Weiner schools may rise again through little-noticed bill | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Weiner schools may rise again through little-noticed bill

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2015 at 8:06 AM

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Rick Fahr, a former newspaperman and proud graduate of Weiner High School, wrote me yesterday about a little-noticed piece of legislation that he believes is intended to lead to the re-establishment of the Weiner School District, consolidated after great furor with Harrisburg when it fell below the 350-student cap. It's headed to House passage, probably today.

The bill creates a pilot program for an agricultural elementary and high school, exempt from the enrollment requirements of the law. It's a natural fit for Weiner. (A reader informs me this school will fall under the Career Education Department Agriculture Department, not direct Education Department supervision.)

He writes:

There really is only one question left, and it's rhetorical.

Will there be a basketball team?

There most certainly will be, but the mascot shouldn't be the Cardinals. Should be the Phoenix.

Yes, it appears that all the political skids have been greased to allow Weiner to once again have its very own school district. SB1037 has passed the Senate and has received a "do pass" from committee in the state House. Of course, if you were looking for the bill in the Senate or House Education Committee, you wouldn't have seen it. The measure passed through the Agriculture, Timber and Economic Development committees.

Not familiar with Weiner or the saga of its school district?

Allow me to fill you in.

My parents, my sisters and I all graduated from Weiner High School. It was a district in which most of the parents cared what went on, most of the teachers cared even more and the entire community supported the district. It didn't lack for money, but one factor limited it dramatically. There simply weren't enough students for a full, rich curriculum. Back then, the course catalog would fit on two pages. There were really two academic tracks and two tracks only — one for the kids going to college and one for the kids not going to college. That was it. There weren't electives. There weren't extracurricular activities all over the place.

There was a basketball team, though. Lord, was there a basketball team. Down through the years, some great players wore that proud Cardinals uniform. More than a few went on to play college ball, and more than that still retain legend status in the area.

But a decade ago, Weiner was like many other Delta towns. It was losing population, and when a state consolidation law earned Gov. Huckabee's signature, that was the writing on the wall for Weiner High.

A handful of passionate devotees lobbied and cajoled day and night to keep the district. They had a chance to merge with the outstanding Valley View District, a deal worked out in a legislative office either in Jonesboro or Little Rock, but they turned up their nose at their urbanite neighbors. Ultimately, they had no choice but to merge with their redneck neighbors in Harrisburg. Shudder the thought. (I would say end sarcasm, but I'm probably not done yet.)

Still, the intrepid followers of the redbird held to their dream, and they found a champion two years ago in then-state Rep. John Hutchison. They began working on an idea to get around the consolidation law, and now that idea has sprouted and is ready to flower.

SB1037.

It will create a pilot program for agricultural elementary and high schools in the state.

Anyone want a wager on where the first one will be?

In theory, I have no qualm with an agricultural school. There are lots of jobs to be had in that field. (A little credit for the puns, please.) But make no mistake, these schools won't much look like the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts. No, it will look much more like Weiner High School with a few additional distance-learning flatscreens.

It will probably work out fine for more than a few of the students, the ones who are going to be fine no matter where they go to school. It's not those students I worry about.

I worry about the students on the margins, the ones who don't have a stable support network, the ones who need every academic opportunity and extracurricular activity to find their niche and enhance their ability to succeed and break patterns that have resulted in two in five Arkansans earning less than $21,000 per year.

So, it appears that few true believers in Weiner are on the verge of getting back their school. They fought tooth and nail against a state consolidation law and have apparently won. Perhaps they should lobby for special certification from the Education Department. Some of them obviously have the qualifications to teach a political science class.




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