Annexation accepted

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Mount Pleasant, Evening Shade call decisions 'best option'

The Mount Pleasant School Board voted March 8 to accept annexation into the Melbourne School District. Mount Pleasant Superintendent Howard Lamb said this was the best option for Mount Pleasant.

Lamb said Mount Pleasant hoped to consolidate with Evening Shade, Cushman, Melbourne or a combination of schools. A ballot was given to residents of the Mount Pleasant School District, detailing the consolidation and annexation options. Patrons were asked to vote for the proposal they liked the best. By a 5:1 margin, residents chose the annexation option with Melbourne.

Mount Pleasant School Board members said they were obligated to follow the wishes of the people in the Mount Pleasant School District. "The community made a good choice," Lamb said.

Lamb said he is sorry consolidation efforts with the other schools, Evening Shade and Cushman, failed. He said the population of the new combined district could protect it from further consolidation moves and Mount Pleasant students would benefit from Melbourne's large tax base.

Lamb said specific details of the annexation haven't been worked out yet. He said an interim school board will be formed consisting of four Melbourne members and three Mount Pleasant members. They will remain in office until 2005.

Lamb said Mount Pleasant will operate as normal next year. It will remain in full operation until the school is financially unable to continue, he said. "We could be open one year or 10 years, it just depends," he said.

Lamb said how long the school stays open will be directly proportional to how much the state Legislature raises teacher salaries in the future and how the State Board of Education interprets a ruling from the Arkansas Supreme Court stipulating school buildings have to meet higher standards.

Lamb said the Mount Pleasant community is going to miss its school when it finally closes. "The buildings, grounds, even the trees were put here by the people of this community, generation after generation, but now we've got to face reality," he said.

Melbourne and Mount Pleasant's annexation plans still need approval by the State Board of Education. The proposal must be submitted by April 1.

Annexation of Evening Shade School District by the Cave City School District is now a reality. Evening Shade's School Board voted unanimously March 11 to accept annexation by the Cave City School District. Cave City voted to annex Evening Shade March 9.

Evening Shade Superintendent Karen Smith said asking the board to accept Cave City's annexation offer was the hardest thing she's ever had to do.

Evening Shade School Board member Robert Hutchinson said the board voted for annexation with a reluctant heart.

Smith outlined why annexation by Cave City is the best option for Evening Shade at a town meeting before the school board met.

Smith said the school had few options. She said her first choice was to consolidate with Mount Pleasant and Cushman. She said Cushman didn't want to consolidate with a school so far away and Mount Pleasant residents decided annexation by the Melbourne School District was their best option.

Smith said Evening Shade was left with only two possibilities, consolidation with the newly formed Lynn-River Valley School District or annexation by the Cave City School District. She said the distance between Evening Shade and Lynn-River Valley would create a large financial burden. She also said it would be difficult finding a place centrally located between the two to build a new school. She said the only remaining option was annexation by Cave City.

Smith said the Cave City School Board has been generous in negotiations. She said they plan to let Evening Shade continue to operate all three schools next year. In September 2004, the Cave City School Board will ask residents to raise their millage, she said. The extra mills would be used to build a new school, gym and football field. Smith said if the millage passes, Cave City will let Evening Shade keep its high school until the new school is completed, and that could take up to three years.

Smith said if the millage fails to pass, "all bets are off" as to how long Evening Shade would remain open.

Smith said Cave City is also willing to let the interim school board have two members from Evening Shade, whereas the population lines would give Evening Shade only one member. The board will consist of seven members and will serve until September 2005. She said Evening Shade has the option of retaining its elementary school indefinitely if they meet certain criteria.

Many people at the meeting were disgruntled with the move.

Several people in the crowd asked Smith what would happen if Evening Shade did nothing. Smith said the State Board of Education in Little Rock would eventually force Evening Shade into annexation with Cave City, and if they wait, Cave City might give fewer concessions.

Smith said everyone needs to have an open mind. "We've all got to be positive about this and we need to be positive with our kids, because very soon we're all going to be a part of the same school district," she said. Although everyone wants to maintain the small school atmosphere fostered at Evening Shade, it is time to move on, she said

"Cave City has been very gracious in this whole process," she said.

Evening Shade and Cave City will find out in April if their annexation plan is approved by the state.

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