Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Jeremy Owoh gave an update on what’s been happening in recent weeks in the Pine Bluff Schools.  During a report to the public on Tuesday, the focus was on new strategies and initiatives being implemented in Pine Bluff schools this year.

“Plan, do, check,” Owoh said in his opening statements that defined the school district’s main goal.

By focusing on no more than three goals at a time, Owoh said that this would help schools and administrators effectively measure the impact of programs and curriculums being taught in classrooms.

In order to achieve these goals and reverse the district’s current fiscal distress standing with the state, Leroy Harris was hired to oversee finances and help cut down costs and re-allocate funds. Before Harris, this was a job that had remained open in the district, according to Owoh.

A main cause for the district’s financial woes came from a loss in base funds, Harris said.

During the 2015-16 school year, a reported 4,016 students were enrolled throughout the district, earning PBSD a base revenue of $35,773,761.52. As of 2018, only 3,182 students remain in the district, leaving them with a base revenue of $33,034,933.70.

Pine Bluff School District received multiple fiscal awards for the 2018-19 school year. Title 1, Part A for $2,353,500.59, Title VI-B, Special Education for $1,033,595.54, Title II-A for $197,549.67, Title IV-Student Support and Academic Enrichment for $169,781.93 and NSL for $3,240,233.00 are all on their fiscal award roster for the year.

Harris expressed measures the district will take to improve the fiscal status, including making sure that all funds are allocated to a proper, justified cause. Included in the Fiscal Distress Improvement Plan are: salary schedule revisions; streamlining overtime and duty pay; reviewing existing contracts; decreasing personnel expenditures; staff classrooms close to state standards.

According to Harris, it was imperative that the district and those within it be “good stewards” of their resources. Although the school district is in a state of fiscal distress, administrators working to turn this ruling around said there is funding available as long as they are spending it where it’s needed.

A new District Maintenance Plan is in effect that will sell or auction vacant buildings and items in them, review current grade-level building configurations and review district transportation routes.

Unoccupied properties cost the district more in utilities than most of the operating ones, officials said at the meeting. By ridding these from their roster, they will be able to salvage some of their funds.

When it came to academics, an emphasis was placed on restructuring the curriculum and having teachers participate in professional development as major forms of reconstruction outside of programs.

As data provided by Monica McMurray with Learning Services showed, average ACT scores for PBSD students was estimated at 15 compared to the Arkansas average of 19 in 2018. These scores produced similar results in other categories, such as the percentage of students who met ACT Aprire readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math, and science.

Individual scores for schools also fell short, according to the district schools’ report card grades from the Arkansas Department of Education. Pine Bluff High School received an F, Jack Robey Junior High School, D, 34th Avenue Elementary School, F, Broadmoor Elementary School, F, Southwood Elementary School, F and WT Cheney Elementary, F.

The district’s literary focuses are scaling K-2 phonics, elevating instruction essentials and writing across the curriculum.

Kindergarten through fifth-grade students can expect to be subjects of an initiative focusing on oral language development, the comprehensive literary block instruction model and instruction based on the science of reading.

Sixth through 12th grades will experience an atmosphere that emphasizes the science of teaching and learning, along with a learning curriculum geared toward necessary standards to pass assessments and matriculate.

Also in the district’s plan are the following:

  • Creating a professional learning community by utilizing all available support systems;
  • Building after-school professional development;
  • Taking teaching techniques back to the basics through paid, Saturday training; and
  • Continuously evaluating results from initiatives and improving where needed.