NEA Educators Favor Consolidation

January 8, 2003
Posted at: 8:50 p.m. CDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Governor Mike Huckabee says the state's education system needs more than just a minor adjustment, and he may ask the General Assembly to consolidate schools to solve the problem.

On Tuesday, Huckabee said that "it is unrealistic to believe the current system of school districts can continue."

The governor will present his plan to the General Assembly on January 14, in his State of the State address.

Following the November 21, 2002, Arkansas Supreme Court decision that the state's current funding system was unconstitutional, Huckabee said that he was oppossed to forcing the state's 310 school districts to consolidate. Indications are that Huckabee will recommend consolidation of some districts in the state.

According to some educators in Region 8, consolidation will bring positive results. However, longtime educator and administrator Alice Baugh of Westside High School in Jonesboro can remember the days when the issue of public school consolidation was not welcomed with open arms.

"Their greatest fear was in losing the biggest part of their community, because in smaller towns (the school) was the central core," Baugh said.

It was 1968 when the Bono, Egypt, and Cash school districts consolidated into Westside. Baugh became a teacher one year later. She recalls many of the reservations the community had at the time, including teachers who were worried about losing their jobs. She believes, however, that  the community's earlier reservations eventually went away.

"It's always a concern, but we did not lose any positions," Baugh said. "I would think the majority of the people see the advantages."

Marcia Raeber-McClain is a member of the Arkansas Education Association, the statewide teacher's union. She is in favor of consolidation. She says consolidation will help ensure all students are prepared for college.

"I think we could put more money across the state, equitably, both rich and poor across all districts," Raeber-McClain said.

It is expected that you can bet this issue will be met with fierce debate, especially from those who don't want their children to leave their current school. But, as for the initial fear 25 years ago that Bono, Egypt, and Cash would lose its identity because of consolidation, Baugh thinks those fears will go away.

"I think the times when students thought, 'Well I'm from Bono, I'm from Cash, I'm from Egypt,' Those times are gone. Now they are students are from Westside."