July 11, 2003 - Posted at: 3:48 p.m. CDT
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The director of the Arkansas School Administrators Association says school superintendents are being wrongly painted as obstructionists in the debate over the state's school system.
Governor Mike Huckabee Friday urged large school districts to join in the education reform debate. The governor says the majority in the state will be sorry if a minority of districts controls the debate on school reform.
Rural educators made it clear this week that they won't accept plans to consolidate school districts as part of a plan to improve public schools in Arkansas.
Kellar Noggle, director of the school administrators group, said most superintendents are trying to find some way to work through the problem, just as Huckabee is. He said Huckabee's comments Friday appear to be an effort to try and divide up the education profession on the issue. Noggle said he thinks large-district superintendents will become more involved as the process moves along.
Frank Anthony, superintendent of the 6,500 student Pine Bluff School District, is president-elect of the school administrators group that Noggle serves as director. He agreed that large-district superintendents likely will be more involved in a special legislative session than they were in the regular session.
Anthony said much of what's been talked about in the reform process so far has shaken the small districts' trees, and they've been making a log of noise. But he said administrators of relatively large districts realize most of the students are enrolled in their schools, and those districts will be active in finding a resolution.
Speaking to The Associated Press, the governor said he may wait until Christmas eve to call legislators into special session if it takes that long to reach a consensus on the improvements.
The state has a deadline of January first to meet an Arkansas Supreme Court order to make school funding adequate and equitable among districts.
Huckabee says some consolidation will likely be necessary so the state can afford education improvements. He says he's flexible on the issue but says that part of his message is not being heard.
As the governor put it: ``I feel like sometimes taking a brick and hitting my head with it and saying 'I'm not getting through to people.'''
The governor says he needs support in his battle to put reforms in place, otherwise residents where there are larger districts such as Little Rock, Springdale and other bigger cities could end up paying vastly higher taxes.
Huckabee says an extravagant per-student cost would be a bonus for small districts but it would come at the expense of larger districts. Huckabee says he wants to put in place efficient spending practices while improving course offerings for students across the state.
The governor says he is concerned that some legislators may try to take powers away from the governor's office to name the director of the state Education Department and appoint members to the Education Board. He also says he's worried that some legislators may try to "dumb down" course requirements and effectively make no changes while still raising taxes.
Huckabee says he believes the courts won't fault him if he refuses to call a session in which court-ordered mandates can't occur.