Small schools consider lawsuit

(February 10, 2004) — (Little Rock-AP) -- An alliance of small school districts that would be consolidated by a new state law is considering a federal lawsuit to block forced mergers. Other small districts are courting each other since they get to choose their partners if they submit plans by April first. Any voluntary mergers are subject to state Board of Education approval; districts that don't file a consolidation plan by the deadline will be paired by the state. The 57 districts marked for consolidation were given notice yesterday that they must merge their administrations by July first. The state Department of Education mailed the list and accompanying information, including preliminary consolidation rules, to all of Arkansas' 308 districts, although only those with fewer than 350 students fall under the provisions of a new education reform law. Some of those districts appear poised to resist. Jimmy Cunningham, president of the Arkansas Rural Educators Association, says a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state is likely and that the group also is considering other strategies, including an anti-consolidation ballot initiative.