Anthony: Dollarway District faces big challenges

Dollarway School District faces big challenges as it works to recover from two consecutive years of failing to meet academic standards, Superintendent Frank Anthony said in an interview this week.

Accreditation update

The accreditation issue at Dollarway High School and other policies that led to a state takeover of the district in June are keeping Anthony’s plate full, he said. He is working to fulfill the mandate given to him by Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell to bring the Dollarway School District back into compliance with state and federal requirements.

“Going back two years ago, the certification issues that got the district in trouble in terms of teachers without the proper credentials have been cleared up,” Anthony said. “Tomorrow could be a different animal, but for now it is taken care of. The second issue that is on transcript irregularities has been worked on exclusively.”

Anthony said that the transcript irregularities that led to the accreditation violation for the 2010-2011 school year have been thoroughly addressed.

“A team of technical support people from the ADE spent approximately three days going over every student transcript, beginning with the senior class and working back to the sophomores,” Anthony said.

Anthony said that after reviewing the transcripts for the senior class, the ADE team determined that 80 students are on track to graduate in May as long as they successfully complete their senior year and there are ten students who may not be able to graduate this year even if they attend summer school.

“The transcripts of the junior and sophomore classes were also reviewed, although the review was not as urgent as it was for the senior class due to the longer amount of time those in the 10th and 11th grades have to meet their graduation requirements,” Anthony said. “So we got a critique from the ADE people telling us what we need to do on each transcript.”

Staffing and revenue

‘The third issue in my so-far-90-day tenure is the financial burden the district is under,” Anthony said. “There is not a week that goes by that I don’t find an outstanding bill — large sums of money in many cases. The district had $1 million in deficit spending last year. This was due to a $500,000 loss in revenue due to a drop in student enrollment as well as a $500,000 increase in expenditures from the previous year.”

Anthony said that the present situation makes it very difficult to create a balanced budget.

“All of the district staff were already under contract for this year when I was appointed as superintendent June 12,” Anthony said. “It is very hard to make expenditures match revenue when 80 percent of the budget is in personnel. For the 2012-2013 school year, I am handcuffed with the staffing levels that are in place. There is no overall deficit spending because the ending balance is just for the operational budget. The overall balance, including restricted funds, equals $2 million.

“I’ve got to stop the bleeding,” Anthony said. “I’ve got a tough row to hoe. The district has three priority schools and priority schools take more financial resources.”

The three priority schools in the Dollarway School District are Altheimer-Martin Elementary School, Robert F. Morehead Middle School and Dollarway High School. These schools have been designated by the ADE as among the lowest five percent of schools in the state based on proficiency and lack of progress.

Anthony included many of these issues in his first formal report to the Arkansas Board of Education in Little Rock on Sept. 10.

“We tried to give them an update on areas that caused us the problems,” Anthony said.