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White County Central makes school history with 802 students in K-12


Despite COVID-19, the White County Central School District has seen its enrollment increase to more than 800 students this year for “the first time in school history,” according to Superintendent Dean Stanley.

Stanley said his district has 802 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Last year, it was funded on 772 students.

He said although White County Central has not had “a whole lot of growth in the residences here, we have had several [students] that have come by freedom of choice. Over the last couple of years, we have picked up several by freedom of choice.”

“I think that they hear we are a hidden gem out here,” Stanley said. “Our faculty are very, very caring people and that has caused a lot of it to be honest.”

The elementary has 9 percent of its students in virtual learning and at the secondary level, the school district is about 10 percent virtually completely and 10 percent hybrid, which means the students have some classes on site and others at home, he said.

No other school district in White County has shown enrollment growth this fall, with most of them being down at least slightly with schools having to offer both virtual and on-campus options because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Betsy Bailey, school/community coordinator for the Searcy School District, said the district’s total enrollment is 3,947, while virtual enrollment is 1,023, 25.85 percent. The 2019 enrollment for Searcy was 4,017.

James Simmons, superintendent for Harding Academy, said enrollment this year is 572 vs. 653 last year. There are 32 students doing virtually learning, from grades 2-12.

Bald Knob Superintendent Melissa Gipson said this year’s enrollment is 1,151 – 229 virtual students and 922 on site. Last year’s enrollment for Bald Knob was 1,172, Gipson said.

Pangburn Superintendent David Rolland said his district has 762 students enrolled this year, “slightly down from last year. We have been hovering around 15 percent virtual.”

Patti Stevens, Bradford’s superintendent, said current enrollment is 425 and last year’s was 448. She said 79 students are in virtual, 22 in K-6 and 57 in the other grades through 12th.

Riverview School Superintendent Stan Stratton said his district has K-12 enrollment of 1,158 and with pre-K, enrollment is at 1,195. This is down from a pre-K-12 enrollment of 1,129 last year. Last year, K-12 enrollment was 1,189. Stratton said the district has 234 students that are in virtual this year.

In Rose Bud, Superintendent Allen Blackwell said his enrollment is at 747, which is “basically the same as last year.” He said 142 K-12 students are in virtual this year.

Districtwide the Beebe School District has an enrollment of 3,268 students this year, according to Superintendent Dr. Chris Nail. Last year’s enrollment was 3,354, which means the district is down 86 students. The junior high has an additional four students this year and the high school is up by one student. The elementary is down 44 students. Nail said 655 students in the district are in virtual and 2,524 are on site.

ABOVE: Searcy High School held a homecoming car caravan before Friday night’s football game against the Pine Bluff Zebras. Homecoming was delayed from last week because some members of the homecoming court were in COVID-19 quarantine.

The caravan paraded around the White County Courthouse on the way to Lion Stadium. It was used as a way to show support for the Searcy Lions and celebrate homecoming while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines.

Searcy City Council candidates tell how much city means to them

Eight candidates for contested seats on the Searcy City Council got the opportunity to explain how much Searcy means to them during a virtual forum held by the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Moderator Roby Brock, editor and host of “Talk Business and Politics,” said the candidates could each talk about their volunteering and speak from the heart when they answered this question. The Daily Citizen also offered them the opportunity to expand on their answers since the candidates were time-limited during the forum.

The four contested Searcy council races in the Nov. 3 general election are Ward 1, Position 1: incumbent Logan Cothern vs. challenger Kenneth Olree; Ward 1, Position 2: challenger Karen Marshall vs. challenger David Morris; Ward 2, Position 1: incumbent Chris Howell vs. challenger Davis Threlkeld; and Ward 3, Position 1: challenger Tommy Centola vs. challenger Tonia Hale.

Ward 1, Pos. 2

Karen Marshall: “I was an instructor for the Early Childhood Program at ASU-Searcy. I placed in numerous state competitions here in Searcy; that is something near and dear to my heart [because] it has to do with the children. Also, near and dear to my heart is the Humane Society and I have ... whether it be Barkin’ in the Park or helping to find different programs for the animals, they are very important to me.

