Copyright 2008 Ben S. Pollock
DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — With a maneuver some describe as canny, the Greenland School District annexed Fayetteville Public Schools, officials with both announced Wednesday morning.
The new body will be called the Greater Greenland School District and will use the facilities and personnel of both. Thus, three high schools will educate teens and entertain athletics-loving voters for at least the rest of the decade.
The Arkansas Department of Education had the Greenland district on its short list to be dissolved, with its 930 students to start attending schools in adjacent districts, of which Fayetteville’s is the largest. The state was to issue specifics later in July.
“Numbers, schmumbers,” said state Education Commissioner Ken James. “However you guys bring in the money and bring up the scores, we’re in business. I don’t want to know how.”
The state steps in when districts are unable to budget enough resources, particularly money, to properly educate students according to state and federal standards. Greenland’s troubles mainly are financial, yet its voters approving a property tax increase in June was found by the Education Department to be likely too little, too late. Neither was the agency impressed that the Greenland School Board fired Ronald Brawner as superintendent that same month.
Fayetteville Public Schools is fine financially — it desperately wants to build a new high school to replace its current one, which is merely overcrowded. The state has no plans to shut down this district, although the home of the flagship campus of the University of Arkansas is facing a bureaucrat shortage. Superintendent Bobby New is retiring in a year, and recruiting a replacement has stalled. Assistant Superintendent Randy Willison just resigned, to take the top job at nearby Prairie Grove. School Board member John Delap is resigning. Also, teachers are fleeing Fayetteville.
Greenland is a small district in otherwise fairly well-to-do Washington County (by Arkansas standards). The Fayetteville district has been seen as most likely to acquire most or all of its students. In a statement of solidarity with Greenland, its board resolved to oppose annexation. Critics said, however, that urban Fayetteville thinks it has enough problems without adding the commuter town’s to it, implying the lone high school renovation or relocation project.
Then a local patron of the community saw the annexation, actually a reverse-merger, would solve the high school issue. Professional educators welcomed her input, being eager for new ideas.
Philanthropist Crystal Britches even came up with the name, Greater Greenland School District.
“Dears, Fayetteville can’t help but keep its identity. We’ll all know who lives where and where the schools are. But we don’t have to shout it,” Britches said. “When you say ‘Fayetteville,’ the entire state sees red.”
The influential but eccentric semi-recluse has been meeting for weeks with both sets of school board members individually, to keep it both legal and quiet, as well as current and hightailing administrators, according to well-placed, cowardly sources.
“Nu?” said New, when asked for confirmation.
Britches, known in the entire region for wearing clear plastic rain gear at the slightest threat of storms, has been a vocal proponent of Fayetteville needing two high schools, not one giant one. She rarely says the obvious, like football-crazy Rogers and Springdale having two high schools each and not caring about dropping in conference size.
“Some of this will fix things temporarily, with short-term meaning end of the decade or a little later,” Crystal said in an exclusive interview with Brick. “Three high schools will be about right, put Fayetteville — that is, Greater Greenland — ahead of the other Ozark cities.”
Fayetteville High School will operate as before, but renovations begin immediately. Any students who might be displaced can attend Greenland High School, which is less than 15 minutes along U.S. 71 and well under 10 minutes for parents taking Interstate 540. Fayetteville also has its semi-vacant vo-tech location.
The plan makes so much sense, Britches said, that area voters will approve a millage increase in a landslide. In the meantime, while a state-of-the-art high school is being built to supplement the two existing campuses, Fayetteville’s West Campus, now rented by Benton County-based Northwest Arkansas Community College, again will enroll some of the cities’ teenagers.
“None of the three roofs leaks. They all have outlets to plug computers in. Two sets of surviving administrators and a merging of school boards … what more does Fayetteville need?” said Crystal Britches. “Plumbing? Got it in spades.”