Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More legal wrangling aimed at saving two tiny schools

Recent issues of the Newton County Times discuss the latest efforts by two small schools in the Arkansas Ozarks to prevent their consolidation. I wrote about the schools' legal and fiscal actions this spring, here and here. A related story about how Arkansas funds schools is here.

The August 17, 2011 issue of the newspaper reports that the lawyer for the Deer-Mt. Judea School District has asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to reconsider a circuit court ruling that dismissed the District's suit that protest the state's school funding method. The District is arguing that its concerns arose after a 2007 Arkansas Supreme Court decision in a case called Lake View, which found the state's school funding formula constitutional. The Deer-Mt. Judea District is asserting that inadequate transportation funding by the state forces small school districts that cover a lot of territory to divert funding from other programs to cover transportation costs. The District has asked the state to establish a maximum one-way bus ride of 45 minutes for public school students, and to bar the state education board from closing small, remote schools.

Under Act 57 of 2003, the educational-funding structure law, funding targets districts of 500 students using factors such as transportation and personnel. Per-student funding is based on this calculation. The state deems districts with fewer than 350 students too small to guarantee an adequate education.

The September 14, 2011 issue of the paper reports that the Arkansas Supreme Court has given the state a three-week extension to respond to the Deer-Mt. Judea District filing. It also reports on a meeting of the Deer-Mt. Judea School Board at which district patrons asked the Board what its plan is in the event the lawsuit fails. One patron seemed to suggest that the District should be making overtures to the Jasper District, with whom it may have to consolidate. The Superintendent responded, "Our official stand is to wait until the lawsuit is over."

Other issues of the paper indicate that other area schools are closely monitoring whether they will be able to keep their schools, as indicated in reports of each school district's enrollment. The A front-page story in the August 24, 2011 issue is headlined "Ozark Mountain reports 663." This means that the Ozark Mountain District's three schools have that total enrollment, and the story indicates it is broken down 244 students in Bruno-Pyatt (Pyatt has a population of 373), 238 in Western Grove (population 518), and 181 in St. Joe (population 109). Bear in mind that, prior to consolidation in 2004, each of these schools was its own district, with its own superintendent. Districts like Ozark Mountain that were formed out of the 2004 consolidation have already achieved some economies of scale.

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