LITTLE ROCK, AR – A State Board of Education subcommittee heard from small towns and big cities vying for changes to boundaries of school districts in Pulaski County, with a report to the full board expected in June.
You might not think a map and some colored blocks could translate into a real difference for kids.
“It’s not a workable plan as far as we’re concerned,” said Martin Gipson, representing the Scott community at a special State Board of Education Meeting on Wednesday.
The subcommittee of the board is reviewing school district boundaries within Pulaski County, prompted by two districts being under state control and the end of desegregation litigation that has lasted for decades.
“We’re punishing our students. We’re punishing families by forcing them to stay at PCSSD,” said Shannon Hills Mayor Mike Kemp.
Shannon Hills is entirely in Saline County, but a portion of the town is counted inside the Pulaski County Special School District. Kemp wants for the rest of the community to be annexed into the Bryant School District.
“I knew this was tricky, but I did not know how complicated it was,” said Jay Barth, chair of the subcommittee. “When I took a look at the map and saw I began to see how complex this puzzle really was.”
The subcommittee heard from those who would like to create new districts by leaving PCSSD, like those from Sherwood.
“We would not hurt Pulaski County but having local control for students,” Beverly Williams of the Sherwood Education Foundation told the committee.
PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess would like to see the state keep things the way they are for the moment, as he wrote in this letter to the committee. He’d like to see how the districts perform once desegregation has come to an end.
“Give us a chance to serve those communities well without some of the turmoil that has been associated with public education here in Pulaski County,” Guess said. “Without desegregation hanging over them, I think the service in these districts will look much different.”
If that is not an option, Guess would not encourage carving out new districts, but eliminating them altogether for one county-wide district.
“That is not my first preference, but I do think it could be considered,” Guess said. “I think that first reaction is from people that it’s too big a district to run well, I don’t believe it’s true I do believe it could be run well, by the same token my first line of reaction is they should be left to run as they currently are.”
“I am against a county-wide school district idea,” said Michael Watson, Mayor of Maumelle. “A superintendent cannot manage that, it’s a nightmare waiting to happen.”
Guess noted that PCSSD is currently working to get a millage increase passed, with the election slated for May 12. He’s concerned that talks about boundaries and new districts could hurt the millage’s chances and an opportunity for improvements to facilities for kids across the district.
“Local support for that issue is critical,” he said. “If they think this is all going to happen and new districts are coming, they may not turn out to vote.”
Representatives for Sherwood voiced their support for the millage increase, noting it would benefit Sherwood students, especially if changes are slow to come or if the status quo remains. They encouraged other communities in the district to support it as well.
With so many issues, the committee is trying to absorb the options.
“Sponging it up is a good way to put it – we’ve been collecting a lot of information on it,” Barth said.
And whether lines are drawn on maps or in the sand, change could be coming to the face of Pulaski County education. The committee plans to set a public comment meeting to hear from community members across the county and it will provide a report to the State Board of Education during its June meeting.
“At that point, we’ll know what if anything comes next,” Barth said.