Saratoga  Arkansas  Digest

Photo by Dale Gathright, Jr.

Presidents Day-2017

Current Rain Forecast

Could be a Record Breaking Week

Millwood Lake Focus of Hampton Schools Duck Studies

Students from Hampton in Calhoun County trekked two hours across the southern portion of the state recently to learn all about ducks, as part of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Waterfowl Field Experience. The program, coordinated by Tisa Bomar, AGFC’s Federal Junior Duck Stamp Coordinator, is a way to blend a typical school field trip with a close-up view of Arkansas’s wildlife, complete with demonstrations from AGFC biologists.

Hampton was among five schools that received $300 grants this year from the AGFC for a Waterfowl Field Experience. Hampton’s students included children from sixth grade through high school. Assisting Bomar in the program were Linda Goodner, AGFC southwest regional education coordinator; and biologists Mike Harris, Eley Talley, Brodie Whatley and Cameron Tatom from the Hope Regional Office  at Perrytown. AGFC Waterfowl Program Coordinator Luke Naylor and AGFC Statewide Wetlands Habitat Coordinator Jason “Buck” Jackson were instrumental in coordinating all five field experience sessions and taking the role of instructor at many of them.

The students broke into two groups to alternate between morning programs explaining duck anatomy and habitat, enjoyed a picnic lunch at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pavilion at Beard’s Bluff off Millwood  Lake, and were quizzed by Goodner about a duck’s role in the ecosystem of a lake. About 2,000 gadwalls were making Millwood home on a brisk but sunny day, and the students were provided binoculars to spot the ducks and other wildlife before boarding the school bus for a return home.

The hands-on experience – learning about the differences in ducks, what they eat, where they live, and how the AGFC tracks their migrations – provides knowledge these students can incorporate in their artistic efforts for the Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program. Part of the requirement in receiving the field experience grant is that the schools must enter the Arkansas Junior Duck Stamp Contest.

Students from kindergarten to high school throughout the state are encouraged to enter the Arkansas Junior Duck Stamp drawing contest, and the deadline for entries is March 15.

The Junior Duck Stamp Program is an arts and science curriculum that teaches wetlands and waterfowl conservation. It includes a visual arts curriculum and the art contest, and can include a Waterfowl Field Experience. It is open to public, private, home-schooled and art studio students.

For the upcoming Arkansas Junior Duck Stamp Contest, students will be judged in four groups according to grade level. Three first-, second- and third-place entries are chosen for each group. Judges choose a “Best of Show” from the 12 first-place winners regardless of age group. Arkansas’s “Best of Show” is entered in the national Junior Duck Stamp Contest.

The AGFC, through its Conversation License Plate Scholarship Program, awards scholarships to the state’s top three overall winners: Best of Show, $1,000; Overall Second Place, $500; Overall Third Place, $250.

The winning design in the national contest is used for the Junior Duck Stamp the following year. Junior Duck Stamps are sold by the U.S. Postal Service and Amplex Corp. consignees for $5 per stamp. Proceeds from the sale support conservation education and provide scholarships for the national winners, as well as providing awards for students, teachers and schools that participate in the program.

Information for the duck stamp contest can be found on the agency’s website at http://www.agfc.com/jds

(Monday, February 20, 2017)

Ramseys' Endow UAHT Scholarship


Dennis and Linda Ramsey, of Hope, recently donated $10,000 to establish the James Edward and Lillian Earline Berry Endowed Scholarship at the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana.  The endowment was set up to honor the memory of the parents of Linda Ramsey and will provide financial assistance to a student pursuing a degree or certificate from UAHT.


“Linda’s parents, neither of which graduated from high school, knew the value of an education; and ensured that all three of their children received college degrees.  With this endowment, Linda desires to perpetuate the memory of her parents by enhancing the educational opportunities for students wishing to further their education at the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana,” said former Mayor Ramsey.


Jill Bobo, Executive Director of the UAHT Foundation, said, “Each scholarship at the college has a story to tell; for the Ramsey’s it is a legacy of learning.  Linda’s parents worked hard to provide her with an education. Now the establishment of this endowment will honor her parent’s legacy forever by providing scholarships to allow students to further their education.”


(Monday, February 20, 2017)

Elk Harvested in Little River County

Arkansas hunters harvested a record 55 elk during the 2016-17 hunting season, according to a report given by Wes Wright, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s elk program coordinator, at last week's monthly Commission meeting. The record tally represented a 15 percent increase in harvest from the 2015 season and was the result of the statewide elk season established in 2016 to prevent further expansion of the herd.


“We had 11 elk taken on land outside the Core Elk Management Zone,” said Wright. “Nine were in Pope County, one was in Van Buren County and one was down in Little River County.”


