Killing small towns in Arkansas

By Brandi Hodges - bio | email

MOUNT PLEASANT, AR (KAIT) - You may have heard the saying, "When the school goes, so goes the town."  For a number of small Region eight towns that bell has rung true.  Residents in two towns fear when their last class graduates   and the district goes away their towns will follow.

Act 60 mandates each school district have at least 350 students, something the Weiner School District has not been able to do.  Next year they will become part of neighboring Harrisburg School District.

The law passed back in 2003 in the state of Arkansas.  One of the first school districts to be affected by the change is the Mount Pleasant District in Izard County.  The school in the small town of 401 people was annexed into the Melbourne School District during the 2004-2005 school year.

"Small schools in the state of Arkansas and other states have faced consolidation for years," said former Mount Pleasant Superintendent Jarod Moxley.

Moxley was the superintendent of the Mount Pleasant district back in the 1970's and they battled this issue then.  In 2003, the fight ended.

"Act 60 is law," said Moxley.

Act 60 requires schools have 350 students or more and is responsible for the consolidation and annexation of districts across the state in recent years.

"If it were an accreditation issue then you might could improve instruction and overcome this thing and survive but if your numbers drop below 350 that's it," said Moxley.

"There's nothing wrong with Melbourne but it's not our hometown," said Lissa Martin.

When the high school moved twelve miles away to Melbourne Lissa Martin's hometown of Mount Pleasant did change.  Martin works at the gas station in Mount Pleasant.

"People don't get out as much they don't get out and support or celebrate how great this town is," said Martin.

High school students from both communities go to one school built after the merger.

"I think it's broadened the curriculum and the opportunity for kids," said Moxley

"It's allowed us to do some things financially that we never would have been able to do separately," said Melbourne Superintendent Gerald Cooper.

This is still a touchy subject for those who have been through it and will be for decades.

"I don't think you can draw a line and say below this number is a bad school and above it's a good school," said Moxley.

And those who are experiencing this change know what others will go through.  There are a number of other districts in Region 8 that faced the same fate.  For those towns that lost population after losing their school, the big unknown is did it happen because the school left or was it happening for other reasons.  What will happen in the Weiner community only time will tell.

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