LITTLE ROCK — The state Board of Education on Thursday approved a proposal to annex the Norphlet School District to the nearby Smackover School District in southwestern Arkansas.

LITTLE ROCK — The state Board of Education on Thursday approved a proposal to annex the Norphlet School District to the nearby Smackover School District in southwestern Arkansas.


Officials with the Norphlet district said that with enrollment at 388 students and falling, the district preferred to enter into a voluntary annexation rather than a forced annexation or consolidation, which Arkansas law requires for any district that falls below 350 students for two consecutive years.


Plans call for students in the merged districts to continue attending separate campuses in the 2014-15 school year. Starting in 2015-16, the current Norphlet High School will serve as a middle school for the entire district and the current Smackover High School will serve as the district’s only high school, said Norphlet Superintendent Albert Snow.


The district will have only one superintendent starting in 2014-15. Snow said he is leaving to become superintendent of the Fordyce School District.


He said the districts hope to reduce staff through attrition.


Some board members expressed surprise that the Norphlet district would choose annexation to the Smackover district rather than to the El Dorado School District, which also is nearby in Union County. The El Dorado Promise, a program created by Murphy Oil, provides full college scholarships to all graduates of El Dorado High School.


"It is hard for me to believe that the parents in both of these communities would be fully aware of the El Dorado Promise and what is available to their children and what the cost of college is, if there is even a chance to engage in something like this, and they would just say, ‘I’m sorry, we’re not interested in that, we’d rather pay for college ourselves,’" said board member Brenda Gullett.


Snow said the Smackover district plans to keep the Norphlet campus open, which might not happen in an annexation to the larger El Dorado district.


Norphlet School Board President Gene Bramblett said parents of Norphlet students, of whom he is one, want their children to continue attending school in a small district.


"We want everybody to know everybody’s name," he said.


Board member Toyce Newton noted that Smackover was inviting the annexation and that no one from the El Dorado district was presently offering an alternative. The board approved the annexation unanimously.