State Journal

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A new Arkansas law limiting the size of public school boards has caught some school leaders off guard, and prompted at least one district to decide who stays on the board by drawing names from a hat.

Scheduled to take effect July 1, the law limits the number of seats on Arkansas' 310 school boards to seven each, with exceptions made for districts in which the boards' size was set by consolidation agreements or court orders.

The cap has been on the books since 1993, but the law had listed no compliance date until last year. Lawmakers added the July date as part of legislation that abolished county-level school boards.

While most districts are already at or under the seven-member limit, 19 districts may have to let one or more members go. The state attorney general has recommended drawing lots.

Board members in the 6,600-student Bentonville system took that advice on June 5, when they drew names from a hat to cut a single seat. The president, a 15-year veteran, was the odd man out.

Charles Adair, the superintendent of the 2,800-student Harrison district, has objections to the law. "We cover a relatively large area," he said. "By losing a board member you reduce the community input into the schools."

Judy White, the director of governmental and community relations for the Arkansas School Boards Association, said the upcoming changes were not on most people's radar screens.

"It really slipped by a lot of people," she said.

In some districts, officials have been rummaging through records for decades-old documents that fix their boards' sizes at greater than seven, thereby qualifying them for an exemption.

In the end, Ms. White predicts, many school boards will be exempt because of the exceptions for boards with sizes specified by a court order or district-consolidation plan. "I think the effects will be minimal, but it has caused a lot of confusion and anxiety," she said.

—John Gehring

Vol. 19, Issue 41, Page 22

Published in Print: June 21, 2000, as State Journal

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