Leader Blues

Friday, July 25, 2008

TOP STORY > >District gets green light from state

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

“It’s not the state’s intention to stand in the way of a separate Jacksonville school district,” Chief Deputy Attorney Gen. Justin Allen said Thursday.

The state attorney general’s office is the lead party in negotiations between Pulaski County Special School District, Little Rock School District, North Little Rock School District and the original plaintiffs, the Joshua Intervenors.

An early draft of the attorney general’s proposal that would have prohibited carving a Jacksonville district from PCSSD was outdated and in error, Allen said.

Federal District Judge Bill Wilson already has declared the Little Rock district unitary and dismissed it from the desegregation agreement, but the Joshua Intervenors have appealed his decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

Wilson said he would not hear other motions for unitary status until the Little Rock appeal is resolved.

Allen said Assistant Attor-ney General Scott Richardson has met with John Walker, attorney for the Joshua Intervenors, and “is encouraged.”

In the past, Joshua has been a difficult impediment, Allen said, but the group has been “very amenable to (current) discussions.”

State Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, is author of Act 395, which brought desegregation negotiations to the forefront. He said Thursday that he thought Pulaski County’s action at the most recent board meeting was “very positive.”

Bond repeated his prediction that Jacksonville would have its own school district by 2010 or 2011.

Although the required local match money—about 85 percent of the total $40 million cost—isn’t yet available, the district had architects visit the sites of two new proposed Jacksonville schools, one where the girls middle school stands, the other on Air Force property to replace substandard buildings, one on Little Rock Air Force Base, the other nearby.

The architects are to draw up some very preliminary plans to secure Jacksonville’s place on the district’s 10-year facilities master plan.

The state’s draft proposal, which Jones shared with the PCSSD board recently, said there could be no district boundary changes for at least five years, but Allen said Thursday that Jones had been sent an old draft.

He said if the PCSSD board approves a Jacksonville district, the attorney general’s office didn’t mean to be an impediment.

“The bill specifically states that the settlement can envision a Jacksonville district,” Allen said. “That has to be done through PCSSD and the state process. The attorney general doesn’t want to block that.”

Allen said all parties were cooperating, but that PCSSD is “probably further along and working a little more diligently than the other two.”

“This has been going on 20-some years,” Allen said. “It’s as close to ending as it has ever been.”

“He’s been given the authority to negotiate,” Bond said of Jones. Bond said Jacksonville activists hope to be on the PCSSD agenda for the August meeting to bring the Jacksonville issue before the board again.

“We still want a vote that says the board is not opposed to a Jacksonville district,” Bond said. “The board members are realizing that it’s in everyone’s best interest to split a Jacksonville-North Pulaski County district off from PCSSD.

“We’ve been running the financial numbers,” he added. “The county will be better off financially and so will Jacksonville.

“We’ll have sufficient state funding and be able to compete directly with Cabot and other school choices.

“We want to have control of our own destiny and curriculum,” Bond said.