District seeks ap­proval to sell school

Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion firm of­fers $425,000 for Gar­land

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - CYN­THIA HOWELL

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.

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