Leader Blues

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

TOP STORY >> School reshuffling

Leader staff writer

A 108-page feasibility study authorized by the state legislature recommends that Jacksonville gets its own school district and schools north of the river that are not going into the Jacksonville School District be part of the North Little Rock School District.

That means Sherwood schools would be transferred from the Pulaski County Special School District to NLRSD.

The yearlong study by William Gordon and Associates of Saluda, N.C., recommends a stand-alone school district in Jacksonville and to include 13 schools in the district. The schools in the new district would be Jacksonville and North Pulaski high schools, Jacksonville and Northwood middle schools, Homer Adkins, Arnold Drive, Bayou Meto, Cato, Dupree, Jackson-ville, Pinewood, Murrell Taylor and Tolleson elementary schools.

“I’m very pleased with the report,” said Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim, “but it doesn’t mean any immediate relief. But I’m optimistic that we will get our own district.”

Former state Representative Pat Bond, who sponsored legislation in 2001 allowing Jacksonville to get its own school district, still has concerns. “In the best case scenario, it’ll still be two or three years before we can even start on our own district. We have to start planning and working towards that, but we need to make sure we don’t forget the kids that we have now. We can’t forget the kids.”

She said a new district would mean a lot of work, it’ll be tough, but we’ll have control over our destiny and that’s something we’ve needed for a long time. I’m hopeful.”

The new district will have its struggles, inheriting five school building recommended for replacement and three under-used buildings that will strain the finances of the infant school district.

In the vision of the consultants, Jacksonville’s school district—which has long been sought by the city—would have about 6,900 students and 13 schools. It’s racial make up would be 55 percent white, 40 percent black and about 5 percent other races.

This would be in line with the current make up of PCSSD that is 53.7 percent white, 41.7 percent black and 5.6 percent other minorities.

However, the new district will inherited buildings that are up to 30 years old, in need of major repair and some currently being underused.

The consultants have given a rating of five—a very poor facility that is in need of major renovation and repair or could be considered for closing or replacement—to Jacksonville High School, Jackson-ville Middle School (both boys and girls campuses), Jacksonville Elementary and Tolleson Elementary.

Specifically, the report says that Jacksonville High School “is a crowded and poorly designed building that should be replaced.”

The Jacksonville Middle School consists of two Category Five buildings. The original facility—the Jacksonville Junior High School—was constructed in 1952, according to the report, and is being used as the boys’ campus. The Jacksonville Middle School building, housing the girls’ campus, was constructed in 1970.

“These facilities need to be replaced,” the report says succinctly.

It goes on to say that Jacksonville Elementary, built in 1963, and Tolleson Elementary built in 1951, “are in very poor condition and could be replaced.”

The study also says that less than half of Jacksonville Middle School and Adkins and Cato Elementary School are being used.
Jacksonville Middle School, the consultants say have a capacity of 1,970 student, but has a current enrollment of 892 students. Adkins has space for 526, but an enrollment of 242 and Cato with capacity for 800 only has 349 students.

Consultants, using their figures and the results from Jacksonville’s 2002 study about the feasibility of having its own school district, say the new district should receive sufficient operational funding through the state’s school aid formula and local property taxes to operate effectively and efficiently. But the study adds that the financial costs of replacing or refurbishing some of the schools transferred from PCSSD would “be a challenge.”

“The willingness of the residents of the Jacksonville School District to pass a bond referendum to improve the facilities will determine the extent to which needed replacements, refurbishings and improvements can be made.

The new district would have almost 500 teachers based on current needs. Ranging from 67 at North Pulaski to 19 at Tolleson. If current administrator levels are maintained the district will need 26 principals or assistant principals.

A central office would have to be created for the new district, and the study says 20 to 27 administrators or coordinators would be needed at this level.

The study also suggested adding 13 PCSSD schools to NLRSD. Those would include Sylvan Hills and Oak Grove high schools, Sylvan Hills and Maumelle middle schools, Clinton, Crystal Hills, Harris, Oak Grove, Oakbrook, Pine Forest, Scott, Sherwood and Sylvan Hills elementary schools.

But before any new district can be formed or any current district modified, all three county districts—PCSSD, NLRSD and the Little Rock School District—have to reach unitary status which means that the districts will no longer be under federal court supervision because of their former segregationist practices.

According to the yearlong study performed by William Gordon Associates of Saluda, N.C., an unitary school system is “one that has complied in good-faith with its desegregation decree since it was entered and has eliminated the vestiges of past discrimination to the extent practicable.”