Huckabee: 310 to 116

January 14, 2003
Psted at: 10:40 a.m. CDT
Updated at: 11:12 a.m. CDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Governor Mike Huckabee was sworn into office for his second full term, and he has challenged the General Assembly to put partisanship aside to help solve the problems facing Arkansas.

Huckabee said he wants to consolidate school districts.

The governor proposed reducing the number of school districts from 310 to about 116, with virtually all schools covering grades K-8 being allowed to continue in existence.

Also, districts with 1,500 or more students would generally be allowed to remain. There are 76 covering about 300,000 of the state's 450,000.

About 25 or 30 regional districts would cover most of the remaining students. There would be around five or six ``isolated unified school districts'' covering large geographic areas.

Huckabee did not provide specifics, and the Legislature would have to accept the changes.

He said some people would necessarily have to lose their jobs in order to guarantee a better education for students.

The governor it cannot be justified for a school to have ten football coaches but not one teacher to competently teach chemistry.

The governor said education jobs will be lost, but children will benefit by getting educations that will enable them to get jobs.

Huckabee took office in 1996 after Jim Guy Tucker resigned following his Whitewater convictions. In 1998, Huckabee easily won election to a full term.

After taking the oath, he was presented a key to his office, which he is to occupy another four years.

Huckabee then began his state of the state address before a joint session of the House and Senate.

The governor acknowledged that not all legislators agree with his politics but asked for their cooperation. Huckabee said legislators should take a non-partisan tack in approaching education and budget problems that are to be addressed in the
legislative session.

Huckabee called on the legislature to hel him "put our own house in order," in a call to reform the executive branch of the state's government. Some reorganization proposed by the governor include the creation of cabinet-like roles for the department of education and health and human services, headed by a Secretary.

Huckabee cautioned that some ``rather unpleasant changes'' -- are on the horizon because of court orders, budget constraints and the slow economy. The governor asked the Legislature to consolidate and reorganize the executive branch shrinking 50 departments to ten core departments.

Huckabee said the complexity of the system is difficult for citizens and even legislators to fathom. The governor said job security is not guaranteed for all state employees but he would use experienced state employees to fill positions first. He said the first purpose of government is to serve citizens.

Huckabee says he wants to address consolidation quickly, so the budget can be addressed.

Huckabee said he wants to align more than 50 state agencies and boards into 10 departments to eliminate duplication in services and to reduce administration costs.

He said ``downsizing and streamlining'' would be necessary as he established departments covering education, health and human services, commerce, labor and employment, corrections, natural resources, finance and administration, interior, homeland security, and agriculture.

The state currently does not have an Agriculture Department, but rather spreads control of farming industries among a number of boards and commissions.

In addressing education, Huckabee drew from historical examples to illustrate the challenge that funding public schools has posed in Arkansas over the decades.

He said past rhetoric identified vast problems but resulted in little action. Today, Huckabee asked legislators to join him in meeting the constitutional mandate for schools that provide a proper education for every child in public school.

The governor also said parents must ``act like parents.'' He said parents have to teach their children manners and right from wrong, they must read to their children and help with homework.

He called moms and dads the most important component of education.