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story.lead_photo.caption Little Rock School District Superintendent Michael Poore speaks to students at Forest Park Elementary School during the school's annual Patriotic Assembly. - Photo by Benjamin Krain

Little Rock School District Superintendent Mike Poore’s announcement last month that as many as four schools will be shuttered in 2017-18 to cut expenses kick-started a process to identify which schools those might be.

Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun
Greg Adams, Co-Chair of the LRSD Civic Advisory Committee speaks to board members of the Education Board during their monthly meeting Thursday, May 12, 2016.

The recently formed School Utilization Committee, consisting of district staff members and community members, will hold its second meeting at 6 p.m. today to resume the analysis and discussion, started Oct. 19, of district enrollment data, population trends and school-building conditions.

Poore appointed and chairs the committee. He has set a Jan. 26 deadline for making recommendations on school closures to Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key. Key acts as the school board in the state-controlled district. School-closure plans would be completed before the district opens student registration in February for the 2017-18 school year, according to Poore’s timeline.

“The purpose of the committee is to … plan for facilities that will best meet the needs of our students and will utilize our resources effectively and efficiently,” Poore wrote in inviting people to join the advisory panel.

The superintendent last month gave the Arkansas Board of Education a list of $15.3 million in potential cuts for next school year that are to help offset the expected loss of $37 million a year in state desegregation aid to the Little Rock district.

Poore told the Education Board that he would like to cut as much as $11 million out of the list of $15 million. That would be on top of multimillion-dollar cuts in previous years.

This is the last year that the special state funding can be used for operating costs. The use of the desegregation aid is restricted to facility costs in 2017-18, which is the final year of the payment.

Closing up to four of the district’s 46 schools in 2017-18 could save the district an estimated $4.7 million, according to Poore’s report to the state board. Other areas for savings include cutting staff expenses by $3 million and reducing or ending various kinds of school bus transportation by $2.8 million.

Any school closings would come at a time when the district also is planning the construction of a southwest Little Rock high school and renovating the former Leisure Arts company warehouse in the northwestern part of the city to be the new Pinnacle View Middle School.

The facility utilization committee members include top-level staff members in the district, including Deputy Superintendent Marvin Burton, Chief Financial Officer Kelsey Bailey, Associate Superintendents Sadie Mitchell and Daniel Whitehorn, Director of Maintenance and Operations Wayne Adams and Senior Director of Student Services Frederick Fields. Also invited to participate are Little Rock Education Association President Cathy Koehler and teachers Brittani Brooks of Franklin Elementary and LaKeitha Austin of Cloverdale Middle School.

School Principals Nancy Rousseau, Keith McGee and Tyrone Harris are members, as is Greg Adams, who is a former Little Rock School Board member and former co-chairman of the now defunct Citizens Advisory Committee that delved into the issue of possible school closures during its one-year existence last year. Parents from Washington, Terry, Meadowcliff, McDermott, Stephens, Jefferson and Watson elementary schools also were invited to participate.

Adams said Wednesday that the committee is made up of a diverse group of parents and of district employees.

“It felt like a good mix,” the former School Board member said regarding participation.

As for the data the district has provided to committee members, Adams said the enrollments for the 2016-17 school year vs. 2013-14 were particularly striking to him.

Carver Magnet Elementary, 2100 E. Sixth St., and Franklin Elementary, 1701 S. Harrison St., near the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, have lost nearly 40 percent of their enrollments in that time, according to the district data. Washington Elementary, 2700 Main St., with a student count of 453 this year, has seen a 4 percent loss — about 20 pupils — but the school has a reported capacity of 964 students.

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“I don’t see how we can get out of this without having to consolidate some schools,” Adams said. “You have a pretty good building like Washington that is only half-full, and you could get to three or four other elementary schools in five minutes from Washington.”

Other data provided to the committee include the per-pupil cost at each school, which ranges from $6,456 at Wakefield Elementary to $14,545 per student at Baseline Elementary, which benefits from a three-year, multimillion-dollar federal School Improvement Grant.

Also noted in the data were the year each school was built or renovated, and the surplus or shortage of school seats in each of the district’s seven school board election zones in relation to the number of students living in the election zone. In the district’s Zone 1 that encompasses east and downtown Little Rock, for example, the total capacity of the seven elementary schools is 3,721 seats, while there are 1,233 children actually living in Zone 1.

Adams said Wednesday that the district needs to make “sustainable budget cuts” rather than steps such as selling district property or using reserve funds that he said would produce money for only a year or two.

After to - day’s facility committee meeting, seven community meetings will be held throughout the district to solicit advice and ideas on facilities. The committee will follow those up with another of its meetings on Dec. 14.

Adams said he hopes people will attend the forums to listen and give their input.

The first forum is set for 6-7 p.m. Wednesday at Dunbar Community Center, 1001 W. 16th St.

Additional community meetings — all of which will be 6-7 p.m. — are scheduled for the following dates and locations:

Nov. 14, Stephens Community Center, 3720 18th St.

Nov. 16, Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church, 4823 Woodlawn Drive.

Nov. 28, Fulbright Elementary School, 300 Pleasant Valley Drive.

Nov. 29, Henderson Middle School, 401 John Barrow Road.

Dec. 1, Greater Second Baptist Church, 5615 Geyer Springs Road.

Dec. 6, Southwest Community Center, 6401 Baseline Road.

District leaders also have reserved dates in January for public forums in the communities in which schools are recommended for closure — should there be such recommendations.

Print Headline: Axing some schools a focus, LR panel meets again today

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