LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Arkansas State Board of Education unanimously voted on Thursday for the state to take over the Pine Bluff School District.

According to the state, the take over is because the district is in “fiscal distress,” meaning it cannot afford to keep its schools open.  The state predicts if the school district keeps spending at its current level, it would put the city $2 million in debt by the end of the year.

The takeover removes the interim superintendent and dissolves the elected school board. It’s now up to the State Department of Education to appoint a new superintendent. 

“We want better for the children in Pine Bluff,” said Ryan Watley, CEO of Go Forward Pine Bluff. “Stability over the past decade has been nonexistent.”

Watley spoke at the meeting in favor of a state takeover. He says it’s a change the district needs after years of mismanagement, compounded by families pulling their kids out of the district. The district has lost nearly 1,000 students since 2012.

“This was a giant step in terms of reversing some of those bad decisions and being able to start providing a better education for our students,” he said.  

In April, the school board discussed laying off at least 40 employees because of declining enrollment. Then, in June, the board voted to buy out Superintendent Michael Robinson’s contract for $50,000. Robinson worked at the school district for two years. 

Also in June, the Pine Bluff School District, Watson Chapel and Dollarway School District considered consolidating.  

Parents, like Josephine Lee are waiting to hear how these changes will affect her children’s classrooms.

 “I want to know what’s going to go on. Is it going to better the school? Kids need to go to school to learn and not to just drop out and do bad things. There has been a lot of killing and shooting around here and they need to motivate kids,” she said. 

Pine Bluff is the fourth school district currently under state control.