Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

TOP STORY >> Districts could be changing borders

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Even as contractors launch a quarter-million-dollar feasibility study that could result in the reconfiguration of Pulaski County’s three school districts, some residents of both Jacksonville and Sherwood each would like to have their own stand-alone district.

Alternatively, some would like a Jacksonville-Sherwood-northern Pulaski County district — or anything but the current setup.
William Gordon Associates of Saluda, N.C., already has started visiting with Pulaski County Special School District administrators, who said Monday that the Gordon group representatives had asked them not to comment to the media.

Currently, they are said to be gathering information on the condition of the buildings in the county’s three districts — Pulaski County Special School District, Little Rock School District and North Little Rock School District.

“They’ve just been hired, just begun rounding up information and visiting with schools and collecting reports,” said Julie Thompson, spokesperson for the state’s Education Department. “The process is getting started. “

She said the consultants are to finish their study and report back to the legislature by June 30.

The study could recommend two districts, one south of the Arkansas River and one north, or three districts, which would likely be one south of the river, one north of the river and a separate Jacksonville district.

The money for the feasibility study was included in the state’s Education Department budget by state Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, and re-quired the department to commission the study.

Bond was active with the Jacksonville group — Educating Our Children — that unsuccessfully sought a separate school district about two years ago.

Rev. James Bolden III, Jack-sonville’s outspoken school board member, has championed a separate district for the town, and now he’s joined by Ronnie Calva, the Sherwood school representative, who would like to see Sherwood with its own school district.

“I’d prefer a separate Sherwood district,” Calva said. “The mayor appointed a committee to see about that. That committee will hold its first meeting Wednesday.

“I think there’s probably a movement among parents and people in the community. I believe Sherwood has the right to have its own district. If I can’t accomplish that, then we want the best we could do and I do what I can to move it along.”

Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon last week appointed a four-person committee to monitor the school district situation.
He suggested that Jacksonville might have been more successful in its previous attempt to break away from the PCSSD if it had included Sherwood.

“We worked our (plan) off a feasibility study with three different boundaries,” rem-embered Dr. Greg Bollen, “and none were Sherwood.”
Bollen was chairman of EOC.

An anonymous donor funded that study, said Bollen, but it didn’t cost $240,000.
“Geographically, we pretty well should be separated from everybody,” Bollen said.

He said Jacksonville is already desegregated, not just in its schools but also in its neighborhoods.
“I’m thrilled they are doing a study,” Bollen said.

“I’m confident that they are going to find this should be done. Jacksonville has been getting the short end of the stick for 20 years.”
Bollen said if Jacksonville ever does get its own district, he expects there to be a trust fund of as much as $1 million to fund needed things.
Bond said he expected the consultants to suggest a plan satisfying the requirements of the school desegregation plan and achieving unitary school status.

Bond said Jacksonville had some different issues than Sher-wood.

“If you’re living in Jacksonville, it’s easy to go seven miles and get into Cabot School District,” Bond said.
“We have some bigger challenges on facilities.”

Bond said the two middle schools, Jacksonville High School, Jacksonville Elementary School, North Pulaski High School and Homer Adkins all need replacing.

Bond also said he thought the Sherwood schools were closer to the North Little Rock District and might be a more suitable match.