When news hit on Thursday that the Arkansas Board of Education would be taking over the Pine Bluff School District, we were not at all surprised. They declared fiscal distress after learning that the district is heading for a $2 million budget hole by the end of the year. Academic distress could soon follow. A meeting is scheduled for October on that topic.
Thursday’s move by the state board has been a long time coming and, frankly, it was a much-needed move.
State takeovers are never easy, nor are they pretty from a city’s public relations point of view. But this was the only way that our local district could become whole again.
It has been obvious for the past several years that the PBSD was fractured. Too many board members were self-serving, as former board member Henry Dabner so candidly told our reporter on Thursday. And he was correct. The board did not put the kids first. Ever.
There was infighting and outfighting, a refusal on the board’s part to listen to its patrons, and a near media blackout occurred when the board or its superintendent were probed for information. And when information was distributed, there was a different story depending upon whom we spoke with.
Oftentimes board members would blame the newspaper for “spreading information that makes the district look bad.”
Of course, that wasn’t the case. We report on facts. We were just one of the many scapegoats the board used to try and cover up its lack of ability to lead this district. We dare say only one or two board members were even qualified to hold such a position.
One clue to the dysfunction has been the revolving door of superintendents the district has seen in recent years.
No successful district has such quick turnover rates of its leaders.
On Friday, the state board appointed Arkansas Department of Education Assistant Commissioner Jeremy Owoh as the district’s new superintendent. In the coming days, we hope to have open and honest conversations with Mr. Owoh about his plans to right the finances at the PBSD.
Once the state decides our district can function again on its own, elections will be held and a new board will be elected. Pine Bluff, once this happens, we must do better in finding qualified candidates to lead our district.
We cannot elect the same board again. With one or two possible exceptions, no one who sat on this dissolved board should ever be allowed near that boardroom again.
It’s time for this community to stand behind people who care about what’s best for us, not what’s best for them.
We will make it through this trying time, and we will end up all the better for it having happened.