WEINER, AR (KAIT) - Officials with the Weiner School District Tuesday said they were unable to change a state law requiring schools to average 350 students for ¾ of the school year. That means Weiner schools will either have to consolidate with another district or be annexed into another.
"Currently the law reads you have to average 350 for the first three quarters of a school year in order to meet that standard and if you go below 350 with your average for three quarters for two years in a row, then you have one more year you will exist as the school you are and during that year you have to work out either an annexation or consolidation with another district," said Chuck Hanson, superintendent for the Weiner School District.
Hanson told Region 8 News his district started the year with 336 students and now enrolls 353. Hanson requested the law be changed, but the measure fell short in the Senate Education Committee by one vote. If the measure, which passed in the House overwhelmingly, would've gotten the number of votes, then it would have made it to the Senate floor for a vote.
"We just asked them to simply calculate it different. To count all 4 quarters of a school year and if a school district can average 350 in any of those 4 quarters during the year, then you would have met that standard for the year. That was what we were asking them to do," said Hanson.
Hanson said he was upset with state legislatures because his district has averaged 340-345 students every year since the law went into effect in 2003. The Weiner School District consists of students from Weiner, Fisher, Waldenburg and Grubbs. The district's borders touch the Harrisburg, Trumann, Westside and Cross County School Districts.
"Our district runs from the Poinsett County line to the Cross County line to the Jackson County line, and then Harrisburg and Trumann are two districts that border us on the east side," said Hanson. "We'll have one more year as Weiner School like it is now, and then during that time we will have to work with a district, try to find a district that we can do an administrative consolidation, or annexation with and see if they'll leave our campus open and how long our campus can stay open."
Hanson said he has discussed options with the Valley View School District and plans to meet with other school officials from other districts.
"What we hope to have, an annexation to keep us open as long as financially it's feasible for them," said Hanson.
"Weiner School District has contacted us and asked us if we would look at some options and study with them some of the things that we might be able to do concerning Weiner Schools," said Radius Baker, superintendent of the Valley View School District.
Baker said he has toured the facilities at Weiner. School officials said they are in the initial steps of a long process.
The Valley View School Board voted Monday to spend $10,000 on a Demographic and Annexation Study.
"We're trying to make sure that we have a study that allows us to look at all options, bus routes included, and to make sure that we have an option as to what we do once this next phase of growth comes in," said Baker. "To see if the people that's moving in, how many we will have, what our potential growth is going to be, what we need to do as far as getting facilities to house those individuals and where maybe those facilities need to be."
"We feel like we do this Demographic Study simply because it's going to allow us to have a better knowledge of the things we need to do for the community," said Baker.
Over the last 10 years, the Valley View School District has grown 7.6% annually. The Weiner School District has been in a much different situation.
"It's kind of a burden on our taxpayers because they pay 14.9 extra mills because they wanted to keep their school, so there's been a, they've paid more because they care," said Hanson.
Hanson said if the school district closes, then it would spell disaster for the community.
"It would hurt bad. You just look at the small communities and what's happened to them after they've lost their schools," said Hanson. "Economically our country is in one of the biggest recessions, if you want to call it that to be nice, since the Great Depression, and the largest employer in west Poinsett County is the Weiner School District."
Baker said if Weiner does not annex or consolidate with another school district, then the Arkansas Department of Education will appoint a district.
The Weiner School District will stay as is for the remainder of this year and next year. The school will be forced to annex or consolidate after that.
"Hopefully what's best for this community will also be, whether they're annexed or whether they're not, will also be best for the Weiner community," said Baker.
"It's hard for the morale of the faculty and staff. It's hard on the morale of the student body and the school spirit. It's hard on the community and the morale. It just affects everything," said Hanson.
"Once you are assigned or once you annex into another school district, then you take on that school district's identity," said Baker.
"This is a process and it's a very early process as far as Valley View looking and trying to look at a sister school district who has talked to us and asked us if we would consider giving them some options and saying what could happen and what might happen," said Baker. "We will look at all of the options, or all of the choices that we might have as far as the study is concerned, and this Demographic Study will help us in making a intelligent decision on the things that we need to do."