Fort Smith School Board president resigns; cites health reasons

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 651 views 

The president of the Fort Smith Public School Boards unexpectedly resigned her board position Monday (June 19) , effective immediately. The school board will discuss options of filling the vacancy at its regular meeting tonight.

FSPS announced the resignation of Dee Blackwell as a school board member and the board president Monday, citing family health challenges. Blackwell will officially submit her resignation letter to the school board at the board meeting.

“When one dedicates time to serving others, one understands the sacrifice to your regular routines and personal commitments. However, life is never predictable and sometimes an unexpected curveball comes your way. In the past year, my family has had a couple of curveballs,” Blackwell said in her resignation letter.

Last fall, Blackwell was diagnosed with breast cancer. She notes that with the support of the school board, FSPS Superintendent Dr. Terry Morawski, school district administration and staff, and her family, she was able to continue her role as school board president as she received treatment. However, Blackwell also has a child with a significant illness and has decided it is best for her to step down from her position.

“With great heartbreak, I must step down from my responsibilities as a member of the Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education and resign effective immediately,” Blackwell said. “I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the entire school board, Dr. Morawski, and the district administration for the tremendous support you have shown me throughout my tenure as a board member and board president. Serving the citizens of Fort Smith and the students of our community has truly been MY great honor and privilege.”

Dee Blackwell

Blackwell was first elected to the FSPS school board in March 2020 as the Zone III representative. She defeated challenger Ryan Goodwin to keep her seat in May 2022 when all seats for the board were up for election due to remapped zones following the 2020 census.

Because by state law only two board members are supposed to be up for election at one time, the board voted in fall 2021 to have a straw vote to determine the term lengths for all members. Board members drew cards June 20 for their term length. Blackwell drew a two-year term, to expire in 2024, and was also elected by the board as president.

During the regular board meeting tonight, the school board is set to act upon its annual election of officers, according to the meeting’s agenda. Afterward, the board will discuss the options for filling Blackwell’s seat, a release from the district said.

Arkansas Code 6-13-611 states that if a vacancy occurs on the school district board of education, the vacancy shall be filled by the appointment of an individual who is a qualified elector of the school district and who resides in the same zone. That appointment can be made by a majority of the remaining board members or the Sebastian County Quorum Court if there are several vacancies at the same time, resulting in less than a majority of the board remaining, or the school board fails to fill the vacancy within 30 days.

Dalton Person, school board secretary and Fort Smith attorney, said the board should be able to either vote on someone if there is an interested party or open the position for applications and then vote. He said because the term would expire next spring, there should not be any need for a special election. He said whoever fills the position would fulfill the term and could then run for re-election if they so choose.

Blackwell moved to Fort Smith in the summer of 2013. She said when her oldest child started public school that year, she began volunteering any way needed at his elementary school.

“It quickly became clear to me the role and importance of the public school system in this community. During the past 10 years of volunteering in many different capacities within Fort Smith Public Schools, I have only grown in respect, appreciation, admiration, and love for both the people who work with our students every day and our students themselves,” Blackwell said.

The school board meets at 5:30 p.m. tonight at the FSPS Service Center.