LITTLE ROCK — The state-appointed superintendent of the Dollarway School District told the state Board of Education on Monday that he is making progress in addressing the district’s financial and administrative problems but that he will not be able to stop expenditures from outstripping revenues this school year.
Frank Anthony told the board that because of declining enrollment the district’s revenues declined by about $500,000 last year, while expenses increased by about the same amount.
"I’m articulating this today because I think Sept. 15 is the time for the budget," he said. "As Bill Clinton says, I can do arithmetic. But I can’t cut $1 million out of the budget by Sept. 15."
Anthony, who retired last year as superintendent of the Pine Bluff School District, was appointed to head Dollarway schools in June after the state took over the district because its high school had failed to meet accreditation standards for two consecutive years.
Anthony said the district has a large enough fund balance to be able to end the school year in the black despite spending more than it takes in. He said cost-cutting measures that were not available to him for the current school year should be possible for the 2013-14 school year, including personnel reductions.
"When I took over the district June 12, all personnel were in place. All certified and classified staff were already under contract," he said.
Dollarway High School was on probation in the 2010-11 school year because of a teacher who taught out of the teacher’s area of licensure and in 2011-12 because of irregularities with students’ transcripts.
Anthony said he is working to resolve issues with the district’s record keeping, but they are numerous. He likened his job to cleaning up "the wild wild West."
"It has not been a week that I haven’t discovered something major, especially financially and record keeping," he said.
Also Monday, the board heard a report on the status of Covenant Keepers College Preparatory Charter School in Little Rock, which was placed on a one-year probation in June after an audit revealed that superintendent Valerie Tatum had made an interest-bearing loan to the school, which is prohibited by state law. Tatum said at the time she was unaware of the law when she made the loan.
Tatum said Monday the school is working with the Arkansas Public School Resource Center to prepare for its next audit.
"We are in meetings on a monthly basis, so that is going very well," she said.
The board also heard a report on home schooling. Home School Program Adviser Lisa Crook said 16,405 students in the state were being home schooled by the end of the past school year, or 3.5 percent of Arkansas’ 468,000 public school students.
Arkansas law requires home-schooled students to take standardized tests. Board Chairman Jim Cooper of Mountain Home asked Crook how home-schooled students’ test scores compare to public school students’ scores.
"It’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges," Crook said, explaining that home-schooled students take a version of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills that is different version from the version public school students take.
Board member Brenda Gullett of Fayetteville said that bothered her.
"I’m very concerned that by and large a lot of these students are not getting what I would consider a satisfactory education for my own children," she said.
The board also heard a report on the Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science, a program funded by a $13.2 million grant from Exxon Mobil that launched in the 2008-09 school year and seeks to increase the number of students taking Advanced Placement tests in math, science and English and scoring a 3 or higher on the exams.
The exams are graded from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best possible score.
Tommie Sue Anthony, president of the program, said 39 schools in 35 districts participated in the program in the 2011-12 school year. The program was responsible for 10,248 students taking AP math, science and English courses last year, she said.
Tommie Anthony said the program accounted for 41 percent of all Arkansas students who took AP courses in those subjects last year and 43 percent of students who scored a 3 or higher.
The total number of Arkansas students scoring a 3 or higher in those subjects last year was 7,059, of which 3,036 were AAIMS students. She noted that the number of AAIMS students receiving scores of 3 or higher last year was larger than the number of students in the entire state who scored at that level in 2006, which was 2,971.
Board members asked what it would cost to expand the program statewide. Tommie Anthony said she was not sure but said she would research the matter.