February 20, 2003
Posted at: 4:19 p.m. CST
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Governor Huckabee and legislative leaders have agreed on a bill to overhaul Arkansas' public schools.
The sides reached common ground on legislation that would incorporate elements of Huckabee's education reform package and address concerns expressed by legislators.
The provision released today specifies that no schools would close solely because of reorganization.
Under the plan, the state Education Board would have to set boundaries for school districts by May 1, 2004. The measure would create three classes of school districts -- unified, regional and special -- and each would serve students from kindergarten
through 12th grade.
The plan calls for districts with fewer than 1,500 students to consolidate by January 1. Otherwise, those districts would be assigned to a regional district or consolidated with a unified district.
The proposal contains an exception for assigned districts. They would have until March 1, 2004, to request status as a special district. To attain that distinction, the district would have to show the Education Board that it can meet new curriculum standards
and other strictures.
The measure says special districts would have the same privileges as a unified district.
The proposal says the Education Board, after reorganization, would be able to close schools for certain reasons -- among them, poor performance and failure to meet standards.
School boards would be able to hire and fire superintendents, which would be unchanged from current law. Huckabee's original proposal called for greater state authority over superintendents.
However, the state Education Director would be able to recommend suspension or discipline of superintendents and local school board members. The state Education Board would have final say.
The proposal also contains a provision for school choice. It also calls for academic and fiscal training annually for school board members. Failure to do so could result in removal from the board.
The plan says each school would have a parent advisory council, and alternative learning environments would be strengthened.