Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

TOP STORY >>Decline triggers criticism of PCSSD

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

White parents appear to be abandoning Jacksonville, particularly the Boys Middle School, where 50 fewer white students are enrolled this year than last, according to official 2007-2008 enrollment figures released this month by the state Education Department this week.

Overall, the school’s enrollment declined by 48 students. That means that white enrollment at the predominantly black, all-boys middle school declined 26 percent from last year. Enrollment for the entire boys middle school is down 11 percent. Whites now account for just over one-third of the enrollment there.

“This puts an exclamation mark on the need for new facilities,” said state Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville.

“We need to break ground on a new facility in the next six to eight months. We need to talk to the parents of the elementary school students and see what they need to have in that school. We need to look at the curriculum and the way the schools are set up,” he said.

“Everybody has opinions, but very seldom do people get the data,” Bond said. “The decline shows something is wrong here. Enrollment has declined over the last 19 years pretty consistently, a lot faster than the rest of the county.

Enrollment at PCSSD schools declined to 17,395, down 361 students from last year.

That’s a 2 percent de-cline overall in a district that has steadily lost enrollment over the past few years.

The district suffered a nearly 5 percent decline in enrollment of white students, this at a time when it seems poised to ask for release from federal court oversight and the desegregation agreement.

The school board meets in special session at 5 p.m. Monday, just two days in advance of the Oct. 31 deadline to file for unitary school status and qualify for attorney’s fees.

The 361-student decline in enrollment at Pulaski County Special School District from last year to this includes the loss of 128 students in Jacksonville, Zone 6, where 3,228 students are enrolled.

Zone 6 schools are Jacksonville High School, both Jacksonville Middle Schools, Jacksonville Elementary School, Pinewood and Murrell Taylor Elementary schools.

The decline will cost PCSSD more than $2 million in state minimum foundation aid.

Those Jacksonville schools serve less than 20 percent of the students in the district, but sustained more than a third of PCSSD’s total enrollment losses.

Thirty-five percent of the decline in PCSSD enrollment is attributable to the decline of white students attending Zone 6 schools.

“It shows a trend that’s been going on since 1989,” said Bond. “Pulaski County has been losing enrollment and Jacksonville’s been losing quicker than the rest of the county.

“You have a slew of young families leaving or choosing not to put their kids in the schools,” Bond said. “We’ve been trying to correct that and haven’t made a lot of headway yet.”

People are moving out of the city, said middle school Principal Mike Nellums. “They are building on the other side of the freeway, which gives them an opportunity to go to Northwood.

“We can stem that movement by providing quality education,” he said. “Some parents aren’t into gender-based education.”
He said Jacksonville’s poor facilities contribute to the problem. He said proportionately, discipline problems are no more frequent at his school.

Jacksonville Middle School for Boys is the only one not under academic distress. “All our test scores improved last year—every grade level in every subject matter,” he said.

“Ours is a 50-plus-year-old building,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can with what we have.”

Nellums said he hopes with the audio-visual program started at the middle school, it will grow into a communications-magnet school.

Students classified as neither black nor white account for just 5 percent of the district’s enrollment.

Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders account for most of those. Those groups had slight increases in enrollment.

The district has 8,822 white students, 7,641 black students, 611 Hispanic students, 284 Asian or Pacific Islanders and 37 American Indians or Alaskan natives.


ZONE 6 ENROLLMENT

Of the 3,228 students enrolled in Zone 6 schools this year, 1,300 are white.

Here’s the Zone 5 2007-2008 enrollment break-down with percent of increase or decline rounded off:

Jacksonville Elementary—542 students, down 10 (-2 percent) from last year with 329 black students and 160 white students.

Jacksonville Girls Middle School—405 students, down 35 (-8 percent) with 225 black students and 169 white students.

Jacksonville Boys Middle School—378 students, down 48 (-11 percent) with 224 black students and 139 white students.

Jacksonville High School—1,089 students, down 25 (-2 percent) with 544 black students and 499 white students.

Pinewood Elementary—390 students, down 14 (-4 percent) with 205 black students and 168 white students.

Murrell Taylor Elementary—434 students, up 4 (+1 percent) with 257 black students and 165 white students.


ZONE 5 ENROLLMENT

Of the 3,063 students enrolled in Zone 5 schools this year, 959 are black. Enrollment is down 62 students.

Here’s the Zone 5 2007-2008 enrollment break-down with percent of increase or decline rounded off:

Bayou Meto Elementary—362 students, down 32 (-8 percent) with 10 black students and 331 white students.

Warren Dupree Elementary—310 students, down 12 (-4 percent) with 138 black students and 153 white students. This is an 11 percent decline in the number of white students.

Tolleson Elementary—297 students, same as last year, with 108 black students and 164 white students. This is a 9 percent decline in the number of white students.

Cato Elementary—316 students, down 13 (-4 percent) with 103 black students and 193 white students. This is a 9 percent decline in the number of black students.

Arnold Drive Elementary—226 students, up 10 (+5 percent) with 79 black students and 122 white students.

Northwood Middle School —632 students, down 22 (-3 percent) with 233 black students and 368 white students.

North Pulaski High School —920 students, up 7 (+1 percent) with 367 black students and 527 white students.


ZONE 4 ENROLLMENT

Of the 2,317 students enrolled in area Zone 4 schools this year, a decline of 50 from last year. Just over half are white.

Here’s the Zone 4 2007-2008 enrollment break-down with percent of increase or decline rounded off:

Sherwood Elementary—377 students, down 23 (-6 percent) with 158 black students and 208 white students.

That’s a decline of 9 percent among white students.

Sylvan Hills Elementary—354 students, down 5 (-1 percent) with 136 black students and 204 white students.

Sylvan Hills Middle School—667 students, up 14 (+2 percent) with 310 black students and 323 white students.

Sylvan Hills High School—919 students, down 36 (-4 percent) with 418 black students and 468 white students.


LONOKE SCHOOL DISTRICT

The Lonoke School District, with 1,832 students, saw an enrollment decline of seven since the 2006-2007 school year, costing the district about $40,000 in state minimum foundation aid.

Lonoke Primary School enrollment of 422 students dropped 17 from last year, including an 8 percent decrease in the number of white students and a 13 percent increase in the number of black students.

Lonoke Elementary School’s enrollment grew by five to 422 students, an increase of 1 percent.

Lonoke Middle School enrollment grew by 16 students to 432. That includes a 41 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students to 24.

Lonoke High School dropped by 11 students to 556.


Cabot School District

The Cabot School District has an official enrollment of 9,245 students this school year, a figure that continues to increase each year.

There are 3,734 students among the district’s eight elementary schools, an increase of 83 students from last school year.
At the middle school, there are a total of 1,420 students among two middle schools; last year there were 1,406 fifth- and sixth-graders in Cabot.

The junior high population grew by 97 to 2,231 students, an increase of 1 percent.

Cabot High School also saw an increase in population, adding an additional 208 students for this school year, bringing the grand total to 1,861 10th- through 12th-graders.


Beebe School District

Enrollment growth in the Beebe School District has slowed from the 2006-07 school year, which had an increase of 140 students.

This year, enrollment is 3,119 students, up 86 from last year’s 3,033.