District seeks approval to sell school
Walton Family Foundation firm offers $425,000 for Garland
The Little Rock School District is selling Garland School to KLS Leasing LLC, a company held by the Walton Family Foundation of Bentonville, which is one of the nation’s foremost advocates of independently operated, taxpayer-supported charter schools.
Little Rock Superintendent Mike Poore and his staff sent to Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key early Wednesday evening a proposed $425,000 offer for the old school at 2515 W. 25th St. from KLS Leasing for Key’s approval.
Key’s approval is necessary for the sale because he acts in place of the a school board in the state-controlled Little Rock district, which has operated without a locally elected board since January 2015 because six of the district’s 48 schools were labeled at the time as being in academic distress.
Garland has not been used as a school since December 2000, when Garland pupils were moved to the newly rebuilt Stephens Elementary at 3700 18th St.
The Garland building has, however, been used in recent years for Little Rock district administrative offices, including the safety and security office, the student disciplinary hearing office and the athletic department headquarters.
If the sale is completed, Garland will be the fourth campus to be sold by the district this calendar year. The district has sold the old Badgett school and is in the final stages of selling Woodruff and Franklin schools. Each of those sales is to a different organization.
Garland would be the second school in Little Rock to be acquired in recent months by KLS Leasing.
The company in recent months purchased the old Mitchell School, at Battery Street and Roosevelt Road, from the Blevins Family Trust with plans to renovate and lease the old school to ScholarMade Educational Services for a charter school.
ScholarMade has applied to the Arkansas Department of Education for a charter to operate a school for as many as 520 students in kindergarten through ninth grades.
The Little Rock district had discontinued its use of Mitchell as a school in 2003 and sold it to the Wright Avenue Association in 2008 after which the building was transferred to the trust. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported in June that KLS paid $440,000 for the Mitchell property in April.
It was not known Wednesday night if or when KLS leaders will lease the Garland site to a charter school operator.
Little Rock School District leaders have historically objected to the establishment of most of the open-enrollment charter schools that now operate within the district’s boundaries, even to the point of unsuccessfully contesting the operation of the charter schools in a federal lawsuit.
Open-enrollment charter schools and traditional public schools compete for some of the same students and for state education money. That competition has been stiffest in Pulaski County, home to about a dozen of the state’s 24 charter schools and charter school systems.
The Arkansas Board of Education, which meets at 10 a.m. today in Little Rock, has on its agenda a presentation and discussion of strategies for promoting collaboration between traditional schools and charter schools in Little Rock. The report was prepared by a state-appointed citizens committee over the past year in the aftermath of the Little Rock district’s vehement objections to the state-approved expansions of the eStem Public Charter Schools and Lisa Academy charter school systems in Little Rock.
Garland as it stands now was built in 1922 and was expanded in 1938 and 1954, according to a history of the school maintained by the Little Rock school system. The school has roots back to 1879 when W.J. Joyner built a school at his own expense and on his own property. In 1901, the school was annexed by the Little Rock district and its name changed to Garland in honor of Augustus Garland, who was governor of Arkansas from 1874 to 1876, then a U.S. senator and ultimately the U.S. attorney general from 1885 to 1889.
The original wooden school building was destroyed in an early 1920s fire, according to the history, resulting in the construction of the existing brick building.
Information for this article was contributed by Eric Besson of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.