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State takes over Pine Bluff School District, designates it as being in fiscal distress

by Cynthia Howell | September 13, 2018 at 4:04 p.m.

The state has taken over the Pine Bluff School District, dissolving its school board and removing its interim superintendent.

It brings to four the number of districts now being operated by the state.

The Arkansas Board of Education took two votes Thursday. The first vote designated the Pine Bluff district as being in fiscal distress, a label that immediately bars the district from spending money without prior state agency approval and put the district in jeopardy of state takeover.

Then the board took a vote to remove the elected board from power and remove the interim superintendent. A state-appointed superintendent could be named as soon as Friday.

The identification of the 3,600-student district as fiscally distressed is based on the school system’s declining annual balances “as well as other conditions that jeopardize the fiscal integrity of the district and negatively impact the continuation of educational services,” Cynthia Smith, the Education Department’s coordinator of fiscal services and support, has written to district leaders.

The Pine Bluff School District was previously classified as fiscally distressed in 1998. That label was removed in 2000.

The identification of the district as being in fiscal distress — defined as when yearly expenditures routinely exceed revenue — comes at a time when the district’s leadership is in transition and student academic achievement is low.

The School Board voted in late June to buy out Superintendent Michael Robinson’s contract for $50,000. Robinson had held the job for two school years. The School Board selected Monica King McMurray, who was the district’s executive director of learning services, to be interim superintendent. McMurray will now return to that former position.

Two Arkansas school districts — Dollarway and Earle — are currently classified as fiscally distressed and both are operating under state control with state-appointed superintendents and without locally elected school boards. Education Commissioner Johnny Key acts in place of the school boards in those systems.

Dollarway, like Pine Bluff, is in Jefferson County.

The state also has run the Little Rock School District since January 2015. The Little Rock district is being operated by the state because of its designation as being in academic distress.

Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.


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