Former Pine Bluff School Board Member Sounds Off on Takeover

Education

PINE BLUFF, Ark. — A former Pine Bluff school board member is sounding off on mismanagement he says led to a state takeover of the school district.

The Arkansas Department of Education took over the district two weeks ago because of financial problems.

Henry Dabner was a member of the ousted school board. He says the old board consistently made budget decisions for the wrong reasons that ultimately left the district in financial distress. 

“It’s not your money. No one should be out taking money from our kids. We need to put every dime into those kids,” he said. “Some people in Pine Bluff don’t care about kids. They care about how much money they can make and the status that they sit in.”

As more students left the district, funding from the state dropped, but  Dabner says spending grew. 

“We knew that we were overstaffed,” Dabner said. “Some of the board members were looking at more of individuals who were friends or they were related to.”

Earlier this year the state recommended cutting staff to help save the district. The Department of Education outlined staffing changes that should be made in the schools. Dabner says the board ignored those suggestions, instead opting to reorganize. He says in some cases that left administrative staff who should have been cut, getting raises because of how the district’s pay schedule was organized. 

“It was name change on different jobs and we didn’t cut. For instance the Assistant Principal was changed over to Academic Dean,” he said. “Those positions shouldn’t have existed.”

Dabner says the board also met with Stephens Inc. and was offered free financial restructuring help, but Dabner says the board voted it down. 

As the state-appointed Superintendent, Dr. Jeremy Owoh takes the reins, he calls that decision making a thing of the past.

“We definitely want to look at those types of positions that we could cut from our overall staffing,” he said. “We’re still working and looking through financial agreements, contracts and things of that sort.”

Dr. Owoh says auditors are going through the district’s spending to make sure all funds are accounted for. He says auditors are also going through employee contracts, to see if staff meet their job descriptions. 

“I’m all in for the work that it’s going to take,” he said. “We also need to focus on the instructional part and take care of the students that we currently have.”

Dabner agrees, the focus needs to shift back to students.

“It’s about everybody’s child and you want everybody’s child to succeed,” he said. “They should get the best that we have to offer.”

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