Leader Blues

Monday, July 03, 2006

TOP STORY >>Report: Split up county district

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville should get its own school district.

Pulaski County Special School District should continue to exist in some fashion.

But nothing can happen until all three Pulaski County districts—PCSSD, along with Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts—are released from federal court supervision.

That’s the essence of a 108-page feasibility study released late Friday afternoon. The study resulted from 2005 state legislation authorizing the Arkansas Department of Education to conduct a feasibility study to evaluate and determine whether Pulaski County Special School District should continue to exist.

At the time, the beleaguered district was in fiscal distress.

The nearly yearlong study by William Gordon Associates out of Saluda, N.C., recommends that Jacksonville should have its own district, consisting of 13 schools that are currently in the PCSSD.

Jacksonville has tried at least twice since the mid-70s to form its own school district.

The consultants said a Jacksonville district would be “more likely to address the educational needs of students attending schools north of the Arkansas River.”

In looking at a Jacksonville school district, the consultants said that the district would have a student population of slightly more than 6,900 students, of which 55 percent would be white, 40 percent black and 5 percent other minorities.

Five of the 13 county schools to be moved to the new district were in “need of extensive renovation or replacement.”
The new district would have nearly 500 teachers and would need 26 building administrators and a central office of 19 to 27 administrators.

The study recommends the new Jacksonville school district in-clude Jacksonville and North Pulaski high schools, along with Jacksonville and Northwood middle schools. Elementary schools would include Homer Adkins, Arnold Drive, Bayou Meto, Cato, Warren Dupree, Jacksonville, Pinewood, Murrell Taylor and Tolleson.

But before Jacksonville can have its own district or any boundary changes made to the county district, Little Rock, North Little Rock and the county school districts need to be dismissed from court desegregation monitoring.

The study states that any reconfiguration of the county school districts, while still under federal supervision, would require an order from the federal district court.

Jacksonville tried for its own school district a few years ago, but the federal court, using some of the same legal arguments in the study, said no.

The study said that reorganization of the districts “are not legally feasible in the context of the ongoing school desegregation litigation,” and that is why the districts must pursue efforts to be released from court supervision.

Both Little Rock and North Little Rock schools districts are making efforts to be released into what is called unitary status, meaning they have met the court requirements to be released from monitoring.

The federal court recently turned down a bid by LRSD, which has been under federal scrutiny since 1965, to be released from monitoring. The court said the district hadn’t successfully evaluated its academic programs for how well they help black students.

PCSSD is making plans for only a partial release from court monitoring.

The consultants surmise that “at least one reason for this approach is a fear on the part of the school board that full unitary status and an end to the school district’s involvement in the litigation might result in the dissolution of the school district.”
The consultants state in their study that PCSSD should be given assurances that it “will continue to exist in some shape or form.”

Once all three districts have been dismissed from court monitoring, then the study recommends the creation of a Jackson-ville school district, followed by phasing out majority-to-minority transfers and retaining existing countywide magnet schools.

In order to implement these recommendations in a post-unitary status setting, consultants say state legislative action will be necessary.

The state legislature is expected to take up the issue in its 2007 session.