Alternate School Plan Calls for 77 Districts

Rep. Betty Pickett, D - Conway
Rep. Betty Pickett, D - Conway

January 30, 2003
Posted at: 9:54 a.m. CDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A Conway representative is planning to introduce legislation that would reduce school district in Arkansas from its current number of 310 to 77.

Rep. Betty Pickett (D) of Conway expects to file her school reorganization sometime next week, although it could be filed as early as Friday.

Picket tells KAIT that her plan would group school districts across the state into two types: independent and unified school districts. Pickett says that school districts with average daily enrollments of over 4,000 students would be allowed to stand alone with independent status, while districts with unified status "would be formed into collective units of over 4,000 students."

Based on student population numbers provided by the State Department of Education, some 21 of the state's districts would enjoy independent district status. They are, in descending order of population (Region 8 schools in bold):

  • Little Rock (24,501)
  • Pulaski Co. (17,938)
  • Fort Smith (12,844)
  • Springdale (12,839)
  • Rogers (11,852)
  • N. Little Rock (8,621)
  • Conway (8,109)
  • Fayetteville (7,994)
  • Bentonville (7,721)
  • Cabot (7,496)
  • Pine Bluff (6,229)
  • West Memphis (6,069)
  • Bryant (5,967)
  • Van Buren (5,505)
  • Russellville (5,179)
  • Jonesboro (4,753)
  • Texarkana (4,592)
  • El Dorado (4,416)
  • Benton (4,150)
  • Sheridan (4,099)
  • Forrest City (4,045)

The state's remaining 289 districts would then be reorganized into 56 unified districts.

Pickett's plan is touted as an alternative, but not a competitor, of a reorganization plan offered by Gov. Mike Huckabee in his State of the State address on January 14. In his plan, Huckabee called for a reduction in districts from 310 to about 116 districts, based upon a student population threshold of 1,500 students.

In Region 8, school districts that would exist under the Huckabee plan. For example, school districts like Nettleton (student population 2,623) and Westside (1,659) in Craighead County; Paragould (2,651) and Greene County Tech (2,891) in Greene County; and Blytheville (3,386) and Osceola (1,718) in Mississippi County, would be reorganized into larger administrative units.

"Under my reorganization plan, schools will not disappear," Pickett promised.

Pickett's proposal does not take into account districts that would have been designated as "isolated" under the Huckabee plan. She says that there would be "no need for isolated districts, as they would be administered by the unified districts."

"Schools will be held in strict compliance with curriculum and performance standards under my plan," Pickett added. "Schools that fall below those standards would be reorganized."

Pickett did not define what type of reorganization would happen to below-standard schools.

Pickett said that she has yet to determine the amount of cost savings that the state would realize under her plan. She said that she is going over final numbers, and that she would have an estimate prior to introducing legislation.