Little Rock School Superintendent Mike Poore today announced the district’s latest plans for budget cuts in order to contend with a $37 million loss in state desegregation aid. The plan calls for the closure of Franklin and Wilson elementary schools, as well as the Woodruff Early Childhood Center.
Students attending the Hamilton Learning Academy would move to the Wilson campus. Poore announced that Carver Elementary, which had previously been considered for closure, will remain open.
Poore cited the revival of business and commercial developments near Carver as one reason to keep the school, located on the city's east side. He said the developments would likely attract new residents.
"It makes sense for us to continue to have as many school options and opportunities over there," he said. "We also look at Carver as a magnet. When students come into Carver, they stay."
Students who currently attend Wilson would be reassigned to Bale, Brady, Romine and Western hills elementary schools. Those attending Franklin would be reassigned to Stephens elementary.
Those currently attending Woodruff would go to pre-K programs at Marttin Luther King or Carver elementaries.
Total budget reductions for the 2017-18 school year would total at least $11.5 million. That number is part of about $41.7 million dollars in cuts either planned or implemented from 2014 to 2018.
Poore said that if the closures and reassignments are approved, the district would begin accepting public proposals for repurposing the campuses affected by closure. He left open the possibility that charter schools could apply for use of the campuses, but said he didn’t see a need for charters as the district had enough open seats on the elementary level.
Poore said he was appointing Sadie Mitchell, the district’s associate superintendent of elementary education, to lead a transition team to work on assimilating cultures of students and teachers who would be affected by closures. Mitchell would also work with the district’s human resources department on the future of affected staff. The transition team would also accomplish other logistical elements involved with closing schools and consider ideas for repurposing Franklin and Woodruff.
Poore said he expects a process where any community member can submit business proposals for the affected sites.
The district budget also includes some staffing reductions on the administrative and high school level. Poore also announced a district-wide hiring freeze. Other reductions include adjusting transportation routes and instituting energy conservation measures.
Poore also reiterated that a special election would be held on March 14 to extend the district’s debt. He said passage of the proposal would be critical to going forward with plans to build a new southwest Little Rock high school. The district has $300 million in capital and facilities needs, he said.
Poore said his administration arrived at decisions after considering public comments at several community meetings over the last few months.
“When you think about trying to overcome budget issues, these things are not easy things to try to handle. You try to be as transparent and inclusive as possible. And I have no doubt there will be detractors…saying 'he wasn’t inclusive enough. He didn’t do enough community meetings.' But I feel like we have reached out in a variety of different ways,” he said.
A coalition of parents and community members opposing the closings and cuts released this statement earlier today.
On Wednesday and Thursday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. the superintendent will be at Franklin and then Wilson to hear more feedback from community members.
This post was updated at 6:13pm on 1/17/17.