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Jacksonville school system turns to federal judge for state construction funds

The Jacksonville / North Pulaski School District is seeking assistance from a federal court to acquire state funds for the court-ordered replacement of its Murrell Taylor and Bayou Meto elementary schools.

The effect could be the return of state officials as an active party in what is now the 38-year-old Pulaski County school federal desegregation trial.

The Jacksonville District alleges that the state’s stance against funding at the levels desired by the district “has exacerbated one of the remaining vestiges of segregation in this case by refusing to partner with the JNPSD to address the uneven facilities in the district. the district ”.

District seeks court leave to file so-called “third party complaint” against Arkansas Secretary of Education, who is Johnny Key, and director of the state division of school facilities and public transport, which is Tim Cain.

The purpose of the complaint – if allowed – would be to ask a judge to determine whether state officials should “heed the orders of this Court and whether those orders should weigh in the balance as to whether desegregation is. a prudent and ingenious use of State funds ”.

Scott P. Richardson, a Jacksonville District attorney, sent the leave application and a copy of the proposed complaint against the state to U.S. District Chief Justice D. Price Marshall Jr.

Marshall is the presiding judge in the federal school desegregation lawsuit in which the Jacksonville district is one of the two remaining defendants. Marshall, in 2018, ordered the Jacksonville District to replace the two schools as quickly as possible as part of the district’s obligation to equalize the state of all of its campuses. The district already has a one-year-old high school, a brand new middle school, a new elementary school and another elementary school that will open later this year.

The district responded to Marshall at the time with a construction payment plan that relied in part on money earmarked from the Arkansas University Facilities Partnership Program to pay for up to 47% of the two projects. Bayou Meto is expected to cost around $ 14.5 million and Murrell Taylor around $ 16 million.

State officials approved $ 4.1 million for the replacement of Bayou Meto Elementary School, but the state did not plan a multi-purpose hall for a new school because the existing campus multi-purpose hall was built in 2017.

Additionally, the state’s facilities division refused to fund a new Murrell Taylor Elementary School due to the school’s relatively young age, 38. The state said it would share the cost of an addition to the existing school so that the school meets state standards. for the size. The state’s share would be less than $ 1.4 million.

Several laws, rules, and standards from the Arkansas State Board of Education and the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education require school districts to comply with federal law, civil rights obligations, and even actively seek desegregation. Richardson wrote in the request. for judicial intervention.

“Despite this authority [the facilities division] nullified the ability of the JNPSD to comply with the court order imposing obligations on the JNPSD under the Fourteenth Amendment in the desegregation of its facilities, ”Richardson wrote.

Richardson argues in the proposed complaint that the judge retains jurisdiction over the state over the Jacksonville / North Pulaski district.

“This continued jurisdiction was a departure from the state’s broad rejection in this case otherwise effected by” a 2014 consent judgment in the case, Richardson wrote.

“The purpose of this exclusion was to allow the Court to exercise jurisdiction over the state if disputes arose regarding the proposed new district,” he added with reference to Jacksonville. “The State of Arkansas and its agencies, such as the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, have requested that this reserve of jurisdiction be released. This reserve of jurisdiction has not been released by the Court.”

Richardson further argues in the proposed complaint that state officials are aware of the Jacksonville District’s desegregation obligations, but failed to take them into account when making funding decisions. He further contends that state laws and regulations require school districts to strive for unitary status. Unitarian status is a court ruling that a district has met the requirements for desegregation and is free from further judicial oversight.

“The defendants should be ordered to provide full funding, without penalty, as required by the partnership program to replace Bayou Meto Elementary School and Taylor Elementary School within the time limits imposed by this Court,” Richardson wrote.

“The JNPSD respectfully calls on the Court to prohibit the State of Arkansas, Secretary Key, and Director Cain from pursuing the constitutional violation that this Court has found at the JNPSD facilities and for any other remedies to which the JNPSD is entitled. “

Kimberly Mundell, a spokesperson for the national education agency, said Wednesday that the agency’s executives had not commented on Jacksonville’s motion.


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