The state Board of Education voted Thursday to take over the troubled Lee County School District, which was placed on academic distress last year and also faces serious financial problems.
In a 5-2 vote with one member abstaining, the board approved a measure removing the School Board and placing the district under the supervision of the Arkansas Department of Education. Superintendent Willie Murdock was retained.
The board decision came in the same week a three-member committee examined the problems of the Marianna district and recommended the takeover.
Problems raised in the district included divisiveness among teachers, a lack of curriculum beyond textbooks, a lack of communication and problems with scheduling. In January, 42 of 67 high school seniors were not on track to graduate.
The district's financial troubles are such that it will have to reduce staff immediately to cover its bills, the committee found. Enrollment, meanwhile, has dipped by 41 students in the past year.
Board member Vicki Saviers, who served on the committee and reported its findings to the full board, called the issues "huge concerns" that need to be addressed.
"It is our responsibility to do what we can for the students of Lee County. It's just been far too long," she said, calling the district's efforts to find quality teachers a "crisis" and an "emergency situation."
Board member Sam Ledbetter, who also served on the subcommittee, said the students in Lee County "are hungry to learn."
"They are well-behaved children, they are hungry for the right environment," he said. "And it's my feeling that they are our responsibility and we owe them that."
Saviers first proposed a motion in which the board removed both the School Board and Murdock. But Ledbetter followed with a substitute motion that retained Murdock while still removing the School Board but also handing control of the district to the Department of Education.
Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said Murdock could be removed later by the state board so long as the district remains under academic distress. She could be removed by Kimbrell if the district is declared under financial distress.