Leader Blues

Monday, December 28, 2009

TOP STORY >> Early election sought for new school district

Leader senior staff writer

If federal District Judge Brian S. Miller rules that Pulaski County Special School District is substantially desegregated — “unitary” is the term — in a hearing set to begin Jan. 25, three prominent Jacksonville-area residents want Miller to authorize an election that could allow Jacksonville to detach from Pulaski County Special School District and form a stand-alone district.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday, retired attorney Ben Rice, former PCSSD school board president Reedie Ray and state Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) state: “In the event that this court should rule that both PCSSD and the North Little Rock School District have achieved unitary status, then the reasons for Judge (Bill) Wilson’s Aug. 19, 2003 ruling would be moot. A detachment election should be authorized and scheduled by this court.”

“Something needed to be said on behalf of Jacksonville before the hearing,” Rice said Thursday, when asked his motivation.

“If the court takes a good look at things and wants to wind things up, they’ll deal with Jacksonville when they deal with everything else,” he said.

Asked if he was optimistic about PCSSD getting a unitary-status ruling, Rice said he was “not privy to ins-and-outs about the unitary status.”

Sam Jones, the district’s attorney for desegregation-related issues, could not be reached Thursday.

Miller has scheduled a unitary hearing for the North Little Rock District beginning Jan. 11. The third district conjoined in the sprawling, perhaps convoluted,
desegregation agreement in question is the Little Rock School District, which already has been declared unitary.

With permission of the state Board of Education, the people of the Jacksonville area were scheduled in 2003 to have a detachment election, but the PCSSD challenged that election in court, saying it would violate the existing desegregation agreement, and Wilson ruled in their favor.

‘This court has authority, on its own motion, to determine the issues relating to a separate North Pulaski County/Jacksonville school district in the event that all districts herein are determined to be unitary,” the latest brief says.

“It would be in the best interest of all parties for this court to rule in favor of the creation of a separate Jacksonville school district, with all outstanding issues to be resolved by negotiation between PCSSD and the new school district within a reasonable time to be set by the court.”

In their brief, the three say Arkansas law authorizes the state “create a new school district in Pulaski County as part of the state’s efforts to resolve this litigation. Further, on July 29, 2009, the PCSSD board of directors voted to establish specific boundaries of a new Jacksonville School District, to become effective if and when a new Jacksonville School District is created, and if necessary, approved by this court.”

Those boundaries essentially would include the Jacksonville city limits and Pulaski County north and east of Sherwood.

Citing the final verse of William Ernest Henley’s 1875 poem “Invictus,” Rice wrote:

“It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate;

I am the captain of my soul.”

Rice, Ray and Perry are among scores of Jacksonville area residents who have pressed for a stand-alone district over the course of nearly three decades.