The state Board of Education on Monday approved the appointment of community advisory boards for the Pulaski County Special and Helena-West Helena school districts, both of which are in fiscal distress and under state control.
Act 600 of this year extends the maximum length of time that a school district can remain in fiscal distress from two years to five years and allows the state education commissioner to appoint, with board approval, a community advisory board for a school district that has made progress toward ending its fiscal distress but has not yet resolved all of its fiscal problems.
Under the law, the boards are required to hold monthly public meetings, take input from patrons of the districts and make recommendations to the commissioner.
State Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell told the board that state education officials sent letters to state legislators who represent the districts and asked them to nominate people for the boards. A few nominations were accepted from non-legislators after the legislators were not able to provide enough nominations, he said.
Some nominees were unwilling to serve or turned out not to live in the districts, and no nominations were received for one zone within a district, Kimbrell told the board.
Board member Brenda Gullett of Fayetteville expressed reservations about relying mainly on legislators to nominate board members.
"That should in my opinion have come more from the community. Maybe the legislators would have had the opportunity of nominating one or two, but to be able to have the entire board, that is very concerning to me," she said.
The appointees to the Pulaski County Special School District’s board are real estate agent Daniel Gray, lawyer Tjuana Byrd, retired teacher Margie Snider, University of Arkansas at Little Rock assistant professor of law Lindsey Gustafson, chiropractor Julian McMurray and Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Programs Susie Marks. Kimbrell said he hoped to name a seventh member soon and seek approval at the board’s next meeting.
Gray, of Jacksonville, has been heading up that city’s effort to split off from the county district and will represent his city. An effort that County Superintendent Jerry Guess supports.
Gustafson will represent Maumelle on the board.
The appointees to the Helena-West Helena board are Phillips Community College Chancellor Steven Murray and instructor Nathan Bagley, Phillips County Chamber of Commerce Director Doug Friedlander, retiree Lynn Boone and retired teacher Bettye Hendrix. Kimbrell said he intended to make two more appointments.
The appointees will serve at the pleasure of the commissioner. When the districts are returned to local control, the advisory boards will be replaced with elected school boards.
None of the appointees previously served on the districts’ school boards, which the state dissolved when it took over the districts.
The state Department of Education will provide initial training for the board members, and the Arkansas School Boards Association has agreed to provide continuing education for them, Kimbrell said.