LITTLE ROCK The superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District has been removed and the board dissolved amid ongoing financial problems revealed in state audits.
Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell announced Monday afternoon the state would take control of the troubled district. He said he made the decision in consultation with Gov. Mike Beebe and noted that the district had "exhibited a lack of basic financial accountability."
"The whole tone at the top ... continued to be a problem," Kimbrell said during a news conference at Department of Education headquarters in Little Rock. "When the leader of the district is making decisions that are in violation of policies of the district, you need to go in a different direction."
Kimbrell's move came a little more than a week after the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee issued a unanimous, non-binding recommendation that the state Department of Education take over the Pulaski County district because of ongoing problems.
Superintendent Charles Hopson was reportedly informed of the changes Monday afternoon.
Kimbrell said conversations with Hopson and other district officials were professional, but he declined to elaborate on the talks. He said the state is not obligated to fulfill Hopson's contract.
Former PCSSD Superintendent Bobby Lester, who retired in 1999 after 34 years in the district, will lead it on an interim basis, answering directly to Kimbrell. Phyllis Stewart, Department of Education chief of staff, will assist Lester.
The troubles facing the Pulaski County Special district were first revealed in April 2010 after the Division of Legislative Audit uncovered numerous financial and organizational issues. Three months later, the Department sent a letter identifying the audit findings as "extremely serious" and warning the district could be placed on fiscal distress.
The State Board of Education placed the district on fiscal distress in May, a move that allowed Kimbrell to exercise the state takeover.
The announcement came hours after a similar move with the Helena-West Helena School District.
In addition to the financial difficulties revealed in the audit, the Pulaski County Special School District may have to make millions in budget cuts after a May 19 federal court ruling that freed the state from paying desegregation funds.
The Pulaski County district, along with the Little Rock School District and the North Little Rock School District, received about $70 million in annual desegregation money before U.S. District Judge Brian Miller's ruling ending the funding.
The districts appealed and are awaiting a decision from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on whether the funding will continue until the appeal process is complete.
Kimbrell referred questions on the legality of the desegregation funding to the attorney general's office. He said officials are already looking at ways to trim the budget but that it's too early to say what that will mean in terms of jobs or other cuts.
"It's never easy," Kimbrell said. "It's never easy to cut budget, whether it's in state government or the school district."
Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.
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Print Headline: Superintendent dismissed, board dissolved