Hughes School District challenges state consolidation order | Arkansas Blog

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hughes School District challenges state consolidation order

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 6:37 AM

The Hughes School District has announced a lawsuit in St. Francis circuit court to challenge the state Board of Education's decision to consolidate it with West Memphis.

Hughes contends its enrollment is above the 350-student threshold for consolidation. But it also challenges a "fiscal distress" determination by the board, citing a growing fund balance and coming release of funds held in escrow because of lawsuits by former employees that have been decided in the district's favor. The suit says Hughes has been treated differently than other districts 

Most interesting of all, though, is Hughes' invocation of Act 377 of 2015, which provided a waiver from consolidation based on enrollment when districts are not in distress. Rep. Charlotte Douglas, sponsor of the bill, told the state board of Education that the bill's emergency clause was included to help Hughes.

From a prepared release:

Hughes School District Attorney James Valley denounced the decision by the Arkansas Department of Education and the State Board. He said, “The Arkansas Department of Education and the State Board of Education have acted in dubious fashion in their zeal to take over and shut down as many public school districts as they can. Hughes should not have been on the consolidation list because the ADE’s own record show it had 354 students. Additionally, the department forced the district to drop students from the roll when It should not have done so.”

Valley added, “It seems that the district was only kept in fiscal distress because there was a coordinated plan to make sure Hughes was shut down. At least four other districts in the last two years have been released from fiscal distress despite having audits that were similar to Hughes’s. In fact, Hughes is probably in better financial shape than most of the small school districts in the state and many of the larger ones. On the fiscal distress issue, the ADE is at best inconsistent and making it up as they go along and at worst hypocritical and consciously seeking to decimate the Hughes community and its school district because it can’t pick leadership that it likes.”

Could have been worse. Hughes could have found itself like the state's largest school district, not part of a school district at all, but "run" by the state and, so far, with little to show for it.

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