again cut to one in the bottom of the third.

Zach Glidden reached on an error at third by McMunn and leadoff hitter Evan Thompson walked. The runners moved up a base on a groundout to first, and Glidden scored on a sacrifice by Hunter Hicks.

Jacksonville made it 4-2 in the top of the fifth. Mallison drew a leadoff walk and Perry drove a 3-2 pitch to the wall in left field that brought Mallison all the way around for the run. That’s how the score remained until the bottom of the seventh. That’s when another Jacksonville error helped Sheridan score twice to force the extra inning.

Goodman hit Clayton Palmer with the second pitch of the inning before getting Glidden to fly out to center field. Thompson then singled to left before Wright grounded out back to Goodman. With two outs and runners at second and third, Jacksonville second baseman Chris Penn misplayed a grounder, allowing Palmer to score. Whitley then singled to center to score Thompson and tie the game.

Fortunes reversed for Penn in the top of the eighth. After Goodman hit a leadoff single, Penn’s bunt back to the pitcher was mishandled, leaving everyone safe and in scoring position.

Two groundouts to short left the runners still on base with two outs, but McDonald singled to right-center field to drive in both runners and set the final margin.

Goodman got a fly out to left and fanned Cleveland before walking Palmer. Glidden then flew out to right field to end the game.

McDonald, Perry and Scott each finished with two RBIs to account for all six runs.

McDonald and Scott went 2 for 4 at the plate while Perry went 2 for 3 with a pair of doubles. Mallison went 1 for 2 with three walks and scored two runs and Penn went 2 for 4 with two singles. Jacksonville totaled 11 base hits and walked seven times.

The Gwatney Chevrolet seniors hosted Russellville last night at Dupree Park, and will play at Russellville on Thursday. Look for details of those games in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot juniors sweep LR pair

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Centennial Bank junior American Legion team earned a pair of victories over two different Little Rock teams Monday night at Brian Wade Conrade Memorial Field.

In game one of the doubleheader, Cabot beat the Little Rock D-Backs 11-5 in five innings, and in the nightcap, Cabot beat the LR Eagles 7-3 in six innings.

It took the hosts a couple of innings to get things going in game one against the D-Backs, but in the third inning, Cabot (22-4) reeled off five runs and never looked back.

Centennial Bank trailed 3-1 going into the third inning. The D-Backs were held scoreless in the top half of the inning, and Cabot got to work in the bottom half. Centennial Bank shortstop Blake McCutchen got the inning started with a single to center field, and he scored the next at-bat on a double to right by Brett Brockinton.

McCutchen scored on an errant throw to the infield as Brockinton trotted to second base, and the bad throw allowed Brockinton to advance to third. Bobby Joe Duncan walked two batters later, and he and Brockinton later scored on a bad pickoff attempt at third base.

Brian Tillery and Dylan Billingsley scored the final two runs of the inning to give Cabot a 6-3 lead. Centennial Bank scored five more runs in the bottom of the fourth to put the game away.

Brockinton led off the bottom half of the inning with a double to left center. He went to third base on a passed ball shortly after, and Will Jerry drove him in with a groundout to first base. That gave Cabot a 7-3 lead.

Duncan was next up, and he hit a stand-up double to right center before scoring on a Nicholas Belden single to straightaway center field. Tillery was hit by a pitch the next at-bat and Billingsley walked to load the bases.

Belden then scored on a balk by D-Back pitcher Teddy Bryant, and Tillery and Billingsley scored on a two-RBI single by Brenden Sheldon, which made it an 11-3 game.

The D-Backs scored their final two runs in the top of the fifth, and once the top half of the inning was over, the game was called because the two-hour time limit expired.

In game two against the Eagles, the first two innings were scoreless, but like the first game, Cabot reeled off five runs in the bottom of the third to take a 5-0 lead.

Three-straight singles by Sheldon, McCutchen and Brockinton started Cabot’s third-inning rally. Brockinton’s hit drove in both baserunners to make it a 2-0 game. The next hit was a stand-up double by cleanup hitter Dillon Thomas, which drove in Brockinton for a 3-0 Centennial Bank lead.

Thomas scored the next at-bat on a single by Easton Seidl. A sacrifice groundout by Michael Crumbly advanced Seidl to second base, and Seidl went to third shortly after on a passed ball. He scored on a double down the right-field line by Duncan, which capped the scoring for the inning.

Cabot scored an unearned run in the fourth inning to lead 6-0. The Eagles scored their first run in the top of the fifth before Cabot scored its final run of the night in the bottom half of the inning.

Ty Cyr got things going in the bottom of the fifth with a two-out double to the fence in left center, and he scored the next at-bat on a line-drive single to left by Belden.

The Eagles scored two more runs in the top of the sixth to set the final score, and once the top of the sixth was over, the game was called because the time limit expired.

Brockinton earned the win on the mound in game two. He threw four innings of no-hit baseball before being relieved by Cyr in the fifth. Brockinton recorded five strikeouts and gave up just one walk.

In game one, Tillery earned the win. He took to the mound in the top of the third with Cabot trailing 3-1, and pitched the rest of the game. He gave up just one hit and one earned run in his three innings of work, striking out one batter while walking four.

Cabot outhit the D-Backs 11-3, and outhit the Eagles 12-2. In game one, Brockinton led all batters, going 3 for 3 with an RBI and two runs scored. Duncan and Skylar Weidman also had multiple hits in game one with two apiece.

In game two, McCutchen and Seidl were the only players for either team with multiple hits, as each went 2 for 2.