Leader Blues

Friday, April 11, 2008

TOP STORY > >PCSSD balks at forming new district

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Residents seeking endorsement of a stand-alone Jacksonville school district by the PCSSD school board next week will find the administration offering a substitute resolution that stops far short of endorsement.

Having learned of the substitute resolution that would block formation of a new district, Jacksonville attorney Ben Rice has amended his original proposal in hopes of overcoming the board’s objections.

His amended proposal still calls for endorsement of the stand-alone district, but contingent upon PCSSD being declared unitary — desegregated — in student assignment.

Pulaski County Special School District Board president Charlie Wood called a special meeting for Tuesday to consider the proposal in response to Rice’s petition.

On Tuesday, Wood told the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce that he thought the Jacksonville district proposal had the support of four or five of the district’s seven board members.

Detachment of students from the Jacksonville area could take about 30 percent of the students from PCSSD—and 30 percent of the state minimum foundation aid—based on enrollment — which is currently about $100 million a year.

PCSSD was the plaintiff in a successful 2003 lawsuit that prevented an election that could have authorized the Jacksonville district. A PCSSD resolution in favor of a standalone district would not only reinforce Jacksonville’s case for its own district, but would show the court that the board no longer opposed the idea, according to Rice.
Rice’s original and amended resolutions each conclude 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.

In 2003, U.S. District Judge Wilson blocked a vote by residents in those zones on the issue, ruling that Jacksonville and PCSSD were still constrained by the 2000 desegregation agreement.

Wilson subsequently deferred ruling on petitions from North Little Rock and PCSSD for unitary status, which could end federal oversight and open the door for a Jacksonville district, until the 8th U.S. District Court of Appeals in St. Louis rules on an appeal of Little Rock’s declaration of unitary status.

RESOLUTION PREMATURE

Toward that end, Super-intendent James Sharpe directed PCSSD attorney Sam Jones to draw up a substitute resolution.
That resolution denies Rice’s petition, reading in part:

“Therefore it is the considered opinion of the PCSSD board of directors that the resolution submitted by the Jacksonville patrons is premature, cannot be currently reconciled with (legislation) and that the PCSSD as a whole is served by continuing to follow, monitor and participate in the process resolution outline in the act as amended under the leadership of the attorney general’s office which may or may not result in the creation of a new Jacksonville school district, depending upon resolution and agreement of all other matters, contingencies and requirements set forth and explained in the act as amended.”

Jones confirmed Thursday that the resolution he drafted in no way endorsed the idea of a stand-alone Jacksonville district.

CONTINGENCY

Rice sent what he calls a “counter, counter resolution” Thursday contingent upon achieving unitary status or being resolved by the judge.

In addition to authorizing and directing the state board of education to take the necessary steps to allow the creation of a Jacksonville school district, as the original resolution did, adds this:

“This resolution is contingent upon the following conditions being met:

“1. That PCSSD achieve unitary status in the ongoing desegregation lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court, so that PCSSD is no longer subject to the supervision of that court; or approval by the presiding judge in that lawsuit to conduct a detachment election in the area described in this resolution; or a declaration by the state of Arkansas that the Jacksonville area have its own school district; or that all other legal requirements are met for detachment of the described Jacksonville-North Pulaski High School attendance areas into a separate school district, independent of PCSSD.

“2. Upon creation of a Jacksonville area school district, there would be an allocation of assets and liabilities between the separate school districts, according to current law.”