A Long Distance Relationship is Proposed Between Weiner and Delight:
Why they want it and how they got there

Last Updated: January 28, 2010

This article appeared in the January 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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Arkansas’ Act 60, which sets a minimum enrollment for a school district at 350, has two recent casualties looking to join forces. Delight in southwest Arkansas and Weiner in northeast Arkansas, about 200 miles apart, have taken every conceivable measure to keep their schools intact. Now they have decided to ask permission of the State Board of Education to administratively consolidate into one district.
Both Delight and Weiner had supportive legislators who sponsored bills in the 2009 legislative session that could have avoided the dismantling of these rural school districts. Senator Larry Teague sponsored a bill to allow a school district to fall below the 350 mark for four years (rather than two) before dissolution would be required. Teague’s bill was squashed by the Senate Education Committee to keep it from moving forward amid opposing testimony from Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) Commissioner. Strike One.
Representative Randy Stewart sponsored a bill to allow school districts to count their pre-K enrollment toward the 350 threshold, which would have made the difference for Delight. With Department of Education commissioner using threatening and ominous testimony that allowing this would somehow open the state to lawsuits, the House Education Committee held a voice vote which audibly could have been “called” either way, but the chairperson declared the bill defeated. Strike Two.
Next, Weiner’s state representative, Buddy Lovell, presented a bill to the House Education Committee that would change one word in Act 60. It would require that a district fall under 350 in each quarter of the preceding two years rather than using the average enrollment for each year. The House Education Committee passed Lovell’s bill, sending it on for a vote of the full House. The House passed the bill by an impressive 89–8 vote. Next the bill traveled to the Senate Education Committee where big guns Arkansas Chamber of Commerce and ADE Commissioner torpedoed the bill, testifying that lawsuits would ensue should the bill pass. Rural Community Alliance (formerly ACRE) members across Arkansas mustered a massive grass roots effort in support of the bill that impressed legislators with the volume of phone calls received at the Capitol. Nevertheless, a lot of fancy footwork took place to ensure defeat, including one senator staying home to avoid the vote. The bill came up one vote short of the five votes required to move it to the full Senate floor for a vote. Strike 3.
The two districts who had every necessary component of successful school districts, except for enough students, recognized their fate and began making preparations to comply with Act 60. Although Act 60 only requires administrative consolidation, the reality of what this entails has been made painfully clear to rural communities across Arkansas. Of the original 56 school districts that were “administratively consolidated” in July 2004 under Act 60, over 2/3 have been partially or completely closed by their receiving district.
A lot has gone on in these two distant communities of Delight and Weiner over the last ten months as residents and board members agonized over which neighboring district to join. Each school has strong community involvement, a solid financial condition, and good academic achievement. Both communities wanted some assurances from receiving districts that their school would remain open to best serve the students. Some prospective partners would not give any assurances so other prospects were considered. Others gave assurances but reneged on them as the time grew near to finalize agreements.

It has been a long and exhausting path with lots of curves and valleys for these two communities that led to their recent decision to administratively consolidate with a partner over 200 miles away. Now their fate again lies in the hands of a few. The nine-member Arkansas State Board of Education will vote to approve or disapprove the proposed long-distance relationship of Weiner and Delight.
The two districts have agreed on a name for the proposed district: Arcadia. The Dictionary.com definition of Arcadia sheds some light on the name selection: any real or imaginary place offering peace and simplicity. Delight and Weiner communities surely yearn for former times of peace and simplicity when they could focus on the most important task: delivering a quality education for their children.

Learn more about the Rural Community Alliance at http://www.thenewrural.org/.
Read an editorial related to this issue in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette at http://epaper.arkansasonline.com/Repository/getFiles.asp?Style=OliveXLib:ArticleToMail&Type=text/html&Path=ArDemocrat/

Read more from the January 2010 Rural Policy Matters.