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State education body votes for PBSD limited authority board

by I.C. Murrell | December 8, 2022 at 3:37 p.m.
From left, former Pine Bluff School District educators Mattie Collins and Earlene Collins, and Pine Bluff lawyer Rosalind Mouser listen to a vote by the Arkansas Board of Education on installing a limited-authority board for the district during Thursday's regular meeting in Little Rock. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

LITTLE ROCK – A seven-person board with limited authority will lead the Pine Bluff School District in the near future.

The Arkansas Board of Education voted unanimously to allow the state-operated district to be represented by appointed community leaders who will refer all decision-making matters to Education Commissioner Johnny Key for final determination. A date for the initial meeting of the PBSD board has not been set as each appointee must go through training. State education leaders, however, have set a goal of restoring a limited-authority board to the district by January.

In the first of three related motions, the state board accepted Key’s recommendation to appoint to the PBSD board:

— Jomeka Edwards in Zone 1

— Lozanne Calhoun in Zone 2

— Ricky Whitmore in Zone 3

— Sederick Rice in Zone 4

— Charles Colen in Zone 5

— Stephen Broughton in Zone 6

— and Lori Walker Guelache in Zone 7

A five-member selection committee appointed the seven from a pool of 30 candidates recruited by interested district stakeholders who stressed the importance of the entire board representing zones that cover the Dollarway and Pine Bluff school districts before their July 2021 annexation. The Dollarway district included locations in the Altheimer Unified School District, which merged with Dollarway in 2006.

State board members approved the second motion, which stated once all members of the PBSD board have completed initial training organized by the Office of Coordinated Support and Service, the local board shall consider all matters that otherwise would be fielded by an elected body and make recommendations to Key.

As stated in the final motion, the Office of Coordinated Support and Service  will continue to report quarterly to the state board concerning district operations, and Key will make recommendations to the state board concerning transitions of authority to the local board “as appropriate.”

Thursday’s motions by the state board marked an important step toward a return to full local control for a recently annexed district that has been operated by the Arkansas Department of Education since September 2018, when the nine-member state body took over the PBSD citing “fiscal distress.”

Under state law, the Arkansas Department of Education has five years from takeover to restore a district to full local control, annex it with another district, consolidate it with another district or reconstitute it. By statute, the PBSD has until June 30, 2024 – the end of the fifth school year following its takeover – to be removed from fiscal distress.


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