For years, supporters of Jacksonville divorcing itself from the Pulaski County Special School District has been a dream for many in that portion of the county.
That dream is becoming one step closer to reality as supporters of joint North Pulaski-Jacksonville public school district met Tuesday night at the Jacksonville Community Center to learn more information on what needs to be done to make the dream a reality.
"This is a work session for those in the community who want to get involved," said Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher. "For so long many people have come up to me and asked, ‘What can I do?’ And for so long we have had to tell them we are in the planning stages. Well the time for planning is over and now is the time for action. We need help from the general public."
Fletcher said he is expecting the Jacksonville-North Pulaski community will need between 2,700-3,000 signatures from qualified people residing in the proposed area for the new school district.
"We are anticipating it will take five or six weeks to finish the petition drive," Fletcher said.
Once petitions have been signed and gathered, it is expected that they will be delivered to the Arkansas Department of Education.
Fletcher stressed North Pulaski will be included in the district.
"It makes sense," Fletcher said. "To leave them in Special Pulaski County would make that community an island and many of the people there come to Jacksonville, go to church here. They are part of our community."
It is anticipated that once the new district is formed it should have between 4,500-4,700 students. The Pulaski County Special School District has about 16,000 students at the present time, Fletcher said.
"We will have a mid-sized school district in the state," Fletcher said.
Fletcher said it is not clear when the district will be formed because the issue remains tied up in the federal court system.
"I believe once we get in front of a judge, the judge will approve our new school district that it makes sense for the children and the community."
For years, proponents for a Jacksonville-area school district have said the region being part of PCSSD has hurt their community’s economic growth prospects.
"We have young families move here because of the Little Rock Air Force Base and the first place they want to look at are the schools," Fletcher said.
Fletcher said many base personnel have opted to live close to Jacksonville because other areas have more modern facilities. However, with a separate school district on the horizon, that problem will end.
"People are willing to invest and work for something if they take ownership of it," Fletcher said.
Fletcher added that once a new district is set up, it would be represented by board members elected by school district voters and operated like other public school districts.
"Schools are more than a building," Fletcher said. "If you have control over your schools, it is easier to hold your students and teachers accountable."
Fletcher said he is very optimistic about Jacksonville’s future and the future school district.
He added that Jacksonville’s schools have improved since the state took over the PCSSD due to fiscal issues.
"But they can’t run the schools forever," Fletcher said. "Eventually, it will go back to the district."