Leader Blues

Friday, August 14, 2009

TOP STORY >> Vasquez tells Jacksonville to drop dead

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader Editor-in-Chief

Bill Vasquez, who claims to represent Jacksonville on the Pulaski County Special School District Board, says his critics don’t know what they’re talking about when they accuse him of voting against the city’s interests on the school board.

On Tuesday, he proved his critics right: Vasquez voted against negotiating with supporters of a planned Jacksonville-area school district that his constituents have been demanding for years.

It was a stunning decision. It was as dumb as it was reckless. His was the decisive vote against negotiating an amicable separation from the failing school district. Imagine: It’s like sending our ambassador to the United Nations and having him vote for nuclear proliferation in North Korea.

Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but not by much. This is the second time in recent weeks the board has voted against negotiating with the Jacksonville Education Foundation, which is leading the move for separation.

Actually, Vasquez favored negotiating before he was against it. The board voted on the issue last month, and he was in favor of it then, but board member Mildred Tatum had abstained, and it was a tie vote.

Tatum asked for another vote this week because she didn’t mean to abstain the last time, saying she supports negotiations.

That’s when Vasquez pulled a switcheroo.

You’d think he’d have joined with her and resumed talks with the foundation. It wouldn’t have interfered with the court case that will be heard in September to decide whether the Jacksonville district can go forward.

Both sides have been negotiating for months, so what’s the harm in talking a while longer? If the judge gives the go-ahead, the two districts would be better prepared for a quick separation.

Vasquez said the Jacksonville Education Foundation doesn’t represent the city’s residents. “Why would we negotiate with an outside party that doesn’t answer to anyone?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s the board’s decision and business. Not anyone else’s business.”

He forgets it’s the business of those who elected him, many of whom now regret they voted for him.

Then he descended into complete gibberish and compared the separation issue to someone trying to sell a used car. “Why would I need my neighbor’s advice?” Vasquez asked, confusing everyone in the room.

His neighbors who voted for him deserve his attention and consideration, but he doesn’t think that way. Or think at all.

So he voted no, along with Charlie Wood of Sherwood and Gwen Williams of McAlmont, as well as board president Tim Clark of Maumelle. Danny Gililland of north Pulaski County acted honorably and voted for negotiations.

“There are three members on this board elected by Jacksonville residents,” Vasquez said. It’s too bad those constituents can’t count on more than one person to represent them on the board.

Vasquez doesn’t care about Jacksonville or the future of a school district for the area because if there’s a new district, he’d lose his job.

When he ran for the school board, he was the mystery candidate who allegedly represented outside interests.

He’s proven his critics right time after time: He has ignored his constituents and stalled negotiations between PCSSD and Jacksonville groups. He eliminated one of the middle schools and forced boys and girls into a crowded building and unsightly trailers.

Vasquez thinks the rundown school buildings belong to PCSSD. “The area belongs to PCSSD, and the decision and the ability to separate belongs to PCSSD,” he told the school board.

He’s wrong again: The schools and the property around them belong to the people of Jacksonville. They paid for them with their taxes many times over and have got very little in return.

That’s why community leaders support an independent school district. Little Rock Air Force Base has become a powerful voice in favor of a Jacksonville-area district.

Vasquez is said to be working as a civilian at the base, which has pleaded for decades with PCSSD officials to replace the crumbling elementary school on base.

His vote is not only a slam against Jacksonville residents but also an insult to the air base, the largest employer in central Arkansas with an economic impact of at least $580 million a year.

A fraction of that money could build several schools in Jacksonville. Look how many schools Cabot has built in the last few years with a much smaller tax base.

Vasquez said he was the man of the hour. Actually, the proposed new district is making progress without him. The board has approved the proposed district’s boundary, which includes Jacksonville and rural north Pulaski County around Bayou Meto Elementary School.

A special judge will hold a hearing Sept. 30 on the breakaway district. Let’s hope he’s better informed than the PCSSD school board and will side with the youngsters of north Pulaski County.

Then Bill Vasquez won’t stand in the way of a decent education for all the children in this area.