Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

TOP STORY>> PCSSD to discuss closings

IN SHORT>> School board may close Homer Adkins and Scott elementaries, but will first hold public meetings.

Leader staff writer

By a 6-1 vote, the Pulaski County Special School District Board of Education took the first step Tuesday night toward closing or restructuring Homer Adkins and Scott elementary schools, a move intended to save the district about $600,000 a year and help get it off the state’s Fiscal Distress list. Zone 7 board member Gwen Williams, vice president of the board, cast the sole dissenting vote, with Jacksonville board member Rev. James Bolden III absent.

The board action authorized two community meetings for parents and patrons of both schools, but did not set times or places.

“I’m not happy with only (the) two meetings at Scott and Adkins,” Williams said. “You’re telling my parents already what you’re going to do. I caught — excuse my French — hell from the parents. Zone 7 has caught the burden of this.”

If the district is unable to escape the fiscal distress designation by the end of the next school year, the state could appoint its own superintendent and essentially take the district over.

The district’s Fiscal Distress Improvement Plan, being reviewed by the state Department of Educa-tion, saves the district $4.98 million this school year and $5.2 million in the 2006-2007 school year, plus an additional $451,811 dollars in projected revenue geared toward special education, meaning a positive impact of $5.7 million for that year.

Both Homer Adkins and Scott have been fingered for closure before and rescued by enthusiastic parent groups.
Both are among nine elementary schools with less than 300 students enrolled.

Homer Adkins, Scott and College Station had the three lowest enrollments and as a predominantly minority school, terms of the existing desegregation agreement may have saved College Station from being closed.

One district employee said Scott would be considered for closure, and Homer Adkins for use as a preschool facility.
In other action Tuesday night, the board authorized a $50,000 maximum expenditure to hire security guards at three high schools to replace school-resource officers sent back to deputy duty because of Pulaski County’s own financial crunch.
The new guards will finish out the school year.

Meanwhile, the McPherson and Jacobson Group, hired to help the district find qualified candidates for the open position of superintendent, met Tuesday with parents and district patrons at Harris Elementary and at the Sherwood Comm-unity Center, as well as with the Sylvan Hills Student Council to determine what qualities are needed in the new superintendent, what the important issues were and what the district’s good qualities were.

Five of the seven people who met with Tom Jacobson at Harris were parents and patrons of Scott Elementary, who seemed most interested in keeping their school open.

In all, the firm will hold 21 meetings over three days.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the search group will meet with teachers, support staff, student councils, including North Pulaski High School and Jacksonville High School, with building principals, central office administrators and support staff and finally conclude at 6 p.m. Thursday with a meeting at the Jacksonville Community Center.

Anyone unable to attend but wanting to participate can get a survey sheet from Phyllis Stewart at the district headquarters, 490-6201, or from McPherson and Jacobson at 1-888-375-4814.

Mabel Binum, who worked as an administrator with the North Little Rock School District, said the district’s uniqueness comes from its diversity — students from rural, suburban and urban settings sprawled across a large county.

Nicky Ervin, a math specialist for Scott and Harris elementary schools, said the next superintendent should “Be nice, be fair and do what’s best for the kids.”

Binum said the superintendent should have managerial and financial skills and integrity.

“Let’s get the money right,” Binum said.

Jacobson said the board had identified its top priorities as integrity, experience, fiscal experience, strong managerial skills, communications skills and past success.

McPherson and Jacobson will accept applications for the job through Sept. 30 then do extensive background checks and develop a short list for consideration by the school board.

The board should interview some applicants between Jan. 23-27 and would hope to name someone by the end of January.