VILONIA — The School Board is placing school transfer applications on the shelf for the time being in the wake of last week’s federal court ruling striking down the state’s school choice law.
Board members voted to follow the advice of Superintendent Frank Mitchell.
“I recommend we do nothing on these,” he said, referring to applications pending the board’s review. “I know this is going to be a problem for some families but there’s nothing we can do but wait.”
Federal Judge Robert T. Dawson ruled Friday that a race-based provision in the 1989 Arkansas Public School Choice Act violates the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law. The provision is not severable from the entire act and enjoined the state from applying the School Choice Act, Dawson said.
School Board members raised questions at Monday night’s meeting about applications they approved in the past and the students who are currently attending the district under the act.
“No one knows at this time what is going to happen with this,” Mitchell said. “I just don’t know how far reaching it will be.”
He speculated that chaos could reign in some school districts, not only for the students but also regarding teacher employment.
Mitchell said he has been in contact with attorneys and with some of the families in the Vilonia district who potentially may be affected. Some of the families, he said, could be in “a real bind.”
The Vilonia district has approved an average of six to 10 transfer students per year since 1989, officials said.
Mitchell said he will monitor developments with the state Department of Education and will pass the information to the board.
In other business, the board approved three athletic policy changes presented by Ed Sellers, assistant superintendent and athletic director.
Students currently involved in more than one sport, must designate a primary sport. The move will require the two head coaches to communicate and make decisions, Seller said, regarding conflicts of practices and games. But the policy change will prevent the student from being the “go-between,” he added.
The second change stipulates that coaches will no longer receive meal reimbursements unless they spend the night. The change is consistent with state law.
The third policy change spells out the consequences of student athletes found using illegal drugs. A first time offender will be banned from athletics for two months and subject to six drug screenings at the student’s expense. Sellers said the policy change is not the perfect answer to a “society problem,” but said he hopes it will have some impact.
Board members also took care of the following business:
• Approved the renewal of property/vehicle insurance policies with the Arkansas Public School Insurance Trust.
• Awarded a bid of $47,800 to CWR Construction of Little Rock for work on the tennis courts. The project is a joint effort between the school and the city, Mitchell said, with the city paying half. The courts will be green with red borders. The project is expected to take 10 days.
• Approved a bid for safe room bleachers from MISCO for $24,890.
• Approved renewal of the student accident insurance policy with Dwight Jones Agency for $23,865.
• Approved the purchase of football equipment from CAS Gymnasium Equipment for $23,357.70.
• Approved a raise in pay scale for classified personnel to a minimum of $8.02 per hour.
• Approved a raise in daycare tuition for next year, depending on the child’s age category and length of time being kept, from $10 to $15 per week. A grant received by the daycare for about 10 years was stopped. Mitchell said daycare officials plan to cut other expenses, including gymnastics and music programs brought in and one aid position to help with adjustments.
• Voted to allow the cafeteria to enter into a purchasing quorum along with Conway, Mayflower and Greenbrier school districts.
• Recognized Cathy Riggins, principal of Vilonia Middle School, for accomplishing Master Principal status. Diana Peer, Master Principal leader, was at the meeting and said Riggins is one of 21 in the state to earn the distinction. Peer also presented a plaque to the board recognizing its support of Riggins. Board member Scott Newell addressed other staff in the audience, saying: “This means a lot to us.”
•Ronnie Simmons, high school assistant principal, made a presentation on iPads and applications. He used them daily during the last school semester, he said, in his chemistry and physics classes, primarily doing away with paperwork. Other than having to deal with a few issues, Simmons said, they were a great success. The students, he said, love working with them.