KINGSLAND, Ark. (AP) - This year's legislative debate about
school consolidation suddenly became more serious for officials of
Kingsland High School, which was destroyed by a fire over the
weekend.
The 63-year-old main building of Kingsland High School burned
down Sunday night, despite the efforts of nine volunteer fire
departments that spent about four hours battling the blaze.
Now Kingsland Superintendent Sammy Hartwick said his school
district stands a greater risk of being consolidated with
neighboring districts if standards are set requiring a minimum
number of students in each.
"Consolidation is still an issue," Hartwick said, "but if
they take out the number, and put back course offerings and
facilities, we're in good shape."
One proposal that was the subject of heated debate in the
regular legislative session was whether the state's many school
districts should be consolidated so each has a set minimum number
of students.
Many rural superintendents instead favor rules that would allow
districts with adequate facilities, course offerings and
achievement ratings to remain independent.
Legislators are expected to reconvene in the fall to address
issues of consolidating schools and raising taxes to pay for
court-ordered school improvements that could cost up to $1 billion
more annually.
But Kingsland plans to rebuild the school, which housed classes
for about 150 high school students in the community of 400. About
300 students total are taught on the school campus in separate
buildings.
The school board held an emergency meeting Monday and authorized
Hartwick to contact an architect to begin drafting plans for a
replacement building. In the meantime, he said, the students will
be taught in portable classrooms in the fall.
In fighting the fire, two firefighters, including Kingsland Fire
Chief Chuck Reaves, suffered from smoke inhalation and dehydration.
They were treated at Dallas County Medical Center and released, the
Pine Bluff Commercial reported Monday.
The building's old pine, along with the varnish on the floors,
oil on the wood inside and a gas heating system all contributed to
a blaze that spreaded quickly, Reaves said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)