Marked Tree School District appeals "Fiscal Distress" decision
by: MICHAEL WILKEY
Marked Tree Superintendent Gary Masters and other school and community leaders are currently dealing with a recent decision by the Arkansas State Board of Education to place the school on Fiscal Distress Phase I for the 2001-2002 school year.
On June 11, the Arkansas State Board of Education in Little Rock voted to place Marked Tree, as well as Crawfordsville, on Fiscal Distress Phase I.
The Arkansas State Board of Education defines it as a "district experiencing a declining balance that will interrupt and negatively impact the educational services provided to the students."
Phase I is the first of three phases that the state of Arkansas uses to identify schools at risk of either academic or fiscal distress.
Masters attributes the designation to two things: first, a declining revenue base for the school, due to a decrease in student enrollment; and two, a decrease in the end of year carryover amount, required by the state of Arkansas.
Masters notes that the Marked Tree School District has lost 194 students in the last five years, including 70 between the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 school year.
However, Masters points out that the situation is not only school related; it is community related. Masters defined this statement by saying that the city of Marked Tree lost 300 residents according to the 2000 Census.
Masters said that the school district is hoping to turn those numbers around, due to community efforts and a recent survey. The survey lists a lack of jobs and a lack of housing as evidence of the decline.
Masters continued by saying that community efforts are improving and sites the building of both a hardware store and grocery store, as efforts by the city to keep and bring jobs to Marked Tree.
Masters also notes that monthly community meetings, with the next meeting on June 21 at 5:30 p.m., have been a sounding board for residents to provide their imput on the situation.
Masters pointed to the following, as evidence of the school's work:
* Monthly meetings, held in different venues, such as Marked Tree City Hall and Delta Technical College, where jobs, housing, and childcare needs are addressed.
* Masters attended meetings of the Marked Tree Lions Club and Marked Tree Rotary Club, where he explained the situation and asked for open discussion.
* Masters has written articles in the Tri-City Tribune, to keep parents and community leaders informed on the situation.
*Also, the Marked Tree School District will ask voters to approve a 1.5 mil increase in Sept. 2001, during the next school board election.
Also, the school hopes that steps taken by the school will help improve their financial condition, and remove the school from the Fiscal Distress Phase I step or keep their stay on the list very short. Recently, the district cut nine certified positions and five non-certified positions, which saved the school $329,000 for next year.
However, the district expects to lose $300,000 in funding, due to the declining enrollment, causing the school to broke even for the school year.
As a result, the district expects class size to increase due to the reduction in force, but the number will be within reach of the state standard for teacher-student ratio.
Overall, Masters and the school board are hopeful that the school district will end the school year, with a positive budget carryover.
Masters credits the Marked Tree School Board as being "concerned and pro-active" about the situation.
He says that continued support from the community is needed to recover without deterioration of any facilities.
He also noted that consolidation is not an issue being considered at this point for the school.
Masters emphasized that the school is not in danger of closing and that the school is financially sound. However, he said that a declining enrollment will make recovery difficult for the school.
Masters personally presented the appeal to the Arkansas State Board of Education June 12, at their offices in Little Rock.
On July 9, Masters will make a presentation of the appeal, at the July meeting of the Arkansas State Board of Education. After the appeal is made, the board will have 30-60 days to present results of the appeal and allow response to the appeal.