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State to pare staff of east Arkansas school district

Eighty employees of the Helena-West Helena School District soon will be cut from the staff after state officials took over the financially troubled district, Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell told lawmakers Thursday.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Eighty employees of the Helena-West Helena School District soon will be cut from the staff after state officials took over the financially troubled district, Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell told lawmakers Thursday.

Kimbrell said that he expected to send out letters on Friday telling the employees that they won't be retained for the coming school year. Kimbrell said the letters are going to 13 certified personnel such as teachers and counselors, 63 other staff and four administrators.

"It's unfortunate that this was not done early in the year so that people would have an opportunity to seek other employment," Kimbrell told members of the House and Senate education committees. "It's a tough, tough deal and it will be hard on the community as well as those individuals who lose their employment."

Helena-West Helena was one of two school districts taken over by the state on June 20 after it had been on a list of fiscally distressed schools since 2010. Since taking over the district, the state found that it had not finished teacher and staff contracts, didn't have class schedules and many students weren't on track to graduate.

Kimbrell said that the Helena-West Helena had about 200 teachers at the time of the takeover, which is nearly double the amount it needs for a district of about 2,100 students.

"If you look, they've lost just hundreds of kids and I think the easiest thing is they had lots of leadership change occurring and just hired people back in those positions and didn't sit back and develop a staffing model and allocate staff based on what the need was," Kimbrell said.

In addition to the cutbacks, about 50 teachers have either retired or resigned, Kimbrell said. The district is expected to save more than $2 million through the cutbacks, resignations and retirements.

The takeover of both districts has been controversial as the state seeks to end annual desegregation payments to Pulaski County along with the Little Rock and North Little Rock districts. U.S. District Judge Brian Miller recused himself from the desegregation case due to what he said were his "deeply held personal opinions" about the Helena-West Helena takeover.

Miller in May ordered an end to most of the $70 million a year the state pays the districts for student transfers and other programs to advance desegregation. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then stayed the effect of Miller's ruling and is scheduled to hear the case in September.

Kimbrell said the state has become more worried about a declining fund balance in Pulaski County since it took over the district. Assistant Commissioner Bill Goff said it appears that Pulaski County's fund balance for the year has decreased from $9.5 million to $2.7 million.

"It's an indication that there was deficit spending in this last fiscal year, which means we're going to have to address that very quickly," Kimbrell said. "Not to mention the fact that we're going to have to address the issue of the desegregation money and the eventual end of those funds going to the school district."

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Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo

 

©2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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