TOP STORY > >Grant refusal upsets patrons
Leader senior staff writer
Pulaski County Special School District officials last week refused to sign two otherwise completed grant applications that could have brought $300,000 worth of educational services next year to Jacksonville-area children, and hundreds of thousands of dollars more over the succeeding four years. The funds were federal funds.
Those seeking the two 21st Century grants from the state say the district personnel either said or implied that PCSSD wouldn’t sign off because Jacksonville could have its own school district before the five-year grants expired.
‘CERTAINLY NOT TRUE’
Jacksonville school activists say it’s just another example of the district penalizing Jacksonville because some want the area to detach from PCSSD.
But at a board workshop Monday, acting Superintendent Beverly Ruth-ven denied that she or anyone had based refusal to sign off on a grant request to expand Jacksonville’s preschool programs because Jacksonville seeks detachment from PCSSD or that administration policy therefore discourages or prohibits helping them.
“That is certainly not true,” Ruthven said in response to a charge by Bill Vasquez, a school board member representing Jacksonville.
The grant discussed at the board workshop would have provided $150,000 for Kareer Kids Child Development Center to partner with Warren Dupree and some other areaelementary schools with planned activities based on the Arkansas Consolidated School Improvement Plan.
The second grant application that the district refused to sign would have provided after-school and summer programs at Jacksonville Boys Middle School to remediate English and math and to teach parents to deal successfully with issues like homework and discipline.
It would provide academic enrichment opportunities, tutoring and mentoring, according to Yvonne Montgomery, a teacher there. It was sought in cooperation with the Arthur and Ethel Johnson Foundation and with True Word Ministries, which would have provided any necessary matching funds, she said.
Here’s what Ruthven wrote to Montgomery in declining her grant application:
1. The district is waiting for a court decision on unitary status.
2. The district is not in a position to make a five-year commitment on fiscal obligations for a grant at this time.
3. The district is concerned about the sustainability of the project.
“I feel they are not giving our boys a fair playing ground,” said Montgomery.
She said she waited at the administration building April 24 for an hour in case any administrators had questions for her about the grant.
After administration refusal to sign the applications, she said she submitted the application to the state Education Department unsigned.
Kristy Brown, executive director of Kareer Kids, said Barbara Frederick at PCSSD told her that the superintendent’s cabinet had decided against signing any 21st CCLC grants for Pulaski County School District at this time.
“She then told me that this grant is a five-year commitment and we are still waiting on a legal decision regarding Jacksonville schools because they may not even be part of Pulaski County in five years and they were not willing to make that commitment because they may not even be tied to the school at the end of the grant,” Brown said.
“That was never said,” Ruthven told Vasquez. “The grant came in at 10:30 a.m. Friday by fax. It was 38 pages long, required matching funds from the district and needed to be singed (and faxed elsewhere) by 5:30 p.m.,” she said.
Cara Walloch, who owns Kareer Kids, said the district knew it would not be responsible for the matching money for the grant.
Ruthven said the 21st Century grant could have been considered if it had come earlier to the district.
Vasquez said he hated to think that eventual, possible detachment by Jacksonville would result in a district policy against providing things helpful to the students and teachers in the area.
“Is it district policy not to support Jacksonville schools because they might detach?” asked Vasquez.
Also discussed at the meeting, which was characterized as a workshop, was reducing the number of principals at Mills High School from two and a half to two and a quarter.
Board member Mildred Tatum said parents are already worried about their children’s safety at Mills and this was no time to reduce the number of principals.
Ruthven said that while there was a reduction of one-quarter of a principal position, that several other staff members were being added.
The board discussed having pre-meeting meetings to set the agenda and ask questions, but decided instead on just getting the agenda sent to them earlier, with opportunities to make changes or ask questions individually through Board President
Chief financial officer Larry O’Briant said the district has eliminated two of three bidders from taking over school bus driving from the district, but was putting information from the third—First Student—into a spread sheet to compare to the costs of the district continuing to run its own transportation department.
Nationwide, First Student maintains 62,000 buses and transports four million students.
Moral reportedly is low among school bus drivers, waiting to see if the board chooses to hire a private firm and to get out of the transportation business.
Board member Gwen Williams said several drivers “think it’s a done deal,” and have begun looking for jobs elsewhere.
Drivers believe they will lose pay and benefits if service is privatized, although it is widely believed that a new firm would hire most.
Vasquez pointed out that the drivers would still lose accumulated sick leave.