Parental influence sways board to choose Oak Ridge Central over Mammoth Spring
The Mammoth Spring School District voted Feb. 16 to consolidate with the Williford School School District. But Williford's school board voted three days later to administratively consolidate with the Oak Ridge Central School District in Ravenden.
"We had several parents at the meeting and we polled them," said Rodney Despain, Williford School Board president. "About 99 percent of them wanted us to go with Oak Ridge Central."
The vote was unanimous.
Williford and Oak Ridge Central are two of 57 districts across the state with fewer than 350 students that are being forced to administratively consolidate with other districts that border them.
Williford has 287 students while Oak Ridge Central has 220.
After discussing possible consolidation with Oak Ridge Central, Mammoth Spring and Sloan-Hendrix, Despain said the board decided to consolidate with Oak Ridge Central based on the district's size.
"They are a small school like we are and we figured we would be better going with them because they know what it's like being a small school," Despain said. "We have a lot of kids whose parents want them in a small school setting."
Consolidating with Oak Ridge Central also gives Williford residents more pull on the new school board. Williford will have one more board member than Oak Ridge Central.
Despite a small loss of representation, Oak Ridge Central agreed to consolidate with Williford rather than the Maynard School District, which they were also in negotiations with, Despain said.
The two school boards will meet soon to determine what the new school district will be called, although the individual schools will likely keep their names.
The state Supreme Court declared Arkansas' public education system unconstitutional in late 2002. Legislators recently passed Act 60 that requires districts with fewer than 350 students during the 2002 and 2003 school years to administratively consolidate with other districts. The state also raised taxes by $385 million per year to pay for reforms and set aside $37 million in incentive money to smooth the transition.
With the administrative consolidation, one superintendent will likely lose his job and both school boards will be dissolved. The new larger district will have to redraw lines for school board members.
The new district will have an enrollment of roughly 500 students. Had Williford voted to consolidate with Mammoth Spring it would have created a district with an enrollment of over 700. Mammoth Spring's current enrollment is 416.
Evans said if enrollment in the new district slips and the Legislature asks for schools with fewer than 500 students to close, Williford doesn't have to worry about shutting its doors, although other schools might.
Williford is one of 29 districts that were originally recognized by the Legislature in 1984 as isolated districts.
At a Feb. 9 meeting Mammoth Spring School Board meeting Superintendent Ron Taylor told the board, "The number 500 was once mentioned as a possible student/ratio number as far as consolidation goes. In the Mammoth Spring School District we currently have a student population of 416 students. There are many superintendents across the state that are afraid either the governor or Legislature would propose the 500 student number again. If this should happen, our district would be one of the schools forced to consolidate in the next round."
After the Williford vote Taylor said he was relieved and disappointed at the same time. He said he at least gave the school patrons of the Mammoth Spring School District the information he knew regarding the consolidation issue.