Arkansas Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell expects to name a new superintendent for the Mineral Springs-Saratoga School District today who will run the district under state supervision.
Dr. Kimbrell also removed the Mineral Springs School Board from office Thursday morning in an appearance at the district offices, he told the Hope Star.
“We notified each of the board members by certified letter and first class letter,” he said. “We do not visit with each board member.”
Kimbrell said a completely new board will be elected for the district after the state resolves all of the issues it has with the district and the state board of education approves.
“It could be a year, three years or five years,” he said.
He said the assumption of governance for Mineral Springs also includes closing the Saratoga Elementary School campus. The Saratoga High School campus was closed by the Mineral Springs board in September, 2012, after the Arkansas Department of Education determined the school no longer met state accreditation standards.
Kimbrell said he directed Mineral Springs Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood to make preparations to close the elementary campus, effective in the 2013-2014 school year.
“It is my determination that the district needs to move in the direction of efficiency and it seems to me there is a need to consolidate your elementary program into one program,” he said.
Kimbrell said he had been in negotiations with a prospective superintendent for Mineral Springs prior to taking action Thursday.
He also confirmed that an audit of the district's finances which found 24 specific examples of questionable financial oversight in nine general areas of concern was a key factor in his decision.
“It is one of the things that built upon the fiscal distress picture,” he said. “It doesn't have to be just declining balances in the budget. We've been trying to work with them since this fall. The findings in the audit letter were another straw that convinced me that to get this district back to a functioning district, I would have to take over.”
Kimbrell and education department staff secured district records, and he said Blackwood will be retained until a new superintendent for the district is in place, which Kimbrell expects to occur by June 1.
Kimbrell's action was taken under the Omnibus Quality Education Act of 2003, an education department announcement said. The district has been under supervision by the education department since being placed in “fiscal distress” in December, 2012, by the state education board.
Mineral Springs board member Dale Gathright, of Saratoga, said Thursday that he is investigating legal options as a consequence of the state's actions.
“They have the authority to do that; they are running at least one other district in the state,” Gathright said. “My number one concern is the future of the Saratoga elementary campus in all of this; that, hopefully, those kids won't be sacrificed. None of this should have happened.”