Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

TOP STORY >>$1.5M deficit hurts PCSSD as pupils lost

By Aliya Feldman
Leader staff writer

With little discussion, the Pulaski County Special School District board approved a half million dollars in expenses amidst a warning of a $1.5 million projected deficit caused by the loss of nearly 500 students.

Superintendent James Sharpe said Tuesday that the last few weeks proved the district was “off to a tremendous school start,” but the Teachers Association reported class sizes beyond the district’s allowable number.

The budget vote was moved to a special meeting on Wednesday after members asked the superintendent for details.

At that meeting, Chief Financial Officer Larry O’ Briant said he projected a $1,549,952 deficit for the 2007-08 school year.
Employees’ salaries and benefits make up 85 percent of the budget at $87,450,100 and operating expenses total $42,881,022.

“There is very little money the Board has control over because it’s determined by personnel,” O’Briant said, referring to the largest portion of the budget. “You have very little money to juggle around,” he said.

O’ Briant said the district is “just holding in there.” The state identified the PCSSD as being in fiscal distress until this year.

O’Briant blamed the deficit on a failure to keep students enrolled in PCSSD schools. The district receives $5,770 in state and local funds for each student. This year, 460 fewer students are attending PCSSD schools, causing a loss of almost $3 million.

Board members have noticed the students’ exodus.

“I have gotten comments that they are moving to subdivisions,” President Gwendolyn Williams said, noting that the appearance of the buildings drives parents away from being interested in the schools. “I don’t like how we have advertised our schools,” she said. “We need to do more to promote them.”

“Children leave because AP courses are not offered in Jacksonville,” James Bolden said. He said that the brightest students are leaving in search of the advanced classes students can take for college credit.

Bolden received good news on Tuesday when the Arkansas Highway Department gave the Jacksonville Middle School for Boys a grant that will be used to build new sidewalks around the school. Bolden also introduced an item to name the boys school’s gym in honor of Eugene Stuckey, who has been a coach there for 37 years. The board approved it unanimously.

O’Briant said Jacksonville schools will receive an approximate $250,000 for building improvements. The middle school for girls will get new roofing over the cafeteria and some classrooms. The high school will get new roofs over the auditorium and media center.

The board voted on Tuesday to purchase a new Chevrolet Malibu for $12,259, approved a salary increase for administrators totaling $409,114 and formally hired Arkansas Educational Consulting (AEC) to negotiate a contract between the district and the support staff. AEC’s services will cost the district $25,000.

Teachers Association president Marty Nix said Tuesday that teachers are reporting teaching beyond the allowable number of students. She said PCSSD has a “well-established” teacher-student ratio of 150 students per teacher. Nix said many teachers are teaching seven or eight classes, which could mean some are seeing over 200 children a day.

Teachers have also reported problems with new computer systems intended to encourage communication between parents and teachers, Nix said. The programs, Edline and Gradequick, are web-based services that allow parents to view grades and class assignments. Many teachers have reported entering data only to find it has later been lost.

“Teachers don’t have computers, Internet or five or six hours to spend on Saturday only to get back to school to find the data is gone,” Nix said. Board members did not respond to either of Nix’s concerns.