The state Board of Education has voted unanimously to allow an election to determine if Jacksonville can create its own school district.
The community has long sought to split from the Pulaski County Special School District, a development that was allowed as part of a settlement reached earlier this year that ended years of state desegregation payments to three Pulaski County school districts.
Patrick Wilson, an attorney for the Jacksonville Community Group, called it a "major step" in a long process for Jacksonville to seek its own district. Members of the group, which has long sought such a district, burst into applause after the board's vote Thursday.
"It felt fantastic," Wilson said. "We have waited for this day for a long time ... We've had several good steps in this process. Today is by far the best. We're going to get to vote, we're going to get to decide our own fate and we're going to get to have our own school district."
The district would be called the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District if approved.
State law provides for the vote to come at the next general election or school election. Wilson said officials intend to have it on the ballot during the Sept. 16 school election. He added that supporters of the district believe the ballot measure will succeed.
"We feel good about our chances in an up-or-down vote on an election," he said. "The people of Jacksonville have wanted their own school district and wanted to be able to determine how they run their schools for a long time."
Before the vote Thursday, board member Samuel Ledbetter commended Jacksonville for its efforts.
"If every community was as committed to public education as Jacksonville, our job would be a lot easier," he said. "The perseverance for the last 15 years on this is really amazing. I have no doubt that this will succeed."
If the district is approved, the state Board of Education would appoint a seven-member board for the district for a two-year transition period. At some point during that stretch, voters would elect a school board that would continue after the two-year period and hire a superintendent.