Leader Blues

Monday, April 23, 2007

TOP STORY >>Major hurdles seen for city

IN SHORT: Federal court, John Walker and setting boundaries are challenges to a Jacksonville school district.

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The two biggest hurdles facing a stand-alone Jack-sonville-area school district will be satisfying Federal Judge Bill Wilson and also determining the new district’s boundaries, Pulaski County Special School District lawyer Sam Jones told members of the Jacksonville Lions Club Wednesday.

Jones said that while only Jacksonville-area PCSSD members Bishop James Bolden and Danny Gililland were excited about the prospect of Jacksonville’s possible split from the district, most other school board members seemed resigned to the notion.
“It’s not their favorite topic,” Jones said.

He said that if the majority of local residents wanted the district, the board wouldn’t try to hold the schools hostage or slow down the process.

After the meeting, Jones said that the district could achieve unitary status in all areas by the end of the school year.

State Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, helped find $1 million in the budget this term for the state Education Department to hire a desegregation consultant to determine what remains to be done so that PCSSD, Little Rock and North Little Rock districts all can meet unitary school status and be released from the agreement.

That’s a necessary step for a Jacksonville district.

There’s been a movement for nearly two decades in Jacksonville to break away from the Pulaski County Special School District, and until Judge Wilson put a stop to it two years ago, it appeared that residents would get to vote on the matter.

Jones said the proposed boundaries for a Jacksonville district would coincide with the city limits, or include the attendance zones of all schools that feed Jacksonville High School or else include all attendance zones of all schools that feed Jacksonville and North Pulaski high schools.

Other boundaries could be set instead, Jones said. “The further west you go, the more mixed emotions there are,” he said.
He said breaking up a district would be like getting a divorce, with the need to divide up property and school buses. “In the day of teachers’ unions, you can’t say ‘you go here,’” Jones said.

“Like a divorce, it may start friendly, but it’s a long, drawn-out process,” he added. “The (attorney general’s) office will be out front. John Walker says he’ll oppose every step.”

(Walker is the civil-rights attorney for the Joshua Intervenors, a class of minority students and their parents; the district was placed under court supervision in 1982 to enforce equal opportunity in education.)

“Fasten your seatbelt,” Jones said. “This train has left the station.” Jones said that PCSSD has been declared unitary in five areas in the past, lacking only the implementation of an acceptable discipline policy and infusion of multi-cultural curriculum.