Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Linda Watson said there is a possibility that the district might need to close at least one school to remain fiscally solvent.

Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Linda Watson said there is a possibility that the district might need to close at least one school to remain fiscally solvent.


Watson provided a detailed outline of possibilities designed to save money as part of a fiscal management plan. The school district saw a decline of 445 students from 2012-2013 to 2014-2015 and a corresponding total decline of $1,972,000 in state funding. Looking to next academic year, Watson said she predicts the district will lose another 150 students and can expect a corresponding decline of $690,000 in state revenue.


She provided a detailed report showing the district is saving $1,055,824 in 2014-2015 by not filling 20-and-a-half full-time jobs. As part of this report, Watson said there may be a need to consolidate Southeast Middle School and Belair Middle School students. She also discussed moving Jack Robey ninth grade students to Pine Bluff High School.


Looking ahead to 2015-2016, Watson outlined projected eliminations of five to 10 unnamed positions, two to three elementary assistant principal jobs and one central office job; the closure of First Ward School; decreasing the number of days for literacy coaches; discontinuing sign-on bonuses for teachers; closing a school; eliminating staff positions; and restructuring debt.


The school board accepted Watson’s proposal on Tuesday.


Pine Bluff School Board President Harold Jackson said that the major reason behind the proposed closure of a school is a decline in the number of students. He said that any closure of a school or reduction in force would have to be approved by the Arkansas Department of Education.


Asked when any decisions might be made, Jackson said he estimates it will be by the start of the next academic year.


"People like their neighborhood schools, so we will be mindful [if and when we close a school]," Jackson said. "Many Arkansas districts have closed school buildings."


Older buildings require more money to operate, so Jackson suggested that older buildings are more likely to be closed than newer buildings. While people are attached to their schools, the reality of budgetary constraints causes difficult decisions, Jackson said.


Board member Ken Dickson said he wishes Pine Bluff aldermen would come to a meeting with board members and discuss ways to attract more employers. As far as the potential closing, Dickson said he cannot make a guess.


Along with these considerations, Dickson said he wants to hear from Pine Bluff residents, as board members represent their interests. While a school district does not generate revenue, Dickson said he knows of business leaders who are willing to move to Pine Bluff. More businesses would translate to more families and more students and a greater revenue, Dickson said.


But he fears they are not capitalizing on this opportunity.


"I encourage our city leaders to discuss job creation," Dickson said. "Instead, we have city officials arguing over the placement of signs. That is not helping the district.


"We want to have a comprehensive plan along with Watson Chapel and Dollarway," Dickson said. "We are sitting on a goldmine with our railway, waterway, empty buildings and port system. But we have got to train. Technology is key. … Employers are not looking for someone to dig a ditch but to program a computer to dig a ditch."


But Dickson said he worries that business leaders will not move to Pine Bluff without more municipal leaders showing an interest.


"We need to make adjustments due to job loss," Dickson said. "We have to figure out the best way to educate our remaining kids."