“This city, working with Summer in the City years ago, whether it be the Oak Ridge Boys or the Beach Boys, bring [them] in so we can bring in tourism in Searcy, help increase revenue in Searcy; helping coach at the baseball field; working to sponsor baseball and softball programs. When it’s about the children, we are there, it doesn’t matter what it is.

“Getting out the vote for the last eight years. We put out our money to help get the eight-year [1-cent city sales and use] tax passed; we did radio ads; we had children go out and they did signs and posted signs; we had programs to get out the vote.”

Marshall owns and operates the Tender Loving Care Early Learning Center in Searcy.

“Around Fourth of July each year, we teach our school-age children that ‘Freedom isn’t free.’ We have men and women who leave their families to protect us from people who want to hurt us. They are often away from their families for long periods of time and there’s not a Walmart where they can just go and get things they need or snacks. The children decided to send two large goody boxes to men overseas to share with their co-workers. The children went to Walmart and purchased the items, packed them and included a picture of themselves and letters to the service men. One of the men sent pictures back of them receiving the goodies and distributing them to his friends. He also sent back a bag of candy from their region with a letter that said that they do their job because of people like them!

“When the students saw all the riots and violence on TV [due to some high-profile deaths involving police officers and black individuals], they were scared. We reminded them that God created all of us just exactly as he wanted and that every life matters (including the police.) They are the ones who show up when you have been in a wreck. They are the ones that come to help you when someone is breaking in your house. They protect us!

“The students wanted to do something for them to let them know they appreciate them. They wanted to take them to lunch, but COVID had hit, so they decided to give them money so they could take themselves to lunch. So they wrote letters to the officers and put money in envelopes for each one and left it on their windshield. (They wanted it to be a surprise.)

“I have taught in VBS and one year when the students were not able to attend a VBS, we hosted one for them. The next year the oldest school-age students selected ‘Service’ as their topic of study for the year. For their summer trip, they went to Arlington, Texas, to host a VBS for low-income children in apartment complexes (“Mission Arlington”). I teach my students that ‘it’s not all about us. It’s about what we can do for others.’

“Each year when Christmas comes around, I teach the students what it means to be poor (and that doesn’t mean not getting the latest Xbox or PlayStation). We talk about how fortunate we are and how much God has blessed us. Then the students break into groups and are given $50 each group. We take them to different places they think there might be poor people. If they see someone they think needs help, they secretly go back to their group and tell why they think that person needs help. Then as a group they choose how much to give the person. It could be $15 or all $50. Only two students in the group are allowed to go and give it to them and tell them, ‘Merry Christmas, God bless you!’

“The responses have been priceless. Some people cry and tell them, ‘You don’t know how much I needed this.’ Others hug them and thank them. And still one even gave it back and added to it to give to someone else. The students get to truly feel the joy of giving.”

David Morris: “Roby, you mentioned the word cutthroat and at this time, I want to say I am so happy and glad that the City Council of Searcy, along with the administrative offices, all run nonpartisan and in my eight years as mayor of Searcy, I never saw partisan politics. My experience in dealing with the Arkansas state Legislature, my time at the Association of Arkansas Counties, I saw a lot of politics, partisan politics, at play and I’m delighted that we don’t have that in Searcy City Council or in Searcy city government.

“There’s eight members to the council and a lot of people may not realize it’s a collaborative effort to work together because any appropriation measure to spend money takes a two-thirds vote by state law, which is six members of the council, and has to be approved by the mayor. But most important, the money has got to be there, the funding source has got to be there. I’m not entering into this to be overlooking the mayor’s shoulders as previous mayor; I simply want to put my experience, my values, my ability to work for the city of Searcy to represent the people in Ward 1.

