Consolidation Controversy Obstacle for Summer Meetings

June 30, 2003 - Posted at: 6:22 p.m. CDT

BROOKLAND, Ark. -- An uncertain future is facing small school districts as the possibility of consolidation rears its head.

Every year, superintendents from rural school districts across the state meet for a three day summer conference to discuss academic issues. Normally, the meeting is held in a vacation setting, where family members are invited to attend. But one Region superintendent will forego the vacation in order to work to keep his school district alive.

The parking lot outside Brookland High School is empty these days. Inside, however, Superintendent Gene Goza is busy planning for the fall, when the legislature revisits the issue of school consolidation.

"I think right now," Goza said. "Everybody's waiting to see what this adequacy study is going to say."

The study was commissioned by the General Assembly following the November 2002 Lake View ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court that said the state's current education funding system was "inadequate, unequal, and unconstitutional."

Goza speaks on behalf of several other rural school superintendents who are playing the waiting game this summer. They're waiting to see how the state plans to satisfy the court's ruling by its January 1 deadline. His school district has fewer than 1,500 students and is in danger of consolidating under one plan floated by Governor Mike Huckabee.

"I think we all agree there should be some type of consolidation," Goza said. "It's the way it's being pushed that we disagree with. Just to say that you should have a certain number -- that won't hold water."

In two weeks, Goza will be joining over 100 other school superintendents in similar positions at the Arkansas Rural Education Association's summer conference in Eureka Springs. Members of the legislature will be on hand for discussions, as well as those involved in the adequacy study.

"I think it will be a good meeting, an interesting meeting," he said.

Even though the adequacy study is not complete yet, Goza is of the belief that his district will meet the state's education standards that are based on student test scores, as well as other achievements.

According to Goza, efficiency and not population should matter in this educational debate. In fact, he's so behind his argument, that he hasn't even contemplated the worst case scenario: consolidation.

"We do everything except have the number at 1,500," Goza said. "We refuse to consider that as a possibility."