|Updated: 6/20/2011 10:40 pm
||Published: 6/20/2011 2:24 pm
LITTLE ROCK, AR – The Arkansas Department of Education dissolved the school board of the Pulaski County Special School District and dismissed its superintendent, Dr. Charles Hopson. The move was announced Monday after a review of a legislative audit committee’s recommendation to get rid of the school board.
“There continued to be problems, even after those things continued to be pointed out, and we sent teams to work on the development of policies and the following through of policies. We did not see the kind of improvement we felt needed to be made in that period of time,” said Dr. Tom Kimbrell with the Arkansas Department of Education.
Dr. Kimbrell named Bobby Lester as the interim superintendent for the school district. Lester had served the district for 30 years, 15 of them as superintendent, before his retirement in 1999. "My heart wanted to come. My head told me I shouldn't, and my heart won out," said Lester.
Lester greeted staff in a closed door meeting Monday afternoon, many already having worked with him in the past. His primary focus is a smooth first day of school in August. He doesn't plan on coming out of retirement for long and knows fixing PCSSD's problems will take a while.
"I'm really embarrassed by the way it's been going the past few years,” said Lester. "I don't think I can clean all that up. That takes time. I'm hoping when they find someone that's going to be hired on a permanent basis, they'll have an opportunity to work with the department of education to work through these kinds of things."
This year, the district has made headlines for going on the fiscal distress list, for a former board member and former high school principal's involvement in an alleged bribery scheme, and for most likely losing its share of $70 million in desegregation funds, which now figures into the budget going into next year.
Kimbrell was unable to predict what effect the takeover and loss of desegregation money would have on employees of the school district. "I think, right now, everything's up in the air. We're going to have to develop a plan for meeting the needs of children and there are the issues of the desegregation funding going away. Those are going to have to be dealt with. What does that mean? Right now, I'd be guessing as to what that would mean from a staffing perspective. We've got to get in and find out what's there.”
Dr. Hopson will be paid through June 30th, plus any time off he had accrued. It is not known how long Lester will head the district or how much he will be compensated. For his part, Lester said he would do the work for free.