Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

TOP STORY >>Parents: Give us our own schools

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville will have its own school district within two years, Rep. Will Bond predicted Sunday at the first general membership meeting of the Jacksonville World Class Education Organization.

“We are closer than we’ve ever been to having our own district,” the Jacksonville Democrat said.

Bond, Jacksonville’s term-limited state representative, has successfully introduced legislation encouraging the North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School districts to apply for unitary school status. Unitary status—that’s desegregation certification— would open the door for Jacksonville to have its own district. The third district involved in the desegregation agreement — Little Rock — already has been declared unitary by U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson, but the Joshua Intervenors have challenged that designation in the appeals court.

About 35 people attended the general membership meeting, according to Daniel Gray, vice president of the Jacksonville World Class Education Organization. “We didn’t see as many new faces as we hoped,” he said.

He said he hoped the new members would get involved on the committees. Gray said the next general membership meeting would probably be in August or September.

“The purpose of the meeting was to make clear to everyone that we want to hear from them,” said Bond. “There has been some criticism that we need to be more open,” he said, referring to the group of former classmates who are driving the organization. “We want to hear from the community, teachers, administrators, parents, to know what we can do.

“There are some great success stories at those middle schools,” he said. “We need to inform elementary school parents of those opportunities and see what opportunities they want to exist at the middle school level. Many area students are leaving the local public school system rather than attend the Jacksonville middle schools.

Bond said boys middle school principal Mike Nellums wants to increase the size of the new mentoring program and girls middle school principal Kim Forrest wants a tutoring program at her school.

By the time all three districts are declared unitary and dismissed from the existing school desegregation agreement, the state will have spent more than $1 billion on the effort, Bond said. That’s $1 billion over what they would have received otherwise.
Bond, who is president of the world-class education organization, said once the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds Little
Rock’s unitary status, the most difficult of the legal impediments to a Jacksonville district will be swept away.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Education Foundation—as distinguished from the world-class organization—has hired an expert to crunch the numbers, which foundation members believe will prove that both the PCSSD and the Jacksonville area would benefit financially from a stand-alone Jacksonville district. Don Stewart will analyze the numbers to show what the revenues and expenses of PCSSD and a Jacksonville district would look like separately.

“We hope to have those numbers by the end of July,” Bond said. “We’re interested in presenting that to the board. We think we can show them it’s in everyone’s best interest. Our focus is getting the board on our side, which I think is a real possibility.”

Stewart is former chief financial officer for PCSSD and was a top “numbers guy” at the state Department of Education.

“It’s time for the desegregation case to be brought to a close,” Bond said. “Little Rock is unitary. We should have an appellate decision by September.

“One reason PCSSD should get rid of us is that they will be on the facilities distress list otherwise,” Bond said. “They can’t ignore our needs. We would have a greater opportunity to fix our facilities if we were on our own.

“There are some great success stories at those middle schools,” he continued. “We need to inform elementary school parents of those opportunities and see what opportunities they want to exist at the middle school level.”