The community of Sherwood is unhappy with a section of the proposed Pulaski County Desegregation Settlement involving three school districts and the state of Arkansas. Members of the Sherwood Education Foundation spoke Wednesday at the Bill Harman Recreation Center of how the proposed settlement would prevent their city from easily carving its own school district out of the Pulaski County Special School District.
Linda Remele, co-chair of the foundation, said it is unfair that the proposed settlement allows Jacksonville to break away from the Pulaski County Special School District while other communities must still remain a part of the district. Though she did say her community supports the overall settlement.
“We are not interested in derailing the progress toward this final conclusion to the desegregation case with the state. However we do not want to sit silently by and just let this happen. We feel we needed to express our surprise [and] our extreme disappointment and dismay over the unequal treatment of the communities in the Pulaski County Special School District,” said Remmele.
The Pulaski County Special School District can be declared unitary if it demonstrates to the state that it has met criteria which eliminate effects of past segregation. Remmele said it is unfair that the proposed settlement allows Jacksonville to break away from the Pulaski County Special School District while other communities must still remain part of the district
She identified the disputed section of the agreement which she said was included at the last minute in the settlement negotiations.
"A sentence was added on to...paragraph E that says the state will oppose the creation of any other school districts from PCSSD territory until PCSSD is declared fully unitary and is released from federal court supervision,” She said.
The speakers also expressed doubts that the PCSSD will meet the state’s guidelines for unitary status anytime soon. They said that new criteria keep getting added to the definition of “unitary” status, causing the process to drag on.
The city has been working on a feasibility study to attain independent status, said the foundation’s other co-chair Beverly Williams. She explained that Sherwood has demonstrated that its student demographics mirror those of the PCSSD.
“To remove and detach a Sherwood school district from [the] Pulaski County [Special] School District in order for us to form our own would have no impact at all on Pulaski County’s current or future demographics of students. We want that to continue,” she said.
Williams noted that Sherwood had about the same percentage of black and white students, with percentages matching the PCSSD as well.
Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman also spoke at the gathering. She said Sherwood would gain economically by creating its own school district.
“Our Governor for the past 8 years has emphasized how important economic development is with quality education. And we have seen some of the results within our city by not having schools that our parents are confident in. And that is something when businesses want to locate our area...they review our school[s] and the situations we have going on and it really hinders our economic growth,” she said.
The Attorney General’s office has opened a period for public comments on desegregation settlement that lasts until December 23rd. All parties involved in the suit will meet in Federal District Court beginning December 13th for a fairness hearing.