Leader Blues

Thursday, September 07, 2006

TOP STORY >>City takes PCSSD fight to state

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

As the Pulaski County Special School District on Tuesday hand-delivered the latest revision of its fiscal-distress improvement plan to the state Department of Education, some Jacksonville leaders met with Gov. Mike Huckabee’s education adviser while district administrators prepared to satisfy a Freedom of Information request from a Jacksonville businessman.

Mark Perry, president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, and others who suspect that Marvin V. Jeter III and the Pulaski County Special School District didn’t make a good-faith effort to secure construction and teacher-training grants for the new single-gender schools, will be disappointed by the information they are seeking, according to Jeter, the district’s assistant superintendent for learning services.

Perry faxed a Freedom of Information request Friday afternoon for copies of grant applications and the results of those applications. Jeter said Tuesday that Perry was not the first to request that information. He said the Office of Desegregation Monitoring made similar requests earlier as had an unidentified person.

Also Tuesday, Perry, Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim and former state Rep. Pat Bond met at the state Capitol with Huckabee’s education policy adviser, Terry Hardy, to voice their concerns over the state of the PCSSD in general and, most specifically, with the Jacksonville single-gender middle schools. “She was very attentive and listened to our concerns about what’s happening in our school district,” Swaim said. “We’re concerned about the quality of the education of the students in (the district), particularly Jacksonville schools. We imparted to her our concerns about fund ing for the single-gender schools.”

Some district patrons have said Jeter misled them about the likely availability of grant money to support the single-gender schools, according to Perry, who has a son at the middle school and two younger children on deck at Pinewood Elementary School. “(Jeter) led us on to believe there’s all this money out there for this grant and that grant,” Perry said. “Show me the money. We have problems galore.

“My motivation is to make sure that the district is doing what they said they would do. “They said, when we agreed to do the new boy-girl schools — Jeter said there is this much money out there and we can get this grant and this grant and now there’s no (grant) money available.”

In his letter to acting Superintendent Robert Clowers, Perry requests the following: Number of grants applied for by Jeter, or anyone in Learning Services, from Sept. 1, 2004 to the present date, with a copy of each, plus rejection or approval notifications.

Number of grants applied for by Jeter, or anyone in Learning Services, specifically for the Jacksonville Middle School from Sept. 1, 2004 to the present date, with a copy of each, plus rejection or approval notifications. The amount of National School Lunch Act funds Jacksonville Middle School boys and girls campus students were eligible to receive for the 2004-05 and the 2005-06 academic school years.

The total amount of NSLA funds received by the school district in 2004-05 and in 2005-06. A breakdown of the allocation of the NSLA funds within the entire district. Jeter said he received Perry’s FOI request Tuesday and would have the information Perry seeks.

Jeter said the department had applied for three grants on behalf of the single-gender schools, but hadn’t been awarded any of them. He said it sometimes took repeated applications over a period of years to get grants. “There are a number of complicated issues,” Jeter said.

“In every grant package a portion has to do with the sustainability of the program in question. Since we went into fiscal distress, it’s hard to guarantee to any funding source how long the district will be solvent.” The material requested by Perry will show that the district applied for the grants, he said.

“I don’t believe I oversold the grants, saying we were going to apply and hope to get them. But the success of the program doesn’t depend on getting grants,” Jeter said. With the first nine weeks of school completed, Jeter said his department is working on a comprehensive report detailing the successes and problems so far at the middle school. Perry’s FOI request also seeks information on the free-and reduced-cost lunch program and the expenditures of federal funds generated by that program at the single-gender schools, where most of the students qualify. Those requests have been forwarded to John Archetko, the district’s chief financial officer, who was not at work Tuesday.