Leader Blues

Friday, April 18, 2008

EDITORIAL >>City needs good news

Jacksonville could use a bit of good news right now after taking a triple whammy in recent weeks: Losing the Gravel Ridge annexation fight to Sherwood, seeing a second landfill about to go up along Hwy. 67/167 and I -440, and taking a battering at Tuesday’s Pulaski County Special County School Board meeting, where a proposed separate Jacksonville school district was voted down after a couple of board members switched sides. Only Bill Vasquez, the sole board member from Jacksonville, and Danny Gilliland voted for the separation.

School board president Charlie Wood of Sherwood, who the week before had told a Jacksonville Cham-ber of Commerce luncheon that he supported a Jacksonville district, flipped on the issue after folks in Sherwood reminded him they didn’t like the idea of Gravel Ridge joining the proposed district since the area is being annexed into Sherwood.

Gravel Ridge was supposed to be part of the Jacksonville-area school district, but now Sherwood insists it would make more sense for Gravel Ridge children to keep attending PCSSD since these two communities have merged.

Jacksonville’s bid to separate from PCSSD is not only facing hostility from the board and skepticism from a federal judiciary that has never been enthusiastic about such an effort, but Sherwood’s entry into the fray could muddy Jacksonville’s chances even further.

The loss of Gravel Ridge complicates plans for a Jacksonville district since that rural community would have brought additional students into the new district and made it more self-sufficient and more likely to win approval from a federal judge, who previously rejected the idea. He still needs a lot of persuading.

Judge Bill Wilson will not decide until after an appeal to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis on PCSSD’s unitary status — on whether it’s been desegregated — which could open the door for a Jacksonville district.

At least three local lawyers are working to establish a Jacksonville district.

Local residents have long felt that the district has ignored their needs — a new school hasn’t been built in the city in 30 years — and you could sense their bitterness when Jacksonville banker Mark Wilson addressed the board after it rejected an independent distict.

He said his son deserved to attend good schools in his home town. “Under the Pulaski County School District, there’s not much chance of that,” he told the board. “You are killing our town slowly, day by day. This district is an ineffective bureaucracy.”

Still, there is some good news in Jacksonville after all: Little Rock Air Force Base is thriving and will get a new private contractor who will rebuild and operate base housing. A new joint education complex will go up next year outside the base with funding from both the city and the military.

The other good news is that Jacksonville was spared serious damage from this month’s storms, which hit Sherwood and Gravel Ridge pretty hard.

So maybe somebody is watching over Jacksonville after all.