Gov. Huckabee's Education Plan

Gov. Mike Huckabee's
Proposed Organizational Structure for the Arkansas Public School System


On Nov. 21, 2002, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued its opinion in the long-debated Lake View school funding case. The court declared, "The state has not fulfilled its constitutional duty to provide the children of this state with a general, suitable and efficient school-funding system."

The court also ruled that since the state, not local school boards or administrators, is constitutionally responsible for this education, it's the state that must determine how money is spent to achieve these mandates.

District Realignment

We offer a plan today that changes the educational delivery system so we can meet the Supreme Court's mandate. The plan transforms a system of 310 school districts -- which have unaffordable and duplicated instructional, policy, administrative and support services costs -- into a system of 107-116 districts with those same services efficiently and effectively delivered. The result will be a more centralized administrative and governance network.

This new structure, while initially preserving every existing elementary school, will require the closure of many secondary schools, primarily those serving students in grades 9-12 where the state finds the most operational and academic inefficiencies.

District Size

About 76 school districts, each with a minimum average daily membership of 1,500 students, will continue to exist as unified districts, serving all grade levels from kindergarten through high school with their own community schools. Only limited school closings, if any, are anticipated, and those will occur only at the discretion of the state Board of Education after discussion with local superintendents and school board members.

All remaining districts will become community school units and will be assigned to one of an estimated 25-30 regional school districts. All of these districts' individual schools that existed on Jan. 1, 2003, and that were serving exclusively students from kindergarten through the eighth grade, will automatically become community schools. The state Board of Education will determine the status of any school created after that date and before implementation of this plan. All other individual schools, except as noted below, not designated as community schools are subject to being closed and their students given the freedom of choice to attend appropriate campuses elsewhere.

Exceptions to secondary school closures within each regional district will be considered by the state Board of Education on the recommendation of the regional district superintendent and in consultation with the regional district's school board. It will still be possible for selected secondary schools within a limited number of community school units to remain open, provided those schools meet the operational and instructional standards necessary for the state to fulfill its constitutional obligations. This is especially important in situations where no secondary campus exists within a reasonable commuting distance from one or more community school units.

Secondary community schools may consist of multiple campuses operated under an approved cooperative arrangement between or among regional districts, unified districts and community school units. Opportunities for students to access distance learning -- as well as the facilities and personnel from community colleges, technical colleges and four-year universities -- will be greatly expanded.

All high schools will be expected to offer, every year, a rich curriculum as defined by the state Board of Education, including a variety of vocational courses, similar to that proposed in the report of the Arkansas Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Education. Athletic and other extracurricular issues arising from the dissolution of secondary schools will be referred to the Arkansas Activities Association for resolution.

A mechanism will be created so community school units may at any time consolidate to form a unified district or may consolidate directly with an existing unified district. As these units exercise such options, the number of unified districts will grow and the average daily membership of regional districts will decline. Provisions will be made for large unified districts to petition the state Board of Education to separate into smaller districts.

Existing school districts with special circumstances such as geographical isolation or sparse population density due to geography or declining student enrollments will be designated as isolated unified school districts or as isolated community school units within a regional district. It's estimated that from six to 10 of these districts or units will exist.

Changing Roles of School Boards and Superintendents

Each of the resulting unified, regional and isolated districts will be its own taxing unit and will be governed by an elected school board, whose duties will be clearly defined by state law and state Board of Education rules and regulations. In the case of newly formed regional districts, an interim board of education may be appointed by the state Board of Education until an elected body is chosen. Members of existing school boards will be given priority consideration for such appointments.

The state will establish salary schedules for each district, including minimum and maximum salaries. These will allow for cost-of-living adjustments by geographic region. A superintendent, who will have the authority to hire and fire principals and central office staff, will administer each district. The authority to hire and fire the superintendent will rest with the director of the state Department of Education, who will consider any such recommendation made by the local school board.

Parent/Business Advisory Councils

The focus of instructional support becomes the community school. Each community school will be governed by a parent/business advisory council and administered by a principal who will have the authority to hire and fire teachers and support staff within the school. The advisory council's role will be to ensure that education dollars allocated to the community school not only reflect the priorities of the state but also address, where appropriate, the concerns of parents, business leaders and other local taxpayers. It will identify, and help remove, barriers to greater participation by parents as active partners in their children's education. It will foster the effective parental involvement necessary to improve student academic achievement and school performance, including active reviews of school programs and improvement strategies. Parents will be informed about the school's curriculum, the academic assessments used to measure student progress and the proficiency levels of students.

