- Associated Press - Thursday, March 3, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas officials say two school districts that have been under state direction have corrected their financial problems and are eligible to be returned to local control.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1njF46B ) reports that the Pulaski County Special and Helena-West Helena school districts have been under state control since 2011 because of financial mismanagement and overspending.

The Arkansas Board of Education is scheduled to vote on recommendations from the state Department of Education staff to remove from the fiscal-distress labels on March 10. The vote in favor would also return the systems to local control upon the election and training of new school boards.

Andrew Bagley, president of the Helena-West Helena district’s Community Advisory Board, welcomed the recommendation but said Wednesday that he won’t rest easy until he sees the yeas and nays of the state Education Board vote.

After the state takeover, state and district leaders withdrew contract-negotiating rights from the teacher and support-staff unions, revised policies on school board and employee travel, implemented a districtwide overtime policy, and strengthened bookkeeping and financial-monitoring procedures,.

The district also took other steps, including the the elimination of 77 licensed and support-staff jobs in 2011-12. In 2012-13, the financial-improvement efforts included reducing the cost of salaries by leaving vacancies unfilled, reducing the teacher work year from 192 to 190 days, reducing personnel benefits that were paid above the state minimum requirements, and refinancing a district bond to attain a lower interest rate.

“I think we have earned a return to local control,” Bagley said. “Our board, our administration, our staff have all worked very hard to make sure we have taken care of all the problems that resulted in the state takeover in the first place. I believe our community is in a much different place and will support the district in such a way that this will never happen again.”

Annual Arkansas school board elections are in September.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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