Third in a series.
History was in the making in 2013 for the Hope and Mineral Springs Schools and the Hope City Board of Directors.
The year brought about the resolution of a long-standing question for the Hope Public School District as it underwent a mandated redistricting of school board zones in accordance with the 2010 U. S. Census. Based upon the changes in the district's demographics, the school board was faced with redrawing its board member zones and keeping the district in compliance with a 25-year old federal court consent order which established the eight-member board system used by the district.
U.S. District Judge Susan O. Hickey, of Texarkana, issued a consent order May 3 which stems from the agreement between the Hope district and Little Rock attorney John Walker, as they relate to a 1989 federal court order which established the eight-member school board system.
Hickey also approved of the change to a seven-member board.
“The Court approves Hope School District's action in changing its governance to a seven member board of education elected from single member districts with the specific election zones identified as Option 4 in defendants' motion for approval,” Hickey wrote.
She said terms of service for board members were not to exceed three years in each term, except for members elected in September, 2013, who drew for terms of one, two or three years.
“The Court shall continue to exercise jurisdiction over this matter until it finds that HSD should be released from Court supervision,” Hickey wrote.
That provision of the order was also agreed upon by the parties in their joint motion of May 2 under which they asked Hickey to approve the change.
With a total population of 15,849 residents, and a 48 percent minority population, the Hope district breaks down to an average population of 2,264 residents each across seven school board zones; that is the ideal number per district.
The redistricting plan which the Hope board adopted has a deviation margin from ideal between -2.39 percent and +4.54 percent, where the requirement in state law is no more than 10 percent in either direction, according to School Board President Joe Short, an attorney.
The Option 4 plan adopted by the board in 2012, and agreed upon by the district and Walker, varies from ideal by -8.74 percent to +5.23 percent, within the 10 percent variation allowed by law.
Under the plan, incumbents Viney Johnson and Janice Milus were put into the same district. Johnson voted against the plan and Milus voted for it.
Johnson won re-election in September by two votes, with 16 votes to 14 votes for Milus.
In Zone 5, incumbent Danny Watson won re-election by three votes, with 44 votes to 41 for challenger Val R. Knight. And, in Zone 6, incumbent Denny Dickinson won re-election with 57 votes against 39 votes for challenger Larry D. Johnson.
Page 2 of 3 - Uncontested incumbents in Hope received affirmation votes. In Zone 2, Mildred Green received 13 votes; Zone 3, Willie Buck received 21 votes; Zone 4, Joe Short received 15 votes; and Zone 7, Jesus Coronado received 13 votes.
Mineral Springs take over
In May, the Mineral Springs School District, which includes the Saratoga area in Hempstead County, acknowledged financial problems on the heels of the resignation of 11 teachers and administrators in May.
The district was at a standstill as a result of its “fiscal distress” status with the Arkansas Department of Education, and was unable to replace the employees or hire a new superintendent. As a result, Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood presented a plan to the state to resolve the “fiscal distress” problem, but ADE Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell removed the entire Mineral Springs board and put the district under direct state control before the plan could be implemented.
Kimbrell said a new school board would be elected after the state relinquished oversight of the district; and, he ordered the closure of the Saratoga Elementary School campus when classes resumed in August. Kimbrell confirmed that an audit of the district's finances found 24 specific examples of questionable financial oversight.
“It is one of the things that built upon the fiscal distress picture,” he said at the time. “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 retained Blackwood as interim superintendent, and later that month named Eureka Springs Superintendent Curtis Turner as the new superintendent, effective July 1.
“Mr. Turner has experience in assisting fiscally distressed school districts to develop and work through recovery and improvement plans,” Kimbrell said in an announcement Friday. “I believe his is the right person to look at the big picture and know what the priorities are.”
Turner, a native of Murfreesboro, has been superintendent at Delight, Murfreesboro, and Glenwood/Centerpoint. He has also worked in the ADE Fiscal Distress Unit. He holds a master of education degree from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, and superintendency certification from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
City rates; first female director
Ordinances adopting new wastewater rates and authorizing the issuance of up to $10 million in revenue bonds to support a three-year sewer system rehabilitation program flowed smoothly through the final vote of the Hope City Board in August.
Wastewater base rates increased from $6.30 to $7.30 per month in 2013, and use rates above the first 2,000 gallons per month increased from $1.50 to $2.25 per thousand in order to generate sufficient total revenue to meet or exceed $625,000 per year in bond payments, and allow for ongoing capital outlays.
Page 3 of 3 - The plan provided for incremental increases annually thereafter in the base rate from $8 in 2014 to a maximum of $10.50 in 2021, and only three increases in use rate from $2.25 in 2014 to a maximum of $2.75 in 2021.
The board had explored the prospects for issuing new revenue bonds for sewer system repairs for about two years.
About half of the some $7.1 million in new debt will be used to complete a three-year rehabilitation and construction program for a wastewater collection system that is, in places, a century old. The plan also calls for substantial updates at the city's two wastewater collection plants, which have been overloaded because of infiltration and inflow into the collection system from rainwater and other sources.
However, as City Manager Catherine Cook had emphasized throughout the discussions, the plan will improve only about seven percent of the total wastewater collection system.
In July, following the retirement of Vice Mayor David Johnson from the Hope City Board of Directors, the board named Kiffinea Talley to the Ward 2 seat, making Talley the first woman to serve on the city board. Talley, an administrative assistant in the federal programs office of the Hope Public School District was seated on a unanimous vote of the board.
“I'm looking forward to the challenges that will be presented, and I'm happy to serve, and I look forward to making Hope a better place to live,” Talley said after her investiture. “There are things that I have had concerns with in my ward, especially with code enforcement and the draining ditches in my ward.”
She is a graduate of Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., with a bachelor's degree in political science, and she holds as juris doctorate from Vanderbilt University School of Law in Nashville, Tenn. Talley also serves as recreational director for Lonoke Missionary Baptist Church in Hope, and is a member of the Hope Public Schools Classified Personnel Policy Committee.