LITTLE ROCK — The state Board of Education on Monday removed the Bismarck and Cutter-Morning Star school districts from fiscal-distress status.
Both districts have corrected problems that led to them being classified as fiscally distressed for the 2012-13 school year, officials with the state Department of Education and the two districts told board members.
Susan Stewart-Harper, superintendent of the Bismarck School District in Hot Spring County, told the board the district has reduced operating expenses in a number of ways, including reducing personnel through attrition, refinancing a bond, training staff members to serve in more than one capacity and monitoring and cutting back on the use of utilities.
Nancy Anderson, superintendent of the Cutter-Morning Star School District in Hot Springs, told the board the district has reduced personnel through resignations, retirement and layoffs. The district also passed a millage increase, combined bus routes, replaced a custodial service with existing personnel, stopped paying for administrators’ cell phone service and kept a tight rein on spending, she said.
"I said ‘no’ a lot. That’s what you have to do. I’m not real popular, but I’m not there to be popular," Anderson said.
Under legislation enacted this year, Arkansas school districts in fiscal or academic distress have five years to get out of that classification or face mandatory consolidation or annexation to one or more nearby districts. Previously, districts had two years to fix their problems.
Johnie Walters, standards assurance unit leader for the state Department of Education, told the board that 3o schools across the state are on probationary status for failing to meet accreditation standards. All of the schools are in their first year of probation, he said.
On the list are schools in the Bentonville, Brinkley, Cleveland County, Fordyce, Foreman, Harmony Grove, Horatio, Hoxie, Jessieville, Lee County, Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Riverview, Shirley, South Conway County, Spring Hill, Stephens and Valley Springs school districts, as well as the Arkansas School for the Deaf in Little Rock and KIPP Delta Collegiate High School, an open-enrollment charter school in Helena-West Helena.
The district with the highest number of schools on probation is Pine Bluff, with seven.
A district that has a school on probationary status for two consecutive years is subject to consolidation or annexation. Walters said state education officials will work with the districts to help them correct the violations that resulted in probation.
The board also renewed the charter of the Imboden Area Charter School for three years and granted its request for a waiver to allow it to hire uncertified teachers. The school, an open-enrollment charter school serving grades K-8, had requested a 10-year renewal.
The board accepted the voluntary surrender of the charter of the Oak Grove Elementary Health, Wellness and Environmental Science School, a conversion charter school operated by the Paragould School District.
Paragould Superintendent Debbie Smith told the board the district’s elementary school is about to go from serving grades K-4 to serving grades 2-4, with a new school being built for grades K-1. She also said the district has had declining fund balances and is looking for ways to save money.