The elk harvested in Little River likely was an escaped animal from a captive facility, but Wright says DNA samples were taken to verify if it was linked to the Arkansas herd.


According to Wright, any deer hunter who happens to see an elk while hunting outside of the Core Elk Management Zone (Boone, Carroll, Madison, Newton and Searcy counties) may legally take that elk with weapons legal for the season they are in.


“We had a couple of these elk taken with archery, crossbow and muzzleloader, but most came from hunters using modern guns,” Wright said.


Biologists took Chronic Wasting Disease samples from all elk harvested, and one positive case came back from a two-and-a-half-year-old bull taken in Searcy County. “This shows a prevalence of less than 2 percent in our elk herd harvest,” Wright said. “So far, only six elk have tested positive for CWD since we first discovered the disease in Arkansas.”


(Monday, February 20, 2017)

Governor Fills Pike County Post

Governor Asa Hutchinson has announced a southwest Arkansas appointment. Gary Wofford, Jr, of Delight, as a Justice of the Peace for the Pike County Quorum Court, District 4. Appointment expires December 31, 2018. Replaces Ed Jones.


(Sunday, February 19, 2017)

Firestone Acquires Seattle Company

Firestone Building Products Company, LLC (“Firestone”) has announced that it has reached a definitive agreement to acquire Gaco Western (“Gaco”), a maker of silicone roofing systems and provider of waterproofing and spray foam insulation solutions for a variety of commercial and residential applications.


 The acquisition complements roofing products produced at its Prescott factory. Firestone Building Products is part of Bridgestone Americas, the largest subsidiary of Bridgestone Corporation, the world’s largest tire and rubber company.


“This acquisition supports our strategic plan to penetrate high-growth adjacent product segments,” said Tim Dunn, president of Firestone Building Products. “Adding Gaco’s product portfolio will expand our offering, broaden our customer base, and reaffirm our commitment to being a total solutions provider. We are now also in a position to better capitalize on rapidly growing demand for liquid coating products and are excited about the opportunity to unearth the long-term value that exists in the combination of the two businesses.”


Financial details of the transaction are not being disclosed. The acquisition is expected to be completed before the end of the first quarter 2017, subject to regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions.  Founded in 1955, Gaco is privately-owned and headquartered in Seattle, Washington


(Monday, February 20, 2017)

Hope to Host Strawberry Production Meeting

Demand for strawberries in the U.S. has risen and fruit experts with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture want to help growers keep up, including hosting a meeting in Hope.

 

In addition to strawberry production research projects underway to help Arkansas strawberry producers, the Division of Agriculture will host a Spring Strawberry Field Day on March 7 at the Southwest Research and Extension Center in Hope to showcase the projects and teach producers the latest commercial production recommendations.


The event will also be beneficial to prospective strawberry farmers because it will teach them the basics of commercial strawberry production.


“We want to make sure that people that want to go into commercial strawberry production have the latest recommendations and research to be successful,” said Amanda McWhirt, Extension horticulture specialist.


Attendees will also hear guest speaker Russ Wallace, professor and Extension vegetable specialist at Texas A&M, talk about a joint project between Texas and Arkansas Extension tackling biopesticides and strawberries.


Registration is $15 per person and includes a BBQ lunch courtesy of Irrigation-Mart and snacks. To register, visit https://forms.uaex.edu/registrations/hort/strawberry.asp. The deadline to register is March 3.


For more information contact Amanda McWhirt at 501-671-2229 or Jackie Lee at 501-671-2191.

---

According to the Nielsen Perishables Group, berries of all sorts have pushed their way to the top of the consumer preference charts in 2013, shouldering aside both bananas and apples. (See: http://fortune.com/2014/11/04/best-selling-fruit-us/)


In Arkansas, local strawberries are eagerly awaited for harvest around Mother’s Day and are a stalwart for agritourism venues that offer roadside stands or U-Picks.


(Monday, February 20, 2017)

Representative Vaught Co-sponsors New Law

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a bill to provide paid maternity leave to state workers. SB 125 was introduced by Senator Missy Irvin and Representative DeAnn Vaught of Horatio. The bill provides for four weeks of paid maternity leave for state agency employees.


Governor Hutchinson issued the following statement:


“I am pleased that the maternity leave bill passed through the legislature with bipartisan support. Mothers make up a significant portion of our state’s workforce and this bill will ensure that we retain their vital contributions, while also allowing them to take care of their new additions. A fair maternity leave policy is crucial to a state’s ability to retain valuable employees and I am pleased that this is now the law of the state.”


