Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

TOP STORY >>Bond: PCSSD needs new school

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

With a proposed new Jacksonville Middle School nowhere on the Pulaski County Special School District long-range facilities plan, state Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, suggested looking at new options such as a combination school/police station.
“There needs to be a focus on the Jacksonville Middle School facilities,” Bond told fellow Jacksonville Rotarians Monday. “They are old and outdated.”

If approved by the state Education Board, the state would bear about 25 percent of the costs of constructing a new school, Bond said.

“This problem needs to be attacked, and try to come up with $12 million to complete the funding,” Bond said. “The middle school could be placed in a distressed facilities category. The state may then force the district (to replace it).”

Bond, who has been an effective proponent for a stand-alone Jacksonville School District, said the cost of the current desegregation agreement is $68 million this year and nearly $70 million next year. Bond and consultants hired by the state have recommended phasing out the desegregation agreement and the money supporting it, and in the process, allowing Jacksonville to have its own district.

In all, the state already has spent $700 million on desegregation, Bond said.

“How bad do the school facilities need to be to be declared for replacement?” asked one Rotary member. “The newest school built in Jacksonville was in 1984. The conditions of the schools have an effect on the community.”

No new school is slated for construction in the Jacksonville area until the 2009-2010 school year, when a new elementary school could be started at Little Rock Air Force Base to replace Arnold Drive Elementary. That school could open for the 2011-2012 school year.

On another education-related Bond, promoted a state lottery as a way to fund college scholarships.

“The Arkansas scholarship fund has $34 million, but we’ll need an additional $40 to $60 million for the new plan,” Bond said.
That plan would fund college, community college or vocational training for all Arkansas high school graduates.

Bond said taxpayers aren’t even noticing the effect of the $50 increase to $350 on the Homestead Property Tax Credit, and yet it is costing the state a lot of money.