Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

TOP STORY >> Mayor: Hold off on school

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District board member Charlie Wood, paradoxically at the request of Jacksonville’s mayor and an attorney for the Jacksonville Education Foundation, withdrew his proposal Tuesday night to issue bonds and build a new elementary school in Jacksonville.

Wood’s proposal would have allowed the district to issue bonds that would have cost PCSSD as much as $2 million a year to pay off in order to build an elementary school by August 2012 to replace both Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher and attorney Patrick Wilson both asked the matter to be considered after the U.S. District Court rules on PCSSD’s unitary status. There’s a hearing set for next month.

While Jacksonville residents do want a new school, if Jacksonville gets its own district in the near future, the state would pay 65 percent of the cost of approved construction, based on a wealth index.

But if PCSSD builds the new school and Jacksonville gets stuck with paying the bill, the state will pay less than 1 percent of the cost because PCSSD is a wealthier district than Jacksonville’s would be, according to Jacksonville school activist Daniel Gray.

A $17 million Arnold Drive/Tolleson elementary replacement school is still on the non-binding master facilities plan for completion in 2013 and a new $30 million Jacksonville Middle School for 2012-2014.

The board unanimously approved a new 10-year state master facilities plan.

It increases the cost of the new high school in Maumelle to $63 million including furnishings and also raises the new Sylvan Hills Middle School from $30 million to $37 million, an increase attributed by Wood to problems with rock and site preparation.

Including other repairs and renovations, the total for the master plan is estimated at $177.8 million, $100 million of it for the two schools under way for Maumelle and Sylvan Hills.

Other items of local interest in the plan include: $240,000 for restroom renovations at Jacksonville Elementary School this school year and $120,000 to reroof Jacksonville High School this year.

It includes $400,000 for the renovations to the Jacksonville Middle School to ready it this year for its new role as a coeducation middle school.

Gone is $1 million for design of a new Jacksonville Middle School, since that was stimulus money, which must be spent more immediately, interim Superintendent Rob McGill explained.

Also in the budget for this year was $50,000 toward completion of the Jacksonville Middle School field house with another $25,000 earmarked for next school year.

Also on the plan was $400,000 for already completed restroom renovations and another $287,000 for Northwood Middle School restroom renovations.

Also in the plan was $264,000 for restroom renovations at Sylvan Hills Elementary School and $150,000 for Murrell Taylor Elementary School restrooms.

Next year Sylvan Hills High School is slated for $112,000 to upgrade HVAC in the auditorium.

Enmity between the Pulaski County Special School District board and its teachers’ union —more particularly between school board president Tim Clark and Marty Nix, president of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers — picked up Tuesday night where it left off before Christmas, this time with Nix accusing Clark of sabotaging the teachers contract, then withdrawing recognition of the union because PACT wouldn’t pass the hat to support an election they said Clark is considering.

While he tried to rule her out of order and away from the podium microphone, Nix told a room packed with PACT supporters that Clark was going to run for state Rep. Ed Garner’s Maumelle-area seat.

After Nix and Emry Chesterfield spoke, president of the Pulaski Association of Support Staff, Clark tried to answer Nix’s remarks, but he was first shouted down by union members, about 25 of whom then got up and followed Nix and Chesterfield from the board room.

Clark said during a break in the meeting that he hadn’t decided about running for the General Assembly. Then he said, “That’s not really the position I was thinking about.”

He declined to be more specific.