Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said a very significant event which took place last year was progress made on the school desegregation case.
Fletcher’s comments were made in January during his annual State of the City Address to the members of the Jacksonville City Council.
"2013 was historic due to the State and the three central Arkansas school districts (Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School District) and interested parties reaching a tentative agreement to help end the desegregation funding, thus helping set the state to address the long neglected needs of the Jacksonville/North Pulaski schools and patrons by the separation from the current district thus forming a new, independent one," according to Fletcher. "The State and the school districts have been in court over 30 years at a cost of $1 billion dollars in government aid."
By separating Jacksonville and North Pulaski from the county district, this will be a win/win solution to all parties involved, as the district will have more money per student in Pulaski County and Jacksonville will qualify for more state money for facilities as they are built, said Fletcher.
"It also addresses one of the nine areas that have to be settled to qualify for unitary status. I am happy to say tonight that this past Monday January 13, 2014, United States District Judge D. Price Marshall gave final approval to a settlement that will end the state’s annual payment of desegregation aid to the three central districts in 4 years and part of that settlement starts the process to create a Jacksonville/ North Pulaski School District after decades of efforts. This decision will create a tremendous amount of work as the real work begins now for both the community and the District in order to bring everything to completion as there are many steps to be taken yet."
The city also saw the completion of a new high school for Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School. This school was built to house grades 10, 11 & 12 and completed the work started three years ago with the formation of the new elementary, followed by the addition the next year of the Flightline Academy on the Little Rock Air Force Base.
The city made progress in areas besides schools, Fletcher said.
"By the close of the year, the orange pylons that have dotted Graham Road for the past two long years as construction was under way to widen Graham Road from two lanes to four with concrete curb and gutters, full running sidewalks on both sides were removed, signaling the near completion of this great asset to the area and what better timing as the state of the art trap/shooting facility will being hosting shooting events this spring that will draw people from all over the country to this area."
One project that Fletcher felt was the most overlooked this past year, yet was very important concerning public safety, was the covering of the dangerous drainage ditch along Redmond Road from Dupree Park to Highland.
"This deep ditch at the edge of the roadway had many cars drive off into it, especially during heavy rains at nighttime," Fletcher said. "This work was done in-house and I appreciate the talent and commitment of our Street Department to address this issue as it has always worried me concerning public safety."
Before he began to summarize the past year he said he read over the past State of the City reports for the past four years and found a common phrase used over and over: Jacksonville has a great future.
"I can tell you tonight knowing the seeds that we have sown over these past four and a half years concerning economic development and the hard work of many citizens over the past three and four decades concerning education and a separate school district that the future we have talked about in the past is upon us today," he said. "Our time is now and that evidence will be seen in the weeks and months to come. There has been much behind the scenes efforts that will pay off for the efforts that took time and patience."
Fletcher continued, "I believe that cities that have a strong future will be those who focus on three areas. These three areas are education, health care and economic development. A plan that will develop and offer its citizens a higher and stronger quality of life that today people demand for themselves and their family. As I have stated before, these past four and a half years have been trying times economically across the nation."
Fletcher said the housing market shakeup with foreclosures helped create the worst economy since the depression of the late 20s and 30s. Sequestration and a government shutdown made big headlines and placed a hardship upon the community and federal employees that reside here.
"Beginning in early summer and running fourteen weeks, base civilian employees were furloughed one day per week resulting in a pay cut of 20 percent," Fletcher said. "That spilled over into the local economy, not to mention the additional hardship upon those who were left to pick up the slack."
Shortly after the furlough ended and everyone got back to work, the first of October began a 17-day government shut down.
"Even though employees were called back with back pay, we still live in very uncertain times as there is not and has not been a federal budget passed to operate under in the past five years. This lack of ability holds us all back in building a strong future economically and in a military town makes us even more aware of the effect it has on military readiness as the world becomes more dangerous and demands stronger counter measures," Fletcher said. "Let me say here that the challenges that do face our military that I can tell you by knowing and observing the leadership of our base personnel that they adapt and come through stronger than going in, but they still need the attention and support both in Washington and here locally."