“I can go through my many qualifications; there again, I served as the county judge of this county back in the 1980s. One thing I have not mentioned is, I’m a member of the First United Methodist Church, where I served as the chairman of our administrative board, I sing in our choir – I sing bass – but I also help with the Mission Machine. You’ve seen the green van running around here in town, it helps feed the homeless community in our community. I’m a cook who cooks for that. So just a little of the things I do volunteering for our community. I could give you the various boards I’ve served on, commissions I’ve served on. I recently served as a chairman of the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement. Thank you.”

Ward 2, Pos. 1

Chris Howell: “Well, I am passionate about Searcy and it’s not lost on me, shoulders we all stand on of the men and women who came before us that got Searcy to where it is today. Searcy is a great town. I want to see Searcy improve. I was taught to leave things better than you found it. I spend a lot of time with City Council, A&P [Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission] trying to work with others, work with other council members, work with other A&P commissioners to find ways and be proactive in just moving this ball forward, and I think based on my record, I have done that and I hope to continue to do that.

“You know I’ve got two small boys and they may or may not decide to live in Searcy, but I want them to have the opportunity and in order to do that, we have got to create that opportunity. And, I am just so thankful I live here in Searcy. My wife loves it here, She grew up here and you know, just try to continue to move it forward.”

Davis Threlkeld: “Yes, I did grow up here in Searcy and I know Searcy is a unique town, it’s such a wonderful place to live and that’s why I have chosen to work here and pursue my degree further at Harding at the same time, so it’s a passion. I’m passionate about connecting. Chris said something about he’s been working with the council and with the A&P Commission, but I’m excited to connect and extend the conversation back to the voters, back to where the power of the council and local government drive.

“We need to reorient this conversation to addressing the needs of the citizens. I am excited that during this campaign I have had the opportunity to reach out and contact with all citizens of Ward 2. I’m excited. I love our town and I’m very grateful.

“I have coached city league tennis for a long time, and I can tell you there is enthusiasm and much room to grow for the tennis program here in Searcy. The matches and practices are held at the Harding courts, on their invitation. The city courts are unplayable. We need to resurface the courts.”

Ward 3, Pos. 1

Tommy Centola: “OK, I am in a fairly unique position since I’m not an Arkansas local, I’m a transplant. I chose Searcy over other areas because my wife and I really fell in love with it. I started getting involved. My food column for The Daily Citizen is a joy. If I can help one person prepare a meal for their family, it’s worth the time that I spent.

“I started getting involved in the city three years ago with the proposed development in my neighborhood. It gave me a chance to meet the neighbors and the neighboring neighborhoods. It got me involved in the city government, City Council meetings and how they work, and I’m taking that ball and I’m moving to the next level.

“It’s been a very good year for us at the A&P Commission. We have a lot more to do for the city. This is not all I want to do. I want to do more. The City Council is a good way to give back to the citizens of Searcy.”

Tonia Hale: “My entire family is public service. As I mentioned earlier, my husband is a retired major from the sheriff’s department; my son is a paramedic and my daughter is a teacher and I’m a paramedic and a director at NorthStar [EMS].

“Being in public service, I want to give back to the community that I serve. I’m currently on the Searcy Rotary [Club], involved with Special Olympics. I have been involved with Christmas for Kids. I am currently the Arkansas EMT president which has about 5,000 members.

“I feel like being in public service, I’ve learned a lot about this city and I want to be able to give even more back. I want promotion. I want job development, economic development. I’d like to see this city grow.Having lived here my entire life, I feel like I have seen things as far as when we were, back when our children was playing and we were volunteer coaching. Things that I have seen throughout the years and I just want to give back; not just in public service but to the city by being on the council.”

Ward 1, Pos. 1

Logan Cothern: “Roby, when we first came to Searcy, I was 22 years old. My wife was 19 when we bought the store and Searcy, Ark., took us in; two kids, they supported my business, they helped me raise the children in Little League, all sorts of things. Searcy United Methodist Church also helped raise my family. There is no other place I can think of that I’d rather live than Searcy. I have already told you some of the things I have done.

“I served in the Lions Club for years. We bought many, many pair of glasses. Working with the library association doing many things. The thing that I’m most proud of is at First United Methodist Church we have a discretionary fund and we help people that come in who can’t pay their light bill, their water bill, their gas bill; we help them with this. Then, we have the homeless program where we feed the homeless two nights a week, so I’ve done many things.

