LITTLE ROCK The state Board of Education unanimously approved consolidating the Turrell School District into neighboring, much-larger Marion School District this morning despite objections by Marion officials prior to the vote.
Turrell's student enrollment fell below the 350 threshold required for districts to continue and previous efforts at a voluntary merger stalled. That set the stage for the Board to act to combine Turrell with one of its five contiguous school districts.
Turrell district consolidated into MarionWatch Video
In remarks before the vote, Marion Superintendent Don Johnston said officials there did not want to take on the approximately 250 Turrell students. He listed several reasons, including a lack of space, a 19-mile bus ride for some younger students and the fact that Marion has already absorbed another district. It did so in 2004 with the Crawfordsville School District consolidation.
Johnston also noted the Marion population of black and white students is already "more balanced" than the other potential districts for consolidation.
"Placing the Turrell School District in a district other than the Marion or Earle School District would have a more positive effect on desegregation," he said.
Afterward, Johnston said the district will support the decision.
"We look forward to working with the students in the Turrell School District to become an important part of the Marion School District," he said before declining to answer additional questions.
Marion has an enrollment of more than 4,000 students.
Turrell School District Superintendent Alfred Hogan spoke during the meeting in favor of a Marion merger and afterward called the eventual vote the "best decision." He said he can understand why Marion wouldn't want to add additional students because of financial reasons in a tough economy and space issues.
"They have to protect their territory," he said. "We did what we thought was best."
Calling it a "tough" issue, state Education Commissioner Tom W. Kimbrell recommended consolidating Turrell into Marion because doing so would give the students a "good opportunity to get a good education."
"We think that is what will best meet the needs of those children for today and tomorrow," he said.
In other news at the meeting, the board heard a status report on a plan to have the Twin Rivers School District in north Arkansas consolidated into all six surrounding districts.
The board voted in February to take over and split up the district because of accreditation violations there.
Kimbrell praised the superintendents from the six contiguous districts - Highland, Hillcrest, Mammoth Spring, Maynard, Pocahontas and Sloan-Hendrix - for working cooperatively in developing the plan to take on more than 300 students from the Twin Rivers schools.
A vote on the consolidation will come at a later meeting with the change expected to go into effect July 1.
"This plan is a first plan," Kimbrell said near the conclusion of the report this morning. "It is a first attempt to try to do what we've got to do to resolve the school district and make it work better for the kids and their educational opportunities in the future."
Employee contracts in the Twin Rivers district will not be renewed for the 2010-2011 school year and an appraiser has been hired to begin the process of selling the district's land and property, officials said during the report.
Officials are also working on a plan to distribute supplies and equipment from Twin Rivers to the six other districts and the Imboden Charter School, which Kimbrell said may also serve former Twin Rivers students.
The board took its actions in February minutes after the Twin Rivers superintendent resigned. The district has been on probation since the 2007-08 school year.