What if we could…
- Immediately turn the Little Rock School District (LRSD) from a declining to growing enrollment district
- Retain, return students to the LRSD
- Provide public secondary schools where none exist
- Create middle and high schools at half the cost of a projected middle school without construction of new building(s)
- Do it all without raising taxes or redirecting capital funds from other parts of the district
An opportunity has existed for some time now to purchase and convert the former headquarters of Leisure Arts Headquarters (5701 Ranch Road) into traditional, conversion charter and/or open-enrollment middle and high schools. Because this idea has received no traction privately, it’s time to take it public, in hopes that demand will finally create supply, and pragmatic, student-centered leadership will prevail.
Here’s a breakdown of this unprecedented opportunity:
- Size: 23.1 Acres
- Office Building: 71,762 sf
- Distribution Center: 175,305 sf
- Location: Highway 10 Corridor, Adjacent to LRSD Property (43.5 acres)
- Year Built: 1991
- Parking: 442 Total (5/1,000 Office)
LRSD proposed to build a new middle school on adjacent property, which has already been purchased for $4,200,000, but is not shovel-ready. Projected construction cost is $54,958,961. The projected cost for a new McClellan High School is $81,219,252.
With purchase and conversion, it is estimated that both a traditional middle and high school could be provided for less than half the projected cost of a new traditional middle school and less than 17% of the projected cost for both a middle and high school.
The immediate provision of public secondary schools in West Little Rock, fed by the largest elementary school in the district (Don Roberts), offers the quickest opportunity to grow district enrollment. 1,000 new, retained students would equate to approximately $6,500,000 in annual state foundation funding, and that doesn’t include additional state and federal funding.
If not the Little Rock School District, Responsive Education Solutions, the Charter Management Organization behind Quest Middle School of West Little Rock, has a charter currently capped at 490 students for grades 6 – 12. By the 2016-17 school year, it must secure additional space for its high school. The Leisure Arts property offers both the opportunity to house its existing charter, but also grow its cap and enrollment by adding additional schools, including elementary.
- Traditional Schools
LRSD could purchase the Leisure Arts property, convert the existing space to both middle and high schools, then use the adjacent property for future athletic fields, facilities, etc. and/or common-use fields, facilities with the City of Little Rock, while providing ample space for future growth.
- Conversion Charter Schools
LRSD could purchase the Leisure Arts property, then partner with a Charter Management Organization (CMO) in a conversion charter middle and high school.
Responsive Education Solutions could purchase the Leisure Arts property, then partner with the LRSD in a conversion charter middle and high school.
LRSD and Responsive Education Solutions could jointly purchase the Leisure Arts property, then partner in a conversion charter middle and high school.
- Open-enrollment Charter Schools
Responsive Education Solutions or another CMO could purchase the Leisure Arts property, then utilize the facility for its existing open-enrollment charter middle and high schools.
Responsive Education Solutions could seek expansion of its charter (currently capped at 490 students, grades 6 – 12) to include its other education models, such as Vista Elementary School, iSchool(s), and Classical Academy.
The purchase and conversion of the Leisure Arts property would save the taxpayers millions of dollars, by supplanting the need to build a middle school.
The purchase and conversion of the Leisure Arts property would demonstrate good stewardship of the district’s resources and free up existing and future dollars for other capital projects.
The immediate provision of public secondary education in Northwest Little Rock would invest area residents in the district and increase the community’s support of the Little Rock School District.
The property, while not yet sold, must have interest from potential buyers.
There is no other unused, existing space in West/Northwest Little Rock large enough to accommodate public secondary schools.
When Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) is compelled to participate in School Choice, the location is closer to the highest performing elementary schools in PCSSD than currently zoned middle and high schools (Robinson).
When PCSSD is declared unitary by the Federal Court and is consolidated into Little Rock School District south of the Arkansas River, as has been recommended by the State Board of Education, the location would be immediately available to all of West Little Rock, Chenal, Western Pulaski County
If partnering with a Charter Management Organization (CMO), the school(s) would create market demand for the conversion charter model in other areas of need.
Representative John Walker vehemently opposes construction of any public schools in West Little Rock.
In the past, LRSD’s leadership has been unwilling to provide schools where none exist until they can concurrently refurbish and rebuild existing schools.
Though Roberts is the second most demographically diverse school in the district and educates more African-American students than half of the LRSD’s elementary schools, a thankfully former LRSD board member wrote that West Little Rock students are “white children whose parents are afraid to have them in schools with African American kids.” Unfortunately, his followers repeatedly echo these sentiments, which gives leaders pause to value all students equally and equitably.
Make it Happen
It only takes two people to make this decision – Superintendent Baker Kurrus and his “board,” Commissioner Johnny Key. Parent and economic development advocates could overwhelm the inevitable opposition, those biased against the people of West Little Rock and those determined to stifle any success while the district is in State takeover.