“But one of the main reasons I ran for City Council is Searcy was in the paper too many times for the wrong reason and we had too many votes; we had the 5-3, we had a split council. Some of them didn’t like the mayor, they didn’t get along, and I said, ‘We need to change this,’ so I ran. And I think since then we’ve really changed the atmosphere of the council and we get along, we like each other, and if we disagree, (sometimes) that’s OK.”

Kenneth Orlee: “I have had a lot of opportunities to be here in Searcy. When my children were young, I coached my son in baseball and soccer and two of my daughters, I coached them in soccer, so I have been out to the fields and I know what the situation is and I have enjoyed that. I have enjoyed not only working with my own children but with kids in the community and getting to know some other people through those methods.

“A lot of work that I currently do is related to my work at Harding University. We are members of College Church of Christ here in Searcy. Harding is a Christian university and lots of opportunities for helping with mission efforts and those types of things.

“Some of the things I’ve done most recently in my position as director of the entrepreneurship center, and even now as I’m back on the engineering side of things, has been to mentor students in various fields of business competitions. Those were not things that were necessarily specifically tied to my job. For instance, this past summer, I mentored a finance student and looking at whether or not it’s feasible to have Harding alumni support a venture capital fund right here in Searcy.

“And those types of things are not required of the faculty but it was of interest to me, it was of interest to the student. It helped the student. This was a student that plans to go back to northwest Arkansas and develop the economy there. But we’ve had other students that I mentored that have started businesses, but unfortunately, they haven’t started them in Searcy. They started them in other places where they’re from or where the economic opportunities are better. I’d loved to see them be able to start right here.

“If we had a maker space, I think the engineering program at Harding, we would have a number of faculty and students that would be interested in mentoring after-school activities and robotics and programming and those type of things. Those are some areas a lot of people, not just myself, a lot of people could be involved in future volunteer opportunities and really benefit our kids with activities.”

Two districts take steps to help recruit substitute bus drivers and substitute teachers

At least two school districts in White County are taking steps to help recruit specific employees that have lately been hard to find: substitute bus drivers and substitute teachers.

At this month’s Pangburn School Board meeting, transportation director David McKee addressed the board on a proposal to help with hiring and maintaining bus drivers. He said after looking at what some other districts were doing, “we looked at it from a bonus standpoint, but that wasn’t very common.”

McKee’s proposal included reimbursing drivers for the commercial driver’s license test packet, background check and “trip pay” for the 24 hours of training.

“Right now, we only currently have two people that are willing to sub who are full-time employees,” McKee said. “I talk to a couple more and when they found out what they have to go through to be driver, they lose interest pretty quick. And this is not going to fix it where everyone wants to sub, but hopefully the ones that were considering it, knowing they are not going to be out of pocket all this time an expense might entice them.”

McKee said once a driver “subs” their first route, the driver would get this reimbursement on the next paycheck. Superintendent David Rolland said if you start driving around the country, you will often see school buses parked in different towns with the ‘Now hiring school bus drivers’ banner on them.

McKee told the board the district has several drivers who are getting near the retirement age. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he said.

The new bus driver compensation package was approved by the board.

In the White County Central School District, Superintendent Dean Stanley said, “We raised our substitute teacher pay to $85 for non-licensed individuals and to $100 for licensed teachers. We have struggled obtaining substitute teachers and would like to offer the monetary incentive to attract quality teachers. We believe this will make us the highest-paying district for substitute licensed teachers in the area.”

'Diminishing pool' reason Issue 2 needs to pass, state chamber president says


A “diminishing pool of people who are willing and able and in a position to run for the Legislature” is one reason the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce is in favor of a 12-year term limit measure on the Nov. 3 general election ballot that would allow state legislators to return to office after sitting out four years, according to Randy Zook, president and chief executive officer of the chamber.

