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State pulls 2 districts off fiscal distress list

by CYNTHIA HOWELL ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | November 15, 2011 at 5:55 a.m.

— The Arkansas Board of Education on Monday removed the Armorel and Yellville-Summit school districts from the state’s fiscal distress program, returning control of the finances to the local school boards and administrators.

Yellville-Summit, 813 students enrolled, was put into the distress program in December 2009 after legal balances had dropped by nearly half, from just more than $1 million to $563,700 in 2009-10. The amount has since grown to about $925,000.

The district in Marion County over time reduced its number of noncertified and certified positions, including one principal’s job.

The district also discontinued the use of portable buildings by relocating preschool students to the main campus, reduced substitute teaching costs by transferring a central administration employee into a full-time substitute teaching job, eliminating at least three bus routes and putting locked boxes on all thermostats.

The district also used federal stimulus funds to offset some personnel costs and issued second-lien bonds to replace the operating funds it was using for construction and to repay the balance due on a multipurpose building.

The 454-student Armorel district in Mississippi County was in the fiscal distress program a shorter time, having been classified as distressed in May 2010 after balances of $1.1 million dropped to $361,606 and then were plumped back up to $1.1 million in 2009-10 only with the addition of a $750,000 cash flow loan.

purpose of responding to the desegregation issue.

Askew said the proposed school “is designed for a minority population and a freeand-reduced lunch population.”

“From a desegregation point of view, that can have no adverse impact on the Little Rock School District even if Little Rock as a unitary district

That loan was repaid last December. The district ended this past school year with nearly $1.2 million in legal balances.

The district cut expenses by eliminating some certified and noncertified positions, and by reducing employee travel costs and costs for athletic and school field trips. The district discontinued paying employee benefits over and above state minimum requirements.

Superintendent Bruce Young acknowledged to the state Education Board that the Armorel district is considered a wealthy district because of the steel industry located there.

“Sometimes rich folks can spend too much,” Young said. In response to questions from Education Board members about how districts can best avoid fiscal distress, Young said a school board’s members must understand their district’s financial reports and if they don’t, they must ask questions.

Eight other districts remain in fiscal distress, including Pulaski County Special and the Helena-West Helena school districts that in June were taken over by the state, their superintendents dismissed and school boards dissolved.

The North Little Rock, Dermott, Earle, Forrest City, and Strong-Huttig school districts, along with the West Side School District in Cleburne County, also remain in the distress program.

The Arkansas Education Department staff plans to recommend to the Education Board in December that two additional districts be classified as fiscally distressed — the Cutter-Morning Star and Hermitage districts.

were permitted to entertain racial criteria in student assignments,” Askew said. He said that position is “unlawful” and the charter-school group is asserting that argument in the federal court case.

“Little Rock is unitary and may not use race the way the Little Rock district wants to use race to argue against the charter schools,” he said.

Front Section, Pages 7 on 11/15/2011

Print Headline: State pulls 2 districts off fiscal distress list

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