Deadline looms for small school districts

(March 18, 2004) - (Little Rock-AP) -- Time is getting short for the handful of small school districts that don't yet have a plan to consolidate. Most districts with less than 350 students have reached agreement with neighboring districts. Any who don't have a plan by April first will be paired by the state. At least 24 districts have plans to be annexed into other districts, while at least 20 have proposed consolidating administrations. Annexing means keeping the larger district's employees and rules; consolidating involves creating a new school board from all the districts that merge. Some districts are currently negotiating with prospective partners; others will resume discussions after spring break. At least three districts have come to a deadlock, finding no one who will voluntarily annex or consolidate with them. Under the new state law, the 57 small districts have until April first to submit voluntary plans to the state Board of Education. Then, the board has until June first to approve or reject the plans, which need to be complete before the fiscal year begins July first.