Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

TOP STORY > >PCSSD lets Jacksonville go

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Cheers erupted from supporters of a stand-alone Jacksonville school district Tuesday night in the Pulaski County Special School District boardroom as the board unanimously approved a resolution favoring creation of such a district.

State Rep. Will Bond spoke in favor of the resolution, and Donald Stewart, author of a financial study that said both districts could thrive, answered questions from the sometimes-skeptical board.

The approved resolution calls for petitioning the state board of education for a Jacksonville/north Pulaski County district once the three conjoined districts are declared unitary by the federal courts. Little Rock has already achieved that status, leaving North Little Rock and PCSSD to become unitary.

The resolution favoring the district doesn’t force any action, but is an expression of the will of the board—the first time in decades of denial that PCSSD has gone on record as agreeing in principle with the concept of a Jacksonville/North Pulaski County district.

The board took no action on decertifying the district’s nonsupport staff and its union.

Carving a Jacksonville district out of PCSSD can be done without hurting the county district, according to a report
commissioned by the Jacksonville Education Foundation and conducted by Stewart. Stewart is a former chief financial officer of PCSSD, Little Rock and North Little Rock districts and was former deputy commissioner of the state education department.
A proposed Jacksonville-area district is feasible and presents no insurmountable financial impediments to either districts, Stewart said.

“We presented them with a significant amount of evidence and the board did what was in the best interest of all the kids in the district,” said Bond, who is in the most recent generation of Jacksonville residents to try to wrest a stand-alone district out of the far-flung PCSSD.

Bond said a smaller county district would be able to run more efficiently while providing parents and kids with the kind of school district they want.

Stewart found that PCSSD would have more money per student and could shed responsibility for Jacksonville-area facilities, all of which are old and some decrepit.

Jacksonville could to turn its attention to fixing or replacing its schools without competing with people in west Little Rock, Maumelle and as far south as Wrightsville for money to build new schools.

“The whole movement is built on common sense,” said Bond.

“It’s supported by all the facts and evidence,” Bond said. “You have to peel away the emotion. We’ve been ignoring the facts and common sense, hoping things would fix themselves.”

Bond said the most important thing the resolution did was to establish boundaries of the proposed Jacksonville/north Pulaski County school district and to establish which schools would be in it.

Currently, Jacksonville is the largest city in the state without its own school district, according to Bond. It has military base demanding improvement and, the proposed district would have about 6,000 students, making it immediately one of the 15 largest in the state.

Three studies have been conducted since 2002 that support formation of the new district, ac-cording to Bond, with the latest saying it’s a win-win for the kids. PCSSD will have more to spend and Jacksonville will have a great opportunity to improve facilities immediately.

PCSSD board has promised Jacksonville a new middle school and a new elementary school to be built on Little Rock Air Force Base, contingent upon voter approval of a bond issue to pay for them.

Since west Little Rock and Maumelle have each recently gotten a new school—without need for a new bond issue—enthusiasm for a millage increase throughout the district may be low.

The proposed Jacksonville district would be bounded by Sherwood and by Faulkner County on the west, Faulkner County on the north, Lonoke County on the east and the southern boundary is Jacksonville’s southern city limit and Wooten Road to Lonoke County.

The district would include Arnold Drive Elementary, Bayou Meto Elementary, Homer Adkins Pre-K, Jacksonville Elementary, Murrell Taylor Elementary and Pinewood Elementary.

Also, Tolleson Elementary, Warren Dupree Elementary, Jacksonville Boys Middle School, Jacksonville Girls Middle School, North Pulaski High School and Jacksonville High School.