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Pine Bluff Schools Considering Consolidation

Pine Bluff, Ark. - Three struggling school districts in Jefferson County are considering merging into one as they try to figure out how to keep their doors open.

The consolidation would bring Pine Bluff, Watson Chapel, and Dollarway Schools together. The districts are facing many of the same problems including dropping enrollment, students who aren't performing and even gang activity.

NAACP Pine Bluff Chapter President Ivan Whitfield called the Thursday night meeting. Whitfield sees the problems first hand at his granddaughter's school in Pine Bluff, which he says is losing students and funding.

"We're in a state of emergency. It's not something that needs to be dragged out," Whitfield said. "This is the sake of our children.  We must act and we must act aggressively and not wait until the state comes in and takes over another district and another district.

For Whitfield the best solution is consolidation, which would create a central school administration.

"I see our children not being given what they do rightfully deserve. I believe if you consolidate you have a chance to revamp a lot of things," he added.

Superintendents from each district took their turn speaking. All agreed pooling resources would make the biggest difference in the classroom giving students a more equal education and teachers better tools to help.

"We haven't always put children first, we haven't always put our students first. We've had our personal agendas," said Dollarway Superintendent Barbara Warren.

Others wanted to see consolidation happen across the county, and bring in White Hall Schools.

"Together we stand divided we fall," said Ronnie Reynolds, who works as a security officer for Pine Bluff schools and is a director of the Watson Chapel Board of Education.

"We're talking 'going forward Pine Bluff, if we're going to go forward we need to put all the eggs in one basket," he added.

It's a change that won't happen overnight, but Whitfield says it's a conversation that needs to start now.

"This one we almost at a must. We must do something to save our children," Whitfield said.
 
Not everyone was in favor of the idea. KARK 4 talked to a high schooler whose parents pulled him out of Watson Chapel Schools. He didn't want to go on camera but is concerned consolidation will lead to more violence since there are rival gangs at the districts.  

In order to consolidate the school districts have to file a petition with the state Board of Education. They'll also need approval from each district's Board of Directors.
    
The group is now looking to do a feasibility study to see if consolidation could work.


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