Columns » Bob McCord

The two-district solution

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Influential persons in Jacksonville and Sherwood are trying hard to get their own school districts rather than have all the schools in Pulaski County north of the Arkansas River put into one district. They are making a bad mistake.

The state has paid $244,120 to some experts from North Carolina to study the situation, and at first they praised the legislature’s suggestion of having one district for Little Rock and every area south of the river and one district for North Little Rock and the north side. But it seems that the experts are giving way to the Jacksonville group. Their report to the legislature’s Joint Education Committee is due in June.

Now there are three school districts in Pulaski County — one for Little Rock, one for North Little Rock and another one for the rest of the county. That is a mess. Some kids in the county have to be driven over the river by buses or parents as much as 20 miles every day to go to their schools. Last year 6.9 percent of the Pulaski County students dropped out of school as compared to only 3.6 percent in Little Rock and less than 1 percent in North Little Rock.

Whether it’s right or not, most people think the Little Rock and North Little Rock schools are better than the county schools. Some of the fancy new neighborhoods in Little Rock and North Little Rock have fallen into the Pulaski County school district, causing many of the parents to put their children in private schools, which certainly doesn’t make our county more amicable.

The experts have told Jacksonville that its citizens would have to pay between $12 million and $14 million more than the $8.8 million they are paying now if it had its own district, but the Jacksonville treasurer said the town can raise it.

Consolidation into two districts would save money for everyone. There would be fewer superintendents, principals, teachers, coaches, secretaries, nurses, buses, etc., and I believe that eventually we would have better schools and fewer kids dropping out of them.

If you are interested in Arkansas and its people, you ought to come to “Legacies and Lunch” at the Little Rock library the first Wednesday every month at noon and listen to a short speech by someone who ought to know what he or she is talking about. It’s sponsored by the library’s Butler Center for Arkansas History and Genealogy.

There’s no charge and even free parking if you come early. The library provides water and soda pop, but you have to bring your own sandwich. Carey Cox, the program coordinator, stops the speaker at 30 minutes. That’s the library’s idea so that working people can come during their lunch hour. And they do, sometimes as many as 200 people.

Last week’s program was the 80th . Its speaker was Leslie “Skip” Stewart-Abernathy, an associate professor of archaeology at Arkansas Tech University. His speech was about boats on Arkansas rivers. Now I was happy owning an old boat for 15 years but was happiest on the day I gave it away. However, I really liked this man’s talk.

He told about hundreds of Cherokees from Alabama who came up the Arkansas River on canoes to get to the mouth of the White River in Arkansas where they made their home. Keel boats took thousands of people to live in Oklahoma. He got laughs when he said some “crazy people” built a replica of a keel boat and rode him in it on Lake Dardanelle. “It rode beautifully,” he said.

But to me the most interesting story was of the steamship Sultana, which blew up on the Mississippi after it left Helena and Memphis — the worst peacetime marine disaster. It happened April 27, 1865 at the end of the Civil War when the Sultana was carrying home more than 2,000 Union soldiers who had been in Confederate prisons. The ship was terribly overloaded as proved by a photograph of the ship’s deck made in Helena. Its boilers were overstrained, and so with the overload of passengers and the powerful current, the ship blew up at midnight.

A few of the soldiers blown into the water managed to grab pieces of wood and lived until rescue boats came from Memphis. But still, the historians say between 1,500 and 1,700 of the soldiers were killed.

Abernathy had talked about archaeologists digging up a similar ship that was embedded 35 feet below the bottom of the Missouri River, and it “cost millions.” Some one asked why not dig up the Sultana? “It’s now under a soybean field,” he said. “Let’s don’t. Let’s just leave the Sultana in place — safe.”

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