The Arkansas Department of Education is proving hard to shake. Although the Arkansas Supreme Court recently sided with the Eureka Springs School District over a nearly $1 million lawsuit, the ADE isn't giving up.
According to State Rep. Bryan King, the state plans to appeal the recent court decision in favor of Eureka over $824,914 the state says the school district owes. The lawsuit goes back a over 1 year, when the school district's millage income exceeded the $6,023 allocated to each student by the state, meaning the school district had brought in more money than the state allows it to keep.
"This situation is turning into an 8 or 9 million dollar power grab by the state," King said. "It isn't just Eureka Springs. The department of education says the sky is falling and they're looking for money everywhere. In 2007 the state had a billion-dollar surplus, but then the economy crashed and now they are going after these schools with extra money. The governor himself wrote the law. Why is there an issue now with the law when four years ago there was none? The sky isn't falling. Every school district gets the same baseline educational funding."
Aaron Sadler of the Attorney General's Office confirmed that Attorney General Dustin McDaniel had indicated the department intended to file a petition for rehearing the case. "The petition should be filed by Dec. 17 at the latest, but probably before then," Sadler told the Citizen. "Our role will be to file and then see what happens on appeal, if the court chooses to accept the appeal."
King indicated he felt ultimately the Department of Education would like to see the case brought before the State Legislature. "If this case is re-heard, it will end up in front of the Legislature," he predicted.
Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner's Liaison Phyllis Stewart confirmed the appeal was under way.
Back in Eureka, Superintendent Curtis Turner took the news well. "We thought there was a fair chance this is what they would do," he said. "I feel the chances of the court overturning their earlier decision are pretty slim, based on our attorney's advice, but the court is obligated to allow the ADE to appeal the decision. But it doesn't mean they are required to grant the re-hearing. I believe they had 18 days to appeal, so they aren't wasting time. You never know what's going to come down. All we can do is wait and see what happens."