Jacksonville and the north Pulaski County area moved closer to divorcing the rest of the Pulaski County Special School District at Monday’s State Board of Education meeting. Meanwhile, two south Arkansas districts are marrying through a voluntary annexation.
Some in Jacksonville have long wanted to separate from a district that covers a sprawling land mass that also includes Sherwood, Maumelle and rural areas around Little Rock and North Little Rock. Pulaski County was classified in fiscal distress May 16, 2011, and the State Board voted that it will remain there Monday. The district also is under a federal desegregation order.
Patrick Wilson, an attorney with Wright, Lindsey and Jennings, presented a feasibility study to the State Board that he said demonstrated the area can support its own school district. He said the Pulaski County Special School District supports the move in part because school facilities in Jacksonville are in poor condition and are contributing to the district’s financial problems. In fact, the district has filed court pleadings in the desegregation case asking for the area to be detached.
Act 1274 by Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville) which was enacted this year, allows parts of school districts to request a detachment election. Ten percent of that area’s voters in the most recent general election must sign a petition. Perry and Wilson told the board that the proposed new district would have enough signatures by the State Board’s June meeting.
State Board members appeared supportive of the detachment, but questions remain – primarily about how the request would affect the desegregation order. The State Board must seek an advisory opinion from the Attorney General on the desegregation case and then must petition the court. Once all that is completed, an election would be ordered.
The State Board also would have to decide whether the current district’s fiscal distress designation would apply to the newly detached area.
Adding a new district would counteract a long-term trend. Since 1983, the number of Arkansas school districts has declined from 369 to 239 prior to this school year. After Wilson’s presentation, the State Board approved a voluntary annexation of the Bradley School District into the Emerson-Taylor School District.
The Bradley School District, formed in 1928 in Lafayette County, had watched its average daily membership drop to 357 students. Districts that fall below 350 face forced consolidation, so Bradley had sought a voluntary annexation with nearby districts and decided that Emerson-Taylor (Columbia County) was the best choice. Emerson-Taylor’s superintendent, James Hines, testified in favor of the annexation.