Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville shunned by PCSSD

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District Board on Monday rejected the concerns of Jackson-ville board member Bill Vasquez in another budget dispute.

The board approved budgeting $20 million from the district’s $30.5 million building fund toward construction of a new high school in Maumelle and a new middle school in Sylvan Hills.

By adding the $20 million from the building fund to the $81 million in second-lien bonds, the district will have about $101 million to spend on those two schools.

The district has received low bids totaling $100 million if all low bidders sign contracts, according to interim Superintendent Rob McGill.

Vasquez said he objected to spending $20 million of the $30.5 million in the building fund on those two schools, saying some of that money should be reserved for a stand-alone Jacksonville school district.

“If we’re declared unitary in January, we’ll have to divvy up that money,” Vasquez said. “One-third should be for Jacksonville,” he insisted.

That set off Sherwood’s board member, Charlie Wood.

“When a few months ago we made a point to exclude Jacksonville from the ($81 million) indebtedness for Oak Grove and Sylvan Hills, I said this would happen.”

Jacksonville doesn’t want to share the debt, but wants to share the money, he said.

“We voted $900,000 for Jacksonville Star Academy for kids who aren’t performing,” Wood said. “We’re trying to give Jacksonville a fair shake.”

Vasquez responded that Jacksonville High School was in year six of school improvement, and the district had to do something or the state would take it over.

“It was not out of largess and magnanimity,” Vasquez said.

Board members Wood, Mildred Tatum, Glen Williams and Tim Clark voted in favor of the building plan fund.

The balance of the $30.5 million building fund included $2 million to renovate Pine Forest Elementary School, $1 million to finish repairing the Clinton Elementary School roof and $3.5 million to repair the Crystal Hill Elementary School roof.

That will leave $4 million uncommitted in the building fund prior to state matching funds, or $11 million including matching funds, which are not available until after the buildings are completed.

McGill told the board members that he hopes the district can sell some more second-lien bonds to finance improvements at other schools. He refused to suggest the amount of such bond sale, but said specialists from Stephens Inc. would meet with the board later in the month to discuss the options.

New media specialist Deb Roush told the board of efforts she had made toward giving the district its own Facebook page as a way to tell parents and students about upcoming events.

Tatum and Williams expressed their opposition to the plan.

“I don’t like Facebook,” Williams said. “I will not be a party to it.” She said she already gets enough e-mails and calls from unhappy constituents.

Roush said both Little Rock and Springdale districts had Facebook pages. “The news comes to you,” she said.

Wood said it was “just another tool, and I think you’re doing a great job.”

At the end of the meeting, the board used one of its favorite ploys to go into executive session, saying it would discuss the superintendent search committee and lawsuits, but that it qualified for executive session “because we might talk about (Superintendent) McGill.”