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Fawcett addresses bills that affect schools

Paris School Superintendent Wayne Fawcett said last week he’s opposed to a bill moving through the Arkansas General Assembly that would move school elections from September to November.

Senate Bill 587 was one of several school-related bills the superintendent discussed during an interview. Fawcett said he’s been in contact with school board members about school-related legislation through the current session and will update them at Thursday’s regularly scheduled school board meeting. SB 587 has been approved in the Senate and is now making its way through the House.

“Theoretically, it’ll increase participation in school elections,” Fawcett said. “In my opinion, it’ll create more confusion and you’ll have to print more ballots because school district boundaries don’t always follow county lines.

“Secondly, schools have to pay for holding elections,” Fawcett said. “Printing more ballots will be much more expensive. It’ll be cheaper on schools to continue holding elections in September.”

Fawcett said the biggest school-related issue facing lawmakers is Senate Bill 65, which re-writes the state’s law on school choice. Last year, U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson struck down Arkansas’ school choice law, ruling that a race-based provision in the 1989 statute that restricted some transfers to prevent re-segregation violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law. The ruling was appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, which heard oral arguments in January.

“One school of thought on this is to wait until the Eighth Circuit rules,” Fawcett said. “The other school of thought is to not wait and try to do something now. There have been seven bills dealing with school choice filed during this session.”

The Senate passed Senate Bill 65, the school choice measure, by 34-0 last week and sent it to the House, where the sponsor, Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, pledged it would get a major rewrite.

In its present form, the bill would remove race as a factor in student transfers between school districts. He said he would amend the bill in the House to cap the number of student transfers at 3 percent annually and to include a July 1, 2015, expiration date.

He said he also would add a requirement that the state Department of Education collect transfer data and report to the education committee. Other changes he said he will propose would restrict transfers from districts currently under desegregation orders, and would specify that all transfers approved prior to enactment of the proposed new law would be exempt from it.

“It probably won’t have much impact on the Paris School District,” Fawcett said.

Another bill raising the minimum school district contribution to the cost of employee health insurance won’t impact the Paris district, either, Fawcett said.

“It raises the minimum contribution from $131 a month per employee to $150,” Fawcett said. “We’re already paying $150.”

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