The Fort Smith Public School Board on Monday (Sept. 28) voted to endorse a public enrollment charter school planned for the district, with two new Board members likely playing a role in what turned out to be a wider vote margin than expected.
An application for Future School was filed July 28 with the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). Trish Flanagan, director of the effort, and other charter school supporters will on Oct. 14 present the plant to state education officials in Little Rock.
With charter approval, the school would begin in 2016 with 150 students in 10th grade, and would add 15 students and a grade each year until by year three the school would be home to grades 10-12 and 450 students. Funding for the school would come from the Arkansas Department of Education.
School Board members grilled Flanagan and charter school supporters during a Monday (Sept. 14) committee meeting. Most Board members were concerned about the money the district would lose if the charter is approved. Because the charter school is open enrollment, students from any school district in the state may attend. If by year four there are 400 of the 450 students from the Fort Smith School District, the district would see a reduction in state funds of around $2.7 million.
Based on the Sept. 14 meeting, it appeared likely a neutral stance would be the best the charter school would get from the School Board.
However, Monday was the first night on the School Board for Bill Hanesworth and Gilkey who won by wide margins in the Sept. 15 school board election. Hanesworth, a former plant manager at Rheem’s Fort Smith operation, received 2,333 votes, or 71.54%. compared to just 928 votes for incumbent Rick Wade. Gilkey received 900 votes, or 75.3%. compared to 295 votes for incumbent Russell Owen.
Hanesworth and Gilkey were supportive of the charter school during their campaigns.
Before the School Board debated the issue, Fort Smith School Superintendent Dr. Benny Gooden said the Board has “no bearing on approval or non-approval” of the charter school. He said a vote to endorse, oppose or remain neutral are “all three are very viable, and not unreasonable options.”
Board Member Jeannie Cole moved that the Board take no position, with that seconded by Yvonne Keaton-Martin. But Gilkey, Hanesworth and Board member David Hunton spoke in favor of the charter school. Hanesworth said “there is going to be a change in the way we teach kids” and the district should embrace it.
“I would hope the school board would get behind this change,” Hanesworth said.
Hunton also said change in public education is inevitable.
“This is going to happen. … To me it makes the most sense to try to work with them,” Hunton said.
The vote for Cole’s motion to take no position failed 4-2. A motion to endorse the school followed, and succeeded with a 5-1 vote, with Cole being the lone vote against it.