Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

TOP STORY >> PCSSD approves budget for year

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District Tuesday evening approved the $232 million 2009-2010 budget, making up an $18 million revenue shortfall by using $11 million carried over from last year’s budget.

The budget is $16 million less than last year’s. Projected revenues for this year are $231 million, down from $251 million from last year.

A new state law prohibits transfer of money from operating funds to building funds.

Witsell Evans Rasco Architects submitted preliminary drawings to the board for a new Jacksonville Middle School and also one new elementary school to replace Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools.

The board approved using about $1.4 million of stimulus money to begin the planning process for those two schools.

Both are on the 10-year facilities plan, contingent upon passage of a new bond issue or finding other construction funds.

Elden Bock of Witsell, Evans Rasco, told board members that the new Arnold Drive-Tolleson replacement would be built along the lines of the Chenal Elementary School.

Described as the new north Pulaski elementary school, it is tentatively tucked in next to North Pulaski High School and near the back gate to Little Rock Air Force Base. It would accommodate 650 students in 90,000 square feet and would likely be two stories.

The proposed new Jacksonville Middle School would fit neatly into the space currently occupied by the former Jacksonville Girls Middle School, just off Main Street near Hwy. 67.

Bock said it also would lend itself nicely to a two-story treatment. “That would give a nice presence to the street,” he said. The building would likely be about 145,000 square feet and would be designed for 1,050 students.

A proposal to eliminate coordinators of music, art and Title I federal funds was not reflected in the unanimously approved budget and had not been acted upon by press time.

The deadline for submitting that budget to the state Department of Education is Sept. 30. But on the heels of several special-called board meetings in the past few months, the board approved its budget at this regularly scheduled meeting and expects to submit it to the state on Sept. 15.

Chief Financial Officer Anita Farver and interim Superintendent Rob McGill did much of the heavy lifting on the new budget, but several of the board members reviewed the budget proposal at a workshop held last week and some had concerns about eliminating the coordinators of those programs.

Farver said that next year there would be no carry over funds to bail the district out and said board members will need to locate new revenues or make more drastic cuts for the 2010-2011 budget a year from now.

McGill has said he was investigating offering patrons an opportunity to vote on a new $40 million bond issue. Stephens Inc., the district’s financial adviser, is crunching numbers to see if the district can pay another $3.2 million a year in debt service to pay off that bond over a 27-year period.

There was brief discussion of a proposal to get “conversion charter-school status” for Harris Elementary School as a science and technology immersion and also to expand the STAR Academy, currently housed in the old Jacksonville Girls Middle School building. Each approved school would get $450,000 toward equipment and programs.

Donna Houston gave a rundown of conditions at College Station Elementary School, calling it old and unsafe.

Finally, Candice McDonald, a black woman with three children in the district gave a loud, long and passionate speech detailing the anger she felt that the district didn’t require students to watch President Obama’s speech to school children, but made it optional.

She said it wasn’t optional when white presidents spoke and the schools had to watch.

“I have seven children, I’ve been married 27 years and I live in Jacksonville,” she said. She has children attending Arnold Drive, Jacksonville Middle School and Jacksonville High School.

“I’m a descendent of Jacksonville and a descendent of slaves and I started to bring my chains, but my husband said put those back,” she said.

McDonald said she called every school in the district and in nearly every case the white principals didn’t allow or require the students to watch and the black principals, some of them anyway, did.

Finally, board president Tim Clark told her she had spoken far longer than her allotted five minutes, and she left the podium as security guards moved in on her.