Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

TOP STORY >> PCSSD votes to trim costs; Adkins to be Pre-K school

Leader staff writer

Homer Adkins Elementary School in Jacksonville will be closed at the end of this school year and reopened as a pre-kindergarten school, the Pulaski County Special School District Board voted 4-3 Tues-day night after more than two months of intrigue, anxiety and community meetings over which small elementary school would be closed or reconfigured to help alleviate the district’s dire financial straits.

Spared in the process were elementary schools at Scott, a fast growing area near North Little Rock and Warren Dupree in Jacksonville, which has nearly 300 students and relatively good benchmark test results.

Voting against the reconfiguration were Gwen Williams, whose zone includes Adkins; Rev. James Bolden III, who doesn’t want to close any Jacksonville schools, and board president Pam Roberts, who said she feared the resulting transfer of some ABC classes at Crystal Hill Elementary would create a hardship for parents in her west Little Rock area.

The state’s Edu-cation Department placed the district on a fiscal distress list this year, and the district had to submit a plan to balance the budget and begin to restore its depleted financial reserves by cutting about $5 million a year.

Part of its fiscal distress improvement plan, approved late last month by the state, called for saving about $600,000 by closing two elementary schools from among nine with enrollments of fewer than 300 students, but in the plan suddenly submitted by interim Superintendent James Sharpe, the district will save at least $530,000 and only close the one school.

Two other elementary schools will actually increase overall enrollment by adding their own ABC Pre-K programs, where the state picks up the expense, including a portion of the not-insignificant utilities, according to the new plan.

The savings include: changing Homer Adkins to an ABC/Pre-K school, $297,040; adding the Pre-K program at Oak Grove Elementary in North Little Rock, $10,000; adding Pre-K to Daisy Bates Elementary in Little Rock, $10,000, and finally, eliminating a vacant assistant principal’s job at Alpha Academy, $95,000.

Sharpe’s plan notes that another $70,000 to $100,000 in savings might be realized, depending on “student assignment considerations.”
The plan was not part of the original agenda, but arrived as an addendum and took at least one school board member, Mildred Tatum, by surprise.

During the public comment period early in the meeting, state Rep. Linda Chesterfield said she had received telephone calls not only about the feared school closings, but also about alleged racist remarks made by elementary school teacher Phoebe Harris to Homer Adkins fourth graders last month.

“That left a bitter taste in the citizens who have called me,” Chesterfield said.

“We have come a long way, but we have not come far enough. All people have value. Send a message — if racist remarks occur in the classroom, that can not be tolerated.”

In other business, area coaches told school board members of the downside of moving sports, band, theater and cheerleading to after-school events, including safety issues, and some parents spoke in favor of keeping block scheduling, at least at Mills University Studies. Both changes are among cuts approved, and now required, by the state’s Education Department.