Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

TOP STORY >> Could city build its own schools now?

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Could Jacksonville build its own new schools now and lease them to the Pulaski County Special School District until the city has its own district, Aldermen Gary Fletcher asked during the Jacksonville City Council meeting Thursday night.

The council was reaffirming its support of a separate Jacksonville district and asked Mayor Tommy Swaim to send another letter to the PCSSD board stating the city’s resolve to have its own school district.

The request to write another letter to the board stating Jacksonville’s position for its own school district comes on the heels of the 8th Circuit Court ruling that frees the Little Rock School District from desegregation monitoring. Both PCSSD and North Little Rock school districts have also filed for their release.

Swaim said the reinforcement letter was needed because the PCSSD school board was wavering on its previous vote to not stand in the way of Jacksonville pursuing its own district.

Alderman Marshall Smith said every council member was for the mayor writing another letter and felt discussion was not necessary.

But Fletcher, a candidate for mayor, wanted to toss out what he called “out-of-the-box” ideas.

He suggested that the city consider making itself an improvement district, therefore charging residents a fee, for the express purpose of constructing new school facilities, and then leasing the buildings to the school district until we get our district.

“Even if it takes another three or four years before we can get our district, we would have some new facilities to start with,” he said.

The mayor said that idea and others have been discussed throughout the years.

City Attorney Robert Bamburg said some of the ideas are legal and some aren’t.

The mayor cited two recent situations. One in northwest Arkansas where a city built school facilities and someone challenged the use of that money. “The city lost and had to pay back the money plus court costs,” he said.

But recently in Bald Knob, the city voted to upgrade its school district and no one, so far, has objected. “But if there is a challenge, it can be costly,” the mayor said.

Swaim also said it wouldn’t do the city or a private group to give money to PCSSD. “The district decides where the money goes. You can ask that it goes for computers in one of our schools, but if the district thinks some other school needs those computers more, that’s where they go.”

“I just think all of our kids deserve decent schools,” said Fletcher, who is one of six candidates seeking to replace the retiring Mayor Swaim.

Alderman Reedie Ray was hopeful that maybe some of the federal stimulus money could be used to at least remodel some of the schools in the city. In the meantime the mayor will prepare the letter to present to the school board at the next PCSSD meeting Tuesday.

In other business:

– Aldermen agreed to spend an additional $583 a month to get Central Arkansas Transportation Authority to add another bus to the Jacksonville-Little Rock route, raising the number of buses from two to three. The mayor said CATA has received a three-year grant to add the additional bus. The grant will cover half the cost, leaving Pulaski County, Sherwood and Jacksonville to pick up the rest.

After the three years, the city has the option of dropping the additional service or picking up the additional costs. The city already pays CATA $32,484 a year to subsidize the bus service. The additional bus will cost $7,000 a year.

– The council annexed Emmanuel Bible Fellowship Church near Hwy. 107 into the city. The church property encompasses about two acres. The church owners requested the annexation.