Leader Blues

Monday, October 09, 2006

TOP STORY>>Cutting districts seen as no help to area

IN SHORT: Although Gov. Huckabee says each county should have just one school district, lawmakers say eliminating local control is not necessarily the answer.

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

A Jacksonville lawmaker Thursday said he and the legislature disagree with Gov. Mike Huckabee’s comment that one school district in each county “probably’’ could help an Arkansas public school system that has been declared unconstitutional twice in the last four years.

On the governor’s monthly radio program, a caller suggested Arkansas, which has 75 counties, should have 75 school districts.

“That would be probably a help,’’ Huckabee said in the show on the Arkansas Radio Network.
Arkansas currently has 251 school districts. A House panel in 2005 rejected legislation that would have studied creating one school district for each county.

The state Legislature, under a court order, considered a full range of options, including one school district per county last session and found that idea to be unwieldy and not cost effective, according to state Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville.
“There would be incredible turmoil, too much upheaval,” Bond said Thursday.

He said bills to limit school districts to 75, one per county, have been filed in the past.
“It’s one of those things that sounds great to some people,” Bond said, “but the reality is very difficult.”

“We ought to get off the fascination of fewer administrative units and on what are we doing to make our public schools world class. There is no direct correlation between world-class schools and massive consolidation or one-county districts,” he said.
“The reason to consolidate school districts smaller than 350 students was to make sure students had access to core curriculum,” he added. “All the speculation about money savings is just that—speculation.”

Bond said that the state’s consultants had found the optimum school district size to be about 3,000 to 6,000 students.
The current Pulaski County Special School District alone has about 17,000, not including the Little Rock and North Little Rock districts.