Leader Blues

Saturday, March 15, 2008

TOP STORY > >Group:District should be split

Leader senior staff writer

Lightning tore across the heavens and the skies opened up Thursday night moments after attorney Ben Rice presented Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent James Sharpe with a petition requesting a special board meeting to consider a resolution in favor of forming a stand-alone Jacksonville school district.

The resolution, presented at Jacksonville High School, said, in part, “Be it resolved by the PCSSD board of directors that the Arkansas State Board of Education is hereby authorized and directed to take such steps as might be necessary to allow the creation of a new school district in the Jacksonville area, by detachment from the PCSSD.”

The proposed new school district includes all areas in the attendance zones of Jacksonville High School and North Pulaski High School.

Rice’s resolution says state law provides a framework for detachment to form a separate district and that the proposed Jacksonville-area district apparently meets those requirements.

It also cites the presence of Little Rock Air Force Base in the area and other factors as special circumstances that “suggest a strong need for that area to operate its own school district.”

Rice said state law requires such a meeting to be called upon the request of 50 or more district patrons. His petitions bore the signatures of about 250 residents, he said, and suggested April 15 as the special meeting date.

Sharpe said Friday that he hadn’t known in advance that Rice’s petition was coming but that he would send it to school board president Charlie Wood.

“He will make the decision,” said Sharpe.

The real importance of a PCSSD resolution in favor of a stand-alone district would be that it not only reinforced Jacksonville’s desire for its own district, but that it showed that the board no longer opposed the idea, Rice said Friday.

Sharpe hosted an hour-long superintendent’s coffee at the Jacksonville High School cafeteria, which moved without break into a two-hour strategic planning session, complete with pads on easels and notes taped to the wall.

Consultant Charles Cummings will facilitate such planning sessions, one in each zone, then compile them into a report for consideration by the board and administration.

There was confusion among some of the approximately 100 people who attended as to what meetings were being held and when, but about 45 minutes into the strategic planning session, Rice arose and broke in long enough to present the petitions to Sharpe.

Rice and Reedie Ray, a former school board president, first met about three months ago to move the process along of getting a separate Jacksonville district, he said.

U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson previously ruled that Jacksonville residents could not hold a scheduled vote on the issue of a stand-alone Jacksonville-area district, upholding a suit by the PCSSD and saying the districts must achieve unitary status and be released from the desegregation agreement before Jacksonville could be considered for its own district.

The Little Rock district has been declared unitary, and both North Little Rock and PCSSD have petitioned for unitary status, but Wilson has put those petitions on hold until the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rules on a challenge of the Little Rock unitary declarations by the Joshua Interveners. Oral arguments were held this week in that case.

Rice said even if the PCSSD school board passes his resolution, it would probably not be implemented until Wilson’s ruling on unitary status.

“Wilson could rule on all three districts,” Rice said. “I would hope he would include something in his ruling about a Jacksonville district.”