Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

TOP STORY >> Board argues over future of two schools

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The board of the Pulaski County Special School District voted 4-3 Tuesday night to combine Jacksonville Middle School for Boys with the Jacksonville Middle School for Girls.

Board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville and Superintendent James Sharpe accused each other of being the force behind considering the measure.

Some board members had expressed an interest in tabling the issue.

Several Boys Middle School teachers and counselors spoke in favor of leaving the middle schoolers separated by gender.

Using official district data, they showed that discipline referrals at the Boys School were cut nearly in half between the first year of gender-specific schools and last year, and were on course for an additional 35 percent decline this year.

They showed that benchmark scores climbed steadily over the three years, with 75 percent of Algebra 1 students testing proficient or advanced in 2008.

Eighth grade benchmarks climbed from 16 percent proficient or advanced in 2006 to 42 percent proficient or advanced in 2008, and this in a school with the highest percentage of free and reduced lunches and highest percentage of children with disabilities, said one teacher.

Sharpe said he thought the measure to combine the schools should be tabled—that it should be a matter for Jacksonville to decide when it gets its own district.

State Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville spoke against combining the schools.

He and school board president Tim Clark had a testy exchange.

Vasquez said he was surprised to find the matter on the agenda, saying it was Sharpe’s doing.

Sharpe responded that Vasquez had a short memory and had only last summer failed in an effort to combine the two schools and to reduce the number of principals and had asked him to look into it.

“I find it offensive that you come here and call me a liar,” Vasquez told Sharpe.

In other action, the board passed by one vote to suspend the rules and endorse selling second lien bonds to raise $81 million to build a new Maumelle High School in his district, putting off construction of the Sherwood Middle School into the indefinite future.

Chief Financial Officer Larry O’Briant said the Sherwood school could be built in a couple years when the environment is different and the district gets a millage increase passed.

Maumelle will have all new schools by then, and may not see any reason to vote for a millage increase, one person said in the lobby.

Parents also came to complain about a small colony of bats, perhaps 200 of them, living in the attic of Sherwood Elementary School and sometimes finding their way into halls and classrooms.

Asst. Superintendent James Warren promised the problem was being taken care of and that, meanwhile, district personnel would inspect every classroom and hall every morning to ensure there were not bats.