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New school district for Jacksonville examined

The desire to form a school district for Jacksonville is nothing new to some people, according to a report released recently about the feasibility of potentially creating a Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District.

“Leaders in the Jacksonville community have worked to establish an independent school district in the Jacksonville area since the late 1960s,” states the report called “A Feasibility Study for a Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District detached from the Pulaski County Special School District.”

The report was prepared for the Jacksonville Education Foundation Inc. Its author is Winston F. Simpson, Ed.D. “The effort began in response to the view that the affairs of the Pulaski County Special School District were in disarray.”

At that time, the Jacksonville Jaycees and Southwest Little Rock Jaycees began a campaign to seek the resignation of some members of the school board.

“Four of the eight board members and the superintendent resigned,” states the report. “It was thought that this change in leadership personalities in the [county district] would change matters for the better. It did not.”

Community members headed an effort to establish a separate school district for the Jacksonville area.

“To date, efforts to establish a new school district in the Jacksonville area have not succeeded. The people involved have changed over the years but the effort continues,” states the report.

The affairs of the district were in such disarray in June 2011 that the Arkansas Department of Education dissolved the school board of the district and dismissed its superintendent.

The problems with the district are part of the reason the Jacksonville-North Pulaski area should be granted their own school district according to the report.

“The Commissioner of Education services as the [district’s] school board, and he has appointed a superintendent,” according to the report. “The time is right for the formation of a school district in the Jacksonville area.”

Current leaders in the effort to form a school district in the Jacksonville area believe that the community is better positioned to provide excellent educational opportunities for students in their area than the district.

“That belief is based on the view that the new district will be composed of a citizenry with an established sense of community focused on the Jacksonville area and the Little Rock Air Force Base,” states the report. “The new district would include approximately 100 contiguous square miles containing one incorporated city. The [county district] is comprised of approximately 730 square miles that includes all or parts of several incorporated cities.”

Geographically, the district is a doughnut around the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock and the Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts.

The goals of the leaders seeking the formation of the new district are as follows: Provide academic excellence; Establish a safe environment; Ensure equal and equitable educational opportunity; Improve facilities and establish standards of maintenance; Assure an effective student-teacher ratio; Improve communication between administration, staff and parents; Encourage parent participation and Restore pride in Jacksonville-area schools.

“Six studies support formation of a school district in the Jacksonville area,” states the report.

Two such studies were conducted by ECS Planning and Management Services Inc. and were completed in 1978 and in November 2002. The third study, referred to as the “Gordon Report,” was commissioned by the state department of education “to conduct an analysis to evaluate and determine the most feasible public school structure that will best meet the educational needs in Pulaski County and to provide recommendations as to how the ongoing school desegregation litigation in Pulaski County might be ended.”

The fourth study was completed by Dr. Don Stewart in August 2008 while the fifth one was completed by Dr. William M. Gordon and William R. Gordon in 2010. The 2010 report includes the several conclusions:

The new district would meet all requirements for Unitary Status. “The Jacksonville schools have met the Green factors in good faith to the extent practicable.”

Past studies also had concluded that the Jacksonville area breaking off from PCSSD would not adversely impact unitary status for that district.

The report indicates that the sixth report is the current feasibility study.

There are two actions taken by the school board that directly relate to the matter of forming a new Jacksonville-area school district, according to the report.

In a school board meeting held on April 14, 2009, the board adopted a resolution regarding repayment of second lien bonds that included the following its acknowledgment of a new and independent Jacksonville School District.

In addition, the school board did calculate bonds for the construction of new a new Oak Grove and Sylvan Hills high schools that did not require a to-be-formed Jacksonville School District to assume more than its proportionate share of those bonds now existing within the county district, states the report.

At its meeting of July 29, 2009, the district adopted a resolution which expressed support for the creation of a Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District.

“The [county district] acknowledges that there will not be a Jacksonville/North Pulaski school district unless and until such proposed district complies … (state code)… including if necessary approval of the presiding federal district judge in the desegregation case.”

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