Each advisory council will participate in the annual performance evaluation of the principal and may recommend to the superintendent the hiring and firing of principals, though the authority for such actions will rest solely with the superintendent.

Students unable to function appropriately in regular classrooms will be provided rigorous curriculum and support services in alternative learning environments administered and provided by the unified, regional and isolated districts.

Parents and children will have the freedom to attend any school -- kindergarten through high school -- under conditions established by law or by the state Board of Education.

Out of respect for and as a courtesy to the patrons and taxpayers in existing districts, preliminary identification of the new districts and community school units will occur no later than Jan. 1, 2004. Those areas designated as community school units will have an early opportunity, between then and the effective date of this reorganization (estimated to be July 1, 2004) to consolidate into unified districts or to join districts already designated as unified.

It previously had been our position that any district, regardless of size, whose students consistently exhibited exceptional performances on state, regional or national examinations or on other related indicators of academic success wouldn't be adversely affected by a reorganization plan. It's our hope that some mechanism, compatible with the mandate of the Arkansas Supreme Court, can be found to honor that provision through the granting of charters to such existing districts. This will be a high priority for this administration and one whose resolution will be sought as part of the court-ordered adequacy study. We'll also be receptive to considering other creative options involving partnerships or organizational changes that can meet the test of substantially equal educational opportunities for students.

Department of Education Realignment

Prior to the implementation of the school reorganization plan, the state Department of Education will itself reorganize. It must maximize its role as an active senior partner with the schools rather than as an intruder or spectator. A task force of key department staff, school district representatives and other stakeholders will examine the department's delivery system and make recommendations for realignment. All necessary personnel positions will be identified, and existing employees will be encouraged to apply for those jobs that closely match their training, experience and interests.

The department will conduct a comprehensive review of salaries for those selected for the newly created agency with equity adjustments made to recognize differences in responsibility, performance or seniority. A high priority will be given to recruiting experts in curriculum, assessment and professional development who will be credible and enjoy the respect of local educators. Qualifications and salary levels will be comparable to those of similar employees in the school districts. To accomplish this, the department will need to be relieved from the Uniform Classification and Compensation Act and its accompanying regulations while being given broader authority to hire, fire and set the salaries of its employees.

Education Cooperative Realignment

The 15 education service cooperatives will be disbanded and reconstituted into 25-30 education service centers that function as units of the state Department of Education. The primary mission of these centers will be to assist the department in providing effective instructional and non-instructional support to the local school districts, focusing on curriculum and staff development activities. The centers also will house the administrative units for regional school districts, including the superintendent and central office personnel to coordinate and support the instructional, technological, fiscal, transportation and maintenance needs of the community school units.


This proposal should be viewed as a blueprint for further discussion and refinement, not as a final product. It should be discussed thoroughly as part of the Supreme Court's mandated adequacy study, with the adoption of the final parameters, including the number and size of school districts and the structure of salary schedules, awaiting the conclusion of that study.

Summary of Proposed Structure

Arkansas Department of Education

  • State Board of Education
  • Central administration
    • Instructional
    • Non-instructional
  • Education service centers (formerly education service cooperatives
    • Instructional
    • Teacher center
    • Non-instructional
    • Administrative units for regional districts
  • School Districts
  • Unified (K-12)    
  • Estimated number       76
    • Minimum 1,500 average daily membership
    • School board
      • Recommends hiring/firing superintendent to ADE
    • Superintendent
      • Hires/fires principals and central office staff
    • Instructional services
      • Support services
      • Meet standards
      • Taxing unit
  • Regional (Any combination of grades K-12)   
  • Estimated number 25 - 30
    • Composed of community school units
    • Administered from education service center
    • School board
      • Recommends hiring/firing superintendent to ADE
        • Superintendent
          • Hires/fires principals and central office staff of community school units and central office staff of regional administrative unit
      • Instructional services to community school units
      • Support services to community school units
        • Technology
        • Fiscal
        • Transportation
        • Maintenance
      • Meet standards
      • Taxing unit
  • Isolated (K-12)     
  • Estimated number 6 - 10
    • Special characteristics as evidenced by
      • Geography
      • Sparse population
    • May be unified district or community school unit

Estimated Total School Districts/Taxing Units*          107 - 116

*Totals do not include charter school districts whose number cannot be estimated at this time.

Community School Unit