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New Jacksonville school district not if but when

In the long journey to have its own school district, Jacksonville’s next step is an attorney general’s opinion.

A request has been made, said Jeremy Lassiter, an attorney for the state Department of Education.

“We don’t have a timeline,” Lassiter said Monday. “We made the request last week and we’ll see.”

For the people of Jacksonville, a process that began nearly 50 years ago is starting to come to fruition and other cities in Pulaski County, namely Maumelle and Sherwood, are paying attention to what’s next.

“We’re real close to getting there,” said Jacksonville’s Daniel Gray, one of the prime movers behind the effort.

Getting there is a Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District that would encompass the city limits of Jacksonville, north Pulaski County and a sliver of Lonoke County that is already a part of the Pulaski County Special School District, which is currently under state control.

The schools that would be included in the new district are: Homer Adkins Pre-K, Bayou Meto Elementary, Taylor Elementary, Pinewood Elementary, Tolleson Elementary, Arnold Drive Elementary, Warren Dupree Elementary, Jacksonville Middle School, North Pulaski High School and Jacksonville High School

Dr. Jerry Guess, superintendent of the county district, is supporting the Jacksonville effort.

“It is a good business decision,” Guess said and explained that a new district like Jacksonville would be at the front of the line for state money to build new facilities. That wouldn’t be the case if Jacksonville remained in the county district.

“Jacksonville has wanted this for a long time and, as a result, they have done a lot of work to get this done,” Guess said of the feasibility study done on behalf of the district.

It isn’t just one study though.

“Seven,” Gray said. “We’ve had seven feasibility studies done.”

The new district would be roughly 100 square miles, around 4,500 students and 10 buildings. That would change though.

“Jacksonville has some of the greatest facility needs,” Guess said and Gray added that the county was looking at what could be done.

“There has been some planning, and some early discussions on how to replace those facilities,” he said. Among the possibilities would be consolidating to one high school for the city.

The request for state money couldn’t come though until the new district was approved, and first there’s the attorney general’s opinion.

“They’d go back to the state board after that,” Guess said, explaining the process. “Then a federal judge would have to consider the separation. The last step is an election, if the voters want to do it.

Gray is confident, that when it comes to an election, he knows how it will go.

“The support is as close to 100 percent as anything I’ve ever been a part of,” said Gray, who attended North Pulaski High School. “Everywhere I go. Everyone I talk to, they all want this to happen.”

While Jacksonville waits for what’s next, Maumelle has cast an eye on the goings on.

In April, the Maumelle City Council unanimously passed a resolution support a new school district, confined, mostly, to the current city limits and would include four schools: Maumelle High, Maumelle Middle and Pine Forest and Oak Grove elementaries.

Alderman Preston Lewis has been heading up that effort.

“Maumelle should have the right to form its own school districts rather than be partners in a dysfunctional district,” Lewis wrote in an e-mail but he was quick to point that that he wanted the county school district to be effective.

“I believe [Guess] to be the right man to put [the district] back on a road toward fiscal solvency. We also have a high school principal that has demonstrated some ambitious goals for our high school. We want them to succeed.”

Lewis said he looked around the state for comparably sized districts and found that cities like Malvern, Clarksville and Huntsville were comparable in terms of students but Maumelle didn’t necessarily have the tax base to support a district, particularly when things like bond indebtedness was considered.

“A Maumelle district would be costly,” Lewis wrote. “How much Maumelle would owe in bond indebtedness could be significant.”

It was bond money that paid for the new high school in Maumelle, among other things.

Lewis added a formal study, like the ones conducted for Jacksonville, had yet to be done for Maumelle.

Guess said that if Jacksonville were to achieve separation, the county district wouldn’t change.

“It would remain as it is currently configured,” Guess said. “Neither Maumelle or Sherwood has put in the work that Jacksonville has.”

Guess said the clock is ticking for Jacksonville.

“I think it would be hard to do for [20]14-15,” he said of a separate district. “But it could be very reasonable for [20]15-16.”

Gray agreed.

“The hard work is going to start when we get there,” he said. “So many things have to fall in place but it makes so much sense.

“So many pros, not many cons.”

On the web: ourowndistrict.com

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