Leader Blues

Monday, July 13, 2009

TOP STORY >> Meeting at Bayou Meto will decide boundaries

Leader senior staff writer

A public hearing is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 23 at the Bayou Meto Elementary School cafeteria to help determine where patrons in the Bayou Meto attendance zone would want to send their children if the Jacksonville area gets its standalone district.

Breaking bread together at the Western Sizzlin’ Steakhouse on Wednesday evening were Pulaski County Special School District representatives, Jacksonville’s new mayor, lawyers for a proposed Jacksonville-area school district and the PCSSD, and the man who did the study that found both the proposed and existing districts sustainable.

By all accounts, the meeting was productive and cordial, and it resulted in the decision to hold the public hearing or town meeting.

There was further talk of a board workshop sometime after the meeting to discuss Bayou Meto and the boundaries.

While the likely boundaries for a Jacksonville-area district have been pretty well set, there are at least two options regarding the Bayou Meto attendance zone.

Jacksonville district proponents have figured the Bayou Meto zone into their district for purposes of anticipating student enrollment, expenses and revenues. Some on the PCSSD board and others would like Hwy. 107 to be the line of demarcation. Those on the west — about 40 percent of the total — would stay with PCSSD, while those on the east would be in the Jacksonville zone.

Consultant Don Stewart’s financial report, submitted last September, included those in the Bayou Meto attendance zone in the Jacksonville proposal.

Jacksonville proponents had hoped to resolve the boundary question at Tuesday’s meeting, according to Daniel Gray, vice president of the Jacksonville World Class Education Organization, but “we have no problem (with the change).”

Gray, who was not at the Wednesday meeting, said it was important to move on with setting the boundaries because the PCSSD board has so many other important issues to resolve — teacher contract negotiations, for instance — and “that could put this on the back burner.”

The supper meeting was the idea of new Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher.

“I took this on trying to build relationships with school board members,” he said afterward. “I hadn’t met with (Superintendent Rob) McGill until (the dinner meeting). I think you can get a lot more done if you know people.”

“We found we could disagree, but it didn’t get ugly,” Fletcher added. “I learned that the school district wants to work with us to bring this to a resolution.”

The meeting was private and arranged to not violate the state Freedom of Information Act.

“You’re limited to what you can say on a public meeting,” the mayor said.

McGill said Thursday that he was trying to get as much information as possible for the board to make an informed decision.

Others at the meeting included school board president Tim Clark, PCSSD desegregation attorney Sam Jones, Jacksonville Education Foundation attorney Patrick Wilson and Stewart, the consultant.

The Jacksonville-area district proponents favor the following boundaries, which seemed to be agreed to in principle by the board last August: Bounded by Sherwood and 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 proposed new district would consist of the following schools:

Arnold Drive Elementary, Bayou Meto Elementary, Homer Adkins Pre-K, Jacksonville Elementary, Murrell Taylor Elementary and Pinewood Ele-mentary.

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

Using those boundaries, Stewart’s feasibility study explored projected revenues, tax rates, facilities needs and teacher salaries, among other data, and concluded that the detachment from PCSSD would benefit both districts.

“I’m optimistic a deal can be reached this summer,” Fletcher said. “I’m encouraged by this meeting. Jacksonville’s future will be secured with its own schools. There’s no logical reason for Jacksonville not to get its own district.”