The Little Rock School District board held its annual retreat on Friday evening to brainstorm about raising funds for needed school improvements costing up to $500 million. The board also wants to make a plan for improving six schools the state has categorized as being in distress.
According to school board president, Greg Adams, the board has a lot to parse out at the start of this school year.
“On the one hand, we would have the risk for academic distress because we have six schools for academic distress we need to make significant progress in. The other risk is because of our desegregation agreement we are looking at a loss of significant monies and funding in upcoming few years,” said Adams.
“And so we have to adjust our budget accordingly because if we don’t we could be in financial distress. So we have pressures coming from two different directions,” he added.
The board faces extra financial challenges as it anticipates the end of a $1.2 billion dollar desegregation settlement agreement from 1989. The state will pay nearly $70 million dollars to the district each year only until 2018.
For a low-cost academic boost, board members discussed the possibility of re-structuring one or two schools in distress. According to Dennis Glasgow, Associate Superintendent for Accountability, schools under a new structure can leave the state’s distressed category.As long as any local school is categorized as being in distress, the state has the right to take over the district.
“If it’s a new school doing new things it’s considered a new school, not the old school that was on academic distress” said Glasgow.
As a model, board members discussed whether Hall High School might be restructured and divided into academies, one of which would be a partnership with a local college or university to offer college credits for high school classes to incentivize students to get ahead.
School board member Jody Carriero said he hopes this could encourage a new buy-in among parents, students and teachers without adding new costs.
“If you do that significant of a reconstitution, many of the teachers will have to re-apply for their jobs, many will have to re-commit to be there. So if the students want to be a part of the change, the teachers want to be a part of the change then there’s a good opportunity for change,” explained Carriero.
The school board will meet again in early September to discuss possible tax rate increases for the 26,000 student district.
The school board will be seeking public input on possible financial and restructuring plans. School board members Jody Carreiro and Norma Johnson face an election on September 16th.