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Alderman eyes new school district

Maumelle’s new Ward Three alderman Preston Lewis has plans to create a new school district in Maumelle.

At the end of Monday evening’s City Council meeting, Lewis said he thought it was time for Maumelle to break away from the Pulaski County Special School District and create it’s own district.

He said the larger more burdensome district is bringing down the level of education in Maumelle because of all the issues it faces.

The PCSSD is so spread out around the county it would take weeks just to get around to each school, he said.

Lewis said he plans to offer a resolution at the next council meeting on April 1 to encourage the start of a campaign to withdraw from the district.

He said he’d researched the issue and while it’s a long burdensome task, the value to Maumelle is more than worth the effort.

Lewis said he’d met with Bill Goff, chief financial officer for PCSSD. Goff held a similar position with the state before being sent to PCSSD when the state dissolved its board and took it over two years ago.

The lack of local representation is one of the key reasons why Maumelle needs its own district.

Although Lewis said the move to succeed and create a new Maumelle district would be much easier if the federal courts ever rule the PCSSD unitary and withdraw federal oversight, he said he thinks a case can be made to begin the process before then and believed Maumelle could convince the federal judge to allow Maumelle to separate.

Jacksonville has been trying to do the same thing for over a decade and the Arkansas State Department of Education has said it will be about a seven to ten-year process once the unitary decision is made. They have hired lobbyists, attorneys and created a community wide basis of support for the move claiming their schools are the worst in the district. They have even gotten the blessing of the PCSSD former board of trustees to make the move pending state and federal approval.

In contrast, Maumelle has the newest schools in the district with its new high school, a relatively new middle school and a recently expanded and renovated elementary school.

Lewis said the biggest hurdle would be determining how much of the PCSSD’s debt the Maumelle district would have to assume.

Regardless of how long it takes, the move to start the process should begin now, he said.

Asked if he’d had any contacts with the Jacksonville supporters to test their reaction and solicit ideas, Lewis said they’d proven difficult to communicate with.

He also said he had not contacted the last board member from Maumelle, Tim Clark, who as president bucked Jacksonville to win their support for a new Maumelle High School when previously they’d fought tooth and nail attempting to stop it — even having their coalition leader and hired lobbyist come to Maumelle the day of the school’s groundbreaking along with a state representative both cities shared — then Rep. Jane English and try and stop the school’s construction.

Clark negotiated a deal through which Jacksonville didn’t lobby the state legislators and others to stop construction.

Clark applauded Lewis’ efforts but said the base of support needs to be widespread across the Maumelle business, commercial and residential population. He also said the research needs to be more than just talking with Goff who has a conflict of interest in his current and former positions to keep Maumelle within the PCSSD fold noting this area contributes more tax dollars per capita than any other.

Maumelle could and should learn a great deal from the lengthy Jacksonville process, Clark said.

“There’s no reason to reinvent the egg when our friends in Jacksonville have more than ten years of blood, sweat and toil into the effort. We may need to tweak the system some but we can learn a great deal from them,” Clark said.

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