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State ed board orders election on Jacksonville district

The state Board of Education on Thursday ordered an election on the detachment of the proposed Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District from the Pulaski County Special School District.

The board was unanimous in approving a request from a group of Jacksonville and north Pulaski County residents for an election on their proposal to detach from the existing Pulaski County district and form their own district.

“There have been quite a few very important steps in this process. Today is the most important. Today is the best day. Our people are going to get to decide,” Patrick Wilson, an attorney for the group proposing detachment, told the board after the vote.

No date was set for the election, but it must be held at the same time as the Sept. 16 school election or the Nov. 4 general election. Wilson said the group expects to hold the election Sept. 16.

In July, the board validated a petition signed by 2,709 residents of the area proposed for detachment. The petition needed 1,808 valid signatures of residents, or 10 percent of the registered voters in the area.

In January, a federal judge approved a settlement agreement allowing the state to end decades of desegregation payments to the three public school districts in Pulaski County and clearing the way for the Jacksonville detachment.

State Education Department lawyer Jeremy Lasiter told the board that if the community votes for detachment, a two-year transitional period will begin.

Lasiter said the new district at first would remain under the leadership of the Pulaski County district — which currently is under state control because of fiscal distress — but the state board would appoint a seven-member advisory board to help guide the new district, and at some point during the traditional period a school board would be elected. The school board would then hire a superintendent.

Ivory Tillman of the NAACP asked the board to ensure that the advisory board is representative of the area’s population.

“We are not trying to hold up anything. We are just asking for equal representation on the initial appointed board,” he said.

“Mr. Tillman, we hear you,” said board member Sam Ledbetter of Little Rock.

Ledbetter also praised the Jacksonville residents for their perseverance in seeking their own district, an effort that has lasted 15 years.

“If every community was as committed to public education as Jacksonville, our job would be a lot easier,” he said.

Board member Jay Barth of Little Rock said he believed everything had been done “in a first-rate way,” but he had some concerns about “doing this one piece in a county that’s complex.”

“In an ideal world, we would look at all of these district lines in this county a little more holistically,” he said.

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