Masters will look at consolidation and funding

(February 11, 2004) - (Little Rock-AP) -- Two special masters appointed to evaluate state compliance with a court order to reform public education plan to hold hearings later this month. School consolidation apparently will be one focus, as will how much money the state plans to spend on improvements. Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bradley Jesson and former Justice David Newbern set the hearings for February 23rd and 24th as part of their review of actions taken by the state since a November 2002 high court opinion declared public school funding unconstitutionally inequitable and inadequate. They have until April third to report to the state Supreme Court, which will determine whether officials complied with a court order to implement a system that provides equal educational opportunities for all students. Newbern calls the consolidation issue the 900-pound gorilla in school reform. And both masters say they want to know why the Legislature's response to the court order amounted to less than half of the 847 million dollar price tag that consultants it hired recommended for improving the school system.