The Pine Bluff School Board met Tuesday night to discuss an Arkansas Department of Education ruling Monday that identified the district as being in fiscal distress. Due to press deadlines, that story will not appear until the Thursday edition of The Commercial.
District officials will meet with the Education Department on Sept. 13, at which time the state will decide whether to classify the PBSD as being in fiscal distress, which is an official declaration that carries more weight than just being “identified” and can be a precursor to state takeover.
District officials have 30 days to appeal Monday’s ruling, which prevents them from spending any money without state approval.
The ruling was based on declining financial balances. In addition, Cynthia Smith, the Education Department’s coordinator of fiscal services and support, said in a letter to district officials that there “are conditions (in the district) that jeopardize the fiscal integrity of the district and negatively impact the continuation of educational services.”
The measure comes just several months after former Superintendent Michael Robinson resigned. The board made Monica King McMurray, the former PBSD executive director of learning services, interim superintendent in June.
The board paid $50,000 to Robinson to buy out his contract that same month. Robinson never said publically why he asked to be bought out by the district.
The Pine Bluff School Board voted earlier this year to reduce its workforce by eight employees as a cost-saving measure in light of recent declines in enrollment throughout PBSD schools. The district’s enrollment declined from 4,701 students in 2012 to 3,720 students in 2017, according to an October 2017 report by the board. These are the most recent enrollment statistics available.
Pine Bluff’s population has dropped from around 55,000 residents in 2000 to around 45,000 today.
Robinson said at a school board meeting last year that he expects enrollment to drop to 3,238 by 2020 and 2,968 in 2025-2026. Funds school districts receive from the state are based on enrollment numbers. The fewer students a district has, the less money it receives.