The Sherwood Public Education Foundation on Dec. 11 announced its dismay with a single sentence in the proposed Pulaski County desegregation settlement while voicing its overall support for the settlement that would end the decades-old desegregation case and accompanying payments from the state to the county’s three school districts.
“We agree with most Arkansans that this long overdue settlement agreement is needed in Arkansas, but we are here today to express our profound disappointment with a last-minute change to the proposed desegregation settlement,” Foundation co-chair Linda Remele said at today’s press conference.
The group’s concern is specifically with Paragraph E of the proposed settlement, which allows Jacksonville to pursue its own school district. In the final stages of negotiations, and without the knowledge of the Foundation or political leaders in Sherwood, a final sentence was added that reads, “The State will oppose the creation of any other school districts from PCSSD’s territory until PCSSD is declared fully unitary and is released from federal court supervision.”
“We are supportive of that opportunity for our neighboring city, and we had no problems with that paragraph until that sentence was added. It has unfair, negative consequences for our community.” Remele said. “It begs the obvious question - why is it allowable for one community to create its own school district, yet not for Sherwood?”
In 2004, citizens of Sherwood determined that a community-based and community-run school district would be in the best interest of Sherwood and its students.
Earlier this year, the Sherwood City Council passed a resolution to establish the official Sherwood Public Education Foundation with the Mayor Virginia Hillman appointing its members. The foundation has been pursuing the process outlined by Arkansas law to create a Sherwood Public School District, including holding public meetings and initiating a feasibility study.
“What may surprise you is that the proposed Sherwood School District is a true microcosm of PCSSD,” said Foundation co-chair Beverly Williams, adding that:
• PCSSD is 44.5 percent white; the proposed Sherwood district would be 45.5 percent white
• PCSSD is 43.5 percent black, the proposed Sherwood district would be 44 percent black
• PCSSD is 6.5 percent Hispanic; Sherwood would be 6 percent Hispanic.
• PCSSD enrollment has 55.5 percent of its students qualifying free or reduced-price lunch; Sherwood would have 58 percent qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.
• Both PCSSD and the proposed Sherwood district have 12 percent enrolled in special education.
“If you look at our test scores, you will see that Sherwood schools are high performing schools as well,” Williams said.
Hillman said Sherwood needs to have local control of its schools because the city has grown from being a bedroom community to be the 14th largest city in the state. In terms of enrollment, the Sherwood School District would be in the top 20 districts in the state - right in line with Benton and El Dorado.
“The governor of this state for eight years has proclaimed the connection between quality education and economic development,” Hillman said. “Sherwood embraces that philosophy. We are in a position to grow and to continue our educational economic progress, but, frankly, that is hindered by not having local control over our school district.”
Sherwood Public Education Foundation and city of Sherwood leaders have met with Governor Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to express their concerns.
“We were told that the 1989 settlement and Judge Wilson’s order of 2003 precludes the carving out of a new school district until the Pulaski County Special School District is declared unitary,” Remele said. “Therefore, we felt it was imperative for us to go on the record expressing our disappointment with this one sentence in Paragraph E and to assure the citizens of Sherwood that we will continue our efforts to establish the Sherwood School District.”