- Associated Press - Friday, February 10, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The state has approved budget cuts for the Little Rock School District that will close three schools and repurpose a fourth.

Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key approved the cuts Thursday for the state’s largest school district, which the state has taken over, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/2kdTu73 ) reported.

“Spending reductions are absolutely necessary to give LRSD the best chance of success in the years to come, and, yes, those reductions must involve closing underutilized facilities,” Key said.

District Superintendent Mike Poore had recommended the closures as part of a plan to cut about $11 million in costs for the next school year.

“Despite the highly charged and emotional atmosphere surrounding these issues, the urgency requires action that is immediate and certain. Delaying these decisions would be irresponsible,” Key said.

Poore said the 2017-18 budget cuts are necessary to adjust for the loss of $37.3 million a year in state desegregation aid to the district.

Acadia Roher, a district resident who has been participating in the Save Our Schools grass-roots organization’s efforts, told the state Education Board Thursday that the superintendent’s community engagement efforts were “textbook cases of manipulation and placation thinly disguised as community involvement.”

She called the “frustration and outrage” shown by parents and others at the Franklin and Wilson forums “an outpouring of grief and anger” from areas of the city that have been marginalized and ignored.” She also said the affected schools are “beloved community centers and provide loving families” for some students.

Jeff Wood, chairman of the Little Rock district’s state-appointed Community Advisory Board, said the decision-makers made thoughtful and responsible choices in what he said was a very open process.

“When you’re in the third and fourth year of budget cuts and you have to get to over $35 million, the last $11 million aren’t easy,” Wood said. “It’s been a long process but thoughtful, and the community has been engaged in the process,” he said.

Franklin Elementary, Woodruff Early Childhood Center and W.D. “Bill” Hamilton Learning Academy will close. Wilson Elementary will house Hamilton’s alternative-education program for secondary-school students who need additional assistance.

The schools’ combined enrollment is about 800 students.

The district has about 24,000 students and a budget of more than $300 million.

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


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