There seems to be no doubt that the Twin Rivers School District will end and about 330 students will be attending a new school district next year.
One of the districts bordering the Twin Rivers District that will extend its border to accommodate some of those students is the Mammoth Spring School District.
"It's an unfortunate deal that it didn't work out for those folks," Mammoth Spring Superintendent Ronald Taylor said. "We hate it for them here. We attended the meeting at Williford when the commissioner came to answer questions and we saw the anxiety that this is causing within the community down there and those folks didn't do anything we wouldn't do or you wouldn't do if your school was taken from your community. We recognize that. None of this is our decision, but we're going to offer our services however we can serve to help implement this thing."
Taylor said there is a long history and connection with the Williford School District which is only seven miles from Mammoth Spring. Taylor said in 2004 that when it became apparent that Williford was going to have to consolidate under the 350 student rule, meetings were held and the school board passed a resolution that if it was the will of the people, Williford could be annexed with Mammoth Spring.
"For whatever reason, the Williford folks decided to consolidate with Oak Ridge," Taylor said. "We've always had an open door policy with Williford since this thing came about in 2004. Right now, the last count I had, we have 18 students who are actually residents of that school who are here under the freedom of choice."
Taylor said the Mammoth Spring School Board met in special session recently and several Williford parents and their children attended. He said it was the consensus of the board that the school is open to any student under the freedom of choice and it would be agreeable to the board for the state to redraw Mammoth Spring school's boundaries to include a part of the Williford District.
"I've been in a couple of meetings with the other five superintendents and the commissioner of the state board of education where we've put together some maps that show what we would be willing to do," Taylor said. "He's taken those maps back to Little Rock to incorporated into one map and then we'll have a better idea. The whole idea on his part is to try to draw the boundaries lines to get the kids to the nearest school which would be the first priority. The other priority would be to use some kind of reasonable boundaries, a man made boundary like a road or a natural boundary like a river so there are good clear-cut boundaries to recognize 25 to 30 years from now. That's a good idea."
"To give you a little history of the Mammoth Spring School District, and I've complained about this since I came here in 1970, and I've complained about this to anyone who would listen, even Attorney General Bill Clinton running for governor the first time, that some kind of relief needed to be granted to the Mammoth Spring district because of the state line. In effect, what we have here is half a school district when you compare Viola and Salem. We've got 124 square miles of school district, Viola has 236 and Salem has 224," Taylor said. "That all use to work pretty good because we had a real viable tax base within the incorporated city here back in the 70s. We had two new car dealerships, Ark-Mo Power had an office here, a couple of grocery stores and we had five service stations. But, with the movement of that economic base, we're left with real estate that's rural and agricultural and basically residential as our tax base and as long as they try to operate these schools based on property taxes, you've got to have some property to tax so you don't have to put so much of a burden on a smaller number in a smaller area. We've never been able to expand north because of the Missouri line. So, having said all that, my board here authorized me to try to incorporate maybe as much as 100 square miles of that school district in order to bring us up to a level of the other two school districts in the county as far as the amount of real estate we would have as a taxable base, so that's pretty much what I was shooting for . The school district together when you take both Williford and Oak Ridge together is 358 square miles. So, the part that we would be looking at is along the Missouri border, out to Highway 93, due south down to Ravenden Springs and then back across to Highway 175. I think that would incorporate about 100 square miles. It's a sparsely populated area and transportation for those kids will be tough, but in the final analysis those kids, however sparsely populated, have probably got a better shot at coming into Mammoth Spring then they have anyplace else, within the proximity of the school."
"We ran a suitability study in regard to our facilities and our staff because there's always a danger of bringing in more kids than you've got buildings and staff for, you know it's a possibility and a real possibility if you don't know how many you can handle. The state has a matrix on square feet that is set up for suitability and based on the numbers we think we could take in is 70 to 75 kids without any crowding. If they all came in spread equally over the 13 grades there'd be no need to add staff or anything else. We've got staff that could handle 70 to 75. You've got 331 kids that are going to need to go some direction and I think it's a real possibility that we'll have anywhere from 50 to 75 interested in coming here. And we're ready, willing and able."
Taylor said the ABC program that both Williford and Oak Ridge have is already in place at Mammoth and will be able to accommodate the children coming into the program.
"Both Oak Ridge and Williford campuses have an ABC program which is the 3-4 year old program and I want to make absolutely clear that those folks coming out of that area that have kids eligible for ABC pre-school, we've got an ABC pre-school. We've got accommodations for 40 kids. Right now we are serving about 30 kids. I've got 26 ABC slots which means that the state pays. I asked the commissioner to allocate some more slots specifically earmarked for the kids coming out of Oak Ridge and Williford school districts, so that those pre-schoolers will be able to go to a pre-school like they had hoped to do at Williford and Oak Ridge and he assured me that we will have the slots to accommodate the kids coming out of there for the pre-school program. That's an important thing for the parents in those communities, because it is a good program and it gets the kids off to a good start and we've got the staff and the facilities to accommodate. I've been assured there will be some slots available that will follow those kids up here," Taylor said.
Taylor said he hopes that final boundaries will be set as soon as possible to give the schools as well as the parents and kids time to plan and adjust to the new system.
"The time table, and it's a little bit of a rush, the state Department of Education has decided that if any of the kids would want to transfer before school's out, they've set it up with us, and we've been agreeable that we would take them at any time. When these district boundaries are drawn, under freedom of choice, if the district boundaries are drawn for a kid to be in the Maynard School District and they wanted to go to Sloan-Hendrix or whatever, they can opt out under the freedom of choice, regardless of what boundary their real estate is attached to. So they've always got that freedom of choice to go to any school they want to," Taylor said.
"I think Dr. Kimbrell has got in mind to have something ready to present to the state board at the May board meeting with regards to finalizing the plan. I'm hoping that he can have something ready for the April board meeting. That was my wish to him that we could have something ready for April because when you get to the second Monday in May it's so close to school being out and there's so much to be done communicating with those kids and their parents and you can do that a whole lot better while the kids are still in school than you can when they get scattered. That doesn't give us much time from the second Monday in May until school's out to do everything that needs to be done by way of communicating with the kids. But, whatever happens, happens. But the May board meeting is the latest date as far as having it set for what's going to happen."
Taylor said all the superintendents from the adjoining Twin Rivers School District have worked with the state Board of Education to make this transition as smooth as possible for all involved.
"We just want the parents and kids to know that if they choose Mammoth Spring, we will welcome them here," Taylor said.