Leader Blues

Friday, July 11, 2008

TOP STORY > >Jacksonville could get two new schools

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Architects have visited the sites of a proposed new Jacksonville middle school and a new elementary school near Little Rock Air Force Base, even if Pulaski County Special School District doesn’t know where it will get the $40 million or more needed for construction.

With the Jacksonville World Class Education Association promoting the new middle school and the base lobbying hard for the elementary school, the board in January placed both on its state-mandated, 10-year facilities master plan, beginning construction in the 2009-2010 school year, contingent upon obtaining funding.

Pulaski County is a relatively wealthy county, so the state will pay only about 12 percent of the construction costs. The rest is the district’s responsibility.

In the past few days, the Little Rock architectural firm Witsell, Evans and Rasco visited the preferred sites for the two buildings, according to Larry O’Briant, the district’s chief financial officer.

“We’re looking for preliminary site designs for the two Jacksonville schools,” said O’Briant.

“We have to have a preliminary design by August 1,” he said. The design can be greatly modified after that, but something needs to be on paper to show progress, he added.

KEEP FUNDS

The state has been asking some districts to forego committed funds for projects they haven’t moved forward on, O’Briant said. PCSSD doesn’t want to find itself in that position.

One of the two schools in question is a new school at the site of the current Jacksonville Girls Middle School, intended to accommodate middle school students either as two single-gender schools under one roof or else one coeducational school.

That’s been identified as a prominent location easily seen from major thoroughfares.

The other is a new elementary school intended to replace Tolleson and Arnold Drive elementaries. It is to be built on land provided by Little Rock Air Force Base, outside the fence near Tolleson. Arnold Drive, about 50 years old, is on the base.

O’Briant told the board that North Pulaski High School’s long-needed $601,000 field house was nearing completion.

SHERWOOD SCHOOL

Utility work has begun on the new $25 million Sherwood Middle School, O’Briant said. “We’re working on the preliminary design and should see something soon. After the preliminary design, will meet with a site-design committee,” he said.

At marathon meetings totalling about eight hours Tuesday, Superintendent James Sharpe told the board that district patrons have made it clear that safety and security of students are their top priorities.

Ivory Tillman, who convened a NAACP meeting at the Jacksonville Middle School two weeks ago, told the board that those issues also topped the list for patrons attending his meeting.

DISCIPLINE CONSULTANTS

Craig Douglass, the district’s public relations contractor, reported that he was soliciting proposals from a pair of companies, one of which would lobby for federal funds in Washington and look for grants to pay for upgrading security and the other one that consults on school-security issues.

Some schools get millions in such grants and programs, Sharpe told the board. Why not PCSSD?

Board members Gwen Williams and Mildred Tatum said they were reluctant, noting that one company wants $10,000 a month for six months and suggested that the money would be better spent hiring more security.

Tatum’s son heads the district’s security division.

“We must invest in security and achievement,” said Sharpe.

Brenda Bowles, who has convened meetings after a fight this spring at Mills High School, said students, parents and teachers suggested faster turnaround time on discipline, more active security including additional use of metal detectors and more prominent placement of security guards. Among other suggestions was a closed campus.

NO DIRECTION

Also Tuesday, PCSSD’s attorney for desegregation purposes, Sam Jones, told the board he expected additional meetings in the next week or 10 days with the attorney general’s office and lawyers for the Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts toward ending the desegregation agreement.

With a nod to Tatum, Jones acknowledged he doesn’t have the authority to agree to anything.

“I have no direction from the board,” he said. “I’m just going to listen.”

The board unanimously approved increasing the price of school lunches to offset increased food prices. The move will result in an additional $331,565.

Elementary school lunches would be increased 25 cents a day to $2, while secondary school prices will increase 50 cents to $2.25 a day.

Breakfasts will increase 25 cents, costing $1.25.