“We presently have a term limits situation where serving in the Legislature, you are limited nominally to 16 years of service in any combination of four-year terms in the Senate and two-year terms in the House,” Zook said during a virtual “In the Know” session with the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce on the three referrals on the ballot. “So you can serve ... eight two-year terms in the House or you can serve four four-year terms in the Senate or you can serve a couple of terms in the House and move up to the Senate.

“It’s not unusual for people to do that to move up to the senior body, but you also can go beyond 16 years and when you look at the details on how Senate terms are allotted when we have a realignment of districts, you can serve as much as 20 years under the current limitations.”

He said Issue 2 on the ballot would “create a firm limit of 12 consecutive years of service in the Legislature in any combination as is the case now of House terms and Senate terms.”

“You can serve three fours in the Senate or you can serve six twos in the House and at the end of those two years, you would be required to sit out for a minimum of for years, at which point you can become eligible again to run for office and get back in the Legislature, if you’re so inclined,” Zook said.

He said returning to the Legislature after sitting out is “fairly rare” now.

“You can do a little analysis of current servers in the Legislature’s current members. it’s pretty unusual for people to step out by being defeated or just resigning or not running for re-election and then coming back for some subsequent term; that’s a pretty rare occurrence right now,” Zook said.

“So this would give a much more reasonable approach, I think, to saving the experience and knowledge that comes from service in the Legislature rather than throwing people off the list in terms of people who are eligible to run. It would allow for someone to serve a 12-year period, sit out for four years and if they are so inclined, come back and try again if they can get re-elected.”

Zook said the reason the chamber “urged this referral to the ballot” was “because there was the looming possibility of an even more draconian approach, which would have been a 10-year hard limit at the end of which you would be ineligible to serve ever again.”

“You could have someone elected when they were 30 ... whether they were in the middle of a Senate term or not, at the end of 10 years, they are forced out of the office and are never eligible to run for re-election again,” he said. “We think that is a harsh approach to this because like I said in that example, a 30-year-old person could serve 10 years and then be kicked out and ineligible and never be able to serve again at the ripe old age of 40.

“So, one of the issues we are facing in terms of legislative service is a shrinking pool of people ... and it’s just vital that we have top-notch people running and serving in those roles because it’s a big responsibility and it’s far more than a part-time job because of the number of issues and the seriousness of those issues, and it requires as several of your folks who have served so ably over the years, not the least is former Gov. Mike Beebe but also Jonathan Dismang, John Paul Capps, others that serve in that area, Les Eaves now, terrific guys who are doing a great job.”

He said there are “just not a whole lot of those around who are willing to do it because it is such a big demand on time and a challenge to certainly to try to continue to operate a business or serve in some employee role and serve in the Legislature at the same time, so that’s the reasoning behind this.”

He said that’s why “as the state chamber, our policymaking groups have adopted positions supporting” this referral and the other two on the ballot. “Obviously we would do that having been involved in their writing and creation and their passage in the Legislature.”

Zook said that although the 12-year plan is more restrictive, at least initially, than the current term limits, it “was considered by the folks in the Legislature who supported this effort as a reasonable compromise between the harsher limit of 10 years and the current 16-year limit we got where again, once you reach that, you can’t come back and run again. You are off the board for the rest of your life. It was kind of a split the apple there and try to end up with something halfway in between.”

Asked during the session whether Zook feels that legislators would run again after having to take a four-year break, he said he believes some would.

“It will not be common, but I think it’s important when there is that opportunity and when we’ve got people with experience and knowledge and understanding that they have that opportunity throughout their civic life,” Zook said.

Zook said the reason Arkansas has gotten to its current 16-year limit “is kind of baffling.”

“There has been this national group, this Americans for Term Limits, based in Florida. They have just been stirring this pot all over the country and, of course, they are trying to get term limits in the national Congress as well,” Zook said.

Early voting in White County for the general election begins Monday at the Carmichael Community Center, 801 S. Elm St., and White County Cooperative Extension Service Office, 2400 Landing Road. It will run Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. until Nov. 2, when it ends at 5 p.m.

Election day voting will be open Nov. 3 from 7:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. at polling sites in each city.