Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

TOP STORY >> City lashes out at PCSSD

Leader staff writer

“Organized, peaceful resistance works,” Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim told aldermen and a city council room packed with administrators, teachers, concerned parents and students Thursday night as he explained the problems the city was having with the Pulaski County Special School District.

Plenty of opinions were voiced at the meeting, which sometimes took the tone of a controlled free-for-all regarding the subject of the school district.

School board member James Bolden chimed in, saying, “We need to wear out their phone lines with our concerns.”
“What’s the number?” someone from the audience hollered out.

More than a dozen shouted back the number of PCSSD offices, “490-2000.”
“I’m tired of the district lying,” Bolden said.

Alderman Marshall Smith said, “We were promised grants and funding for the middle school when it went to single gender classes. Now we hear that the majority of the grants were turned down.”

“Were they even applied for?” questioned Alderman Linda Rinker, a former district principal.
Smith continued, “The left hand and the right hand don’t know what they are doing down at Dixon Road (the location of the district’s central office in Little Rock). No one’s in charge.”

Bolden explained to the council and the chamber full of concerned residents that he was here for the children.
“I’m not a politician, just a retired Army sergeant looking out for our children,” Bolden said, adding that the district and some school board members have a problem with him “because I work with my principals.”

“One administrator wants Michael Nellums (the middle school boys campus principal out),” Bolden said, because of the good relationship the two have.

Bolden didn’t name the administrator.
But audience members chanted, “Jeter, Jeter,” referring to Marvin V. Jeter, the assistant superintendent for learning services.
Bolden simply replied, “Amen.”

The mayor took about 15 minutes to explain the recent round of animosity between the city and the school district.
“Our children are not getting a quality education. It’s not in question, it’s documented,” Swaim said.

The latest wedge stemmed from a meeting city officials had with district administrators last week.
At the meeting, according to the mayor, Bolden and others in attendance, the district promised not to cut any administrators from the Jacksonville Middle School — at the time there was one principal and two assistants — and then a few days later, giving her less than 24 hours noticed, moved assistant principal Collen Johnson from the middle school to the high school.

“They just lied to us,” the mayor said. “We are trying to work within the system, but the system is not working for our schools.”
Nellums and Carl Brown, from the district’s central office, both spoke to the council about the situation, even though they said they feared for their jobs.

Bolden and Swaim said money was out there for the middle school, but the district was either not making the effort to get it or using it elsewhere.

Nellums said the school was eligible for about $156,000 in funds from the national school lunch act because of the high number of students on free and reduced lunch payment. He said the money could be used to pay for a math coach, a literacy coach and a curriculum specialist to supplement what the teachers are doing and work with students one-on-one.

He also said the funds could be used to purchase books and materials and the assistant principal position that they just took away from the school.

“If the district can’t find a way the money to pay her, I wish you (the council) could fund her position for a year,” Nellums said.
Nellums called Johnson a highly qualified, competent, innovative and creative middle school administrator, who is lost at the high school level.

Nellums said he realized that he was an employee of the school district and that there was a change of command.
“But the middle school is a handful,” he said. “Mine and (assistant principal Jackie) Calhoun’s hands are not enough.
“With the scores as law as we have had, we need materials and personnel.”

Alderman Bob Stroud then ask Nellums, “If the money is out there, where is it then?”
Nellums hesitated and Bolden stepped back up.

“They can’t fire me,” he said, and then explained that the district had made a local decision to spend its Title I money at the elementary level and not budget any of it for the middle schools.

“I expect the money next year for our school,” he said. Brown told the council that he didn’t want to go into detail about the money, but did say the school should be able to use Title V money.

Alderman Gary Fletcher acknowledged that the district was in a financial jam because of poor decision made previously. “But they are still making poor decisions,” he said.