Representative Vaught issued the following statement:


“I love that we have finally found a way to help soon-to-be parents that work for state agencies here in Arkansas at no additional cost to taxpayers. Today is a great day for working mothers in our state. As a mother, I am honored to be able to carry legislation that will help our dedicated state employees as they become parents.”


Employees may now take up to four weeks of paid maternity leave within the first 12 weeks after the birth or adoption of a child. The program requires the employee to have been employed by the state for more than one year. The law does not require employees to exhaust sick or annual leave prior to being awarded catastrophic leave for maternity purposes.


Under the new law, all agency catastrophic leave banks will be eliminated and replaced with a single leave bank for all agencies that will be administered by the Office of Personnel Management.

It is important to note that the state’s maternity leave program will operate with no additional cost to taxpayers because the hours donated to the catastrophic leave bank are already accounted for as an unfunded liability in the state budget.


(Monday, February 20, 2017)

Dry Run...

Legendary Spinners Coming to Hope

Relive some of the greatest vocal harmonies, doo wop, R&B, pop, and lightly funky rhythms that define the seductive sound of Philly soul! A veritable hit machine, the Spinners topped the charts with songs such as “I’ll Be Around,” “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” and “Rubberband Man.” Not only were their singles hits but their albums constantly charted in the Top 20 and went gold. Nominated in 2016 to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Spinners are renowned for their smooth R&B songs in the style of Motown that paved the way for R&B-influenced easy jazz that became a standard for decades. ARTS and Hempstead Hall partnership. Show starts at 7:00 pm. Tickets at Hempstead Hall  or online at admin.thundertix.com

(Saturday, February 18, 2017)

Forecast Still Not Winter Like

Sheriff's Grant to go Towards Defibrillator

Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton says that the Hempstead County Sheriff’s Office has been awarded a $1,000.00 grant from the Blue and You Foundation established by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The grant money will be used to purchase an AED, which is short for Automatic External (heart) Defibrillator,  for the Sheriff’s Office. The AED when received will be assigned to one of the Deputy’s to carry in their vehicle. The Sheriff’s Office currently has 8 AED’s assigned to Deputies on patrol who are trained to use them in case of a Cardiac Event. Singleton said the goal is to have one in every deputy’s vehicle, the command post, the Dive Team trailer, and Search and Rescue Humvee. Each AED costs approximately $1,300.
 
Sheriff Singleton said, "I would like to thank the Blue and You Foundation for its commitment to assist Law Enforcement and First Responders. This piece of lifesaving equipment will allow our deputies to render aid when they arrive on a cardiac emergency."


(Friday, February 17, 2017)

Historic Washington to Assist Little River County Sesquicentennial

Little River County, which got its name from the Little River, is celebrating a Sesquicentennial this year and a festival to celebrate the occasion is set for March 2-3.


“In addition to the county being 150 years old, Ashdown city will be 125 years old and the Little River County Courthouse itself will be 110 years old,” said Deanna Sivley, the County Clerk of Little River County.


On March 2 and 3 at 7 p.m. in the courtroom of the Little River County Courthouse, the Ashdown High School drama class will put on a dramatization of a trial that could have been from that era. Tickets are $5.


On Friday March 3, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m, Sivley said a festival is set to take place at the Courthouse Square in downtown Ashdown with vendors and displays and school children coming in to perform. They will also be cutting a birthday cake for the county in celebration of the event and state dignitaries will be there at 11 a.m.


Some workers from Historic Washington State Park will be on site too for the event.  “We plan to have a guide representing a U.S. Colored Troop of the federal army during the reconstruction days,” said Leita Spears of Historic Washington State Park. “He will be dressed in uniform with accoutrements and will demonstrate his equipment including loading and firing (blanks) during the day.”


Spears said there will be a Dutch Oven cooking demonstration of some typical food common in a South recovering from the Civil War. “Games and toys of the period will be demonstrated so that young and old(er) can try them out,” she said. “Twice during the day, 19th century dances will be taught and all will be encouraged to join in. The Ashdown High School theater department spent some time at Historic Washington State Park recently learning the dances so they can have a great time encouraging others to join in. And park staff will be dressed in clothing of the late 1860s.

While in town, you can also visit the Two Rivers Museum. This stop includes exhibits and artifacts of southwest Arkansas and is home to an impressive Civil War gun exhibit.


For more information on the town, you can stop by the Little River County Chamber of Commerce, located in a former railroad depot, at 180 E Whitaker Street in Ashdown.


(Tuesday, February 14, 2017)

Columbus and Washington Venues Part of Golden Anniversary

A range of events are set to take place across Southwest Arkansas next month to celebrate  archeology. Archeology Month takes place every March in the state and this year is the 50th anniversary of Arkansas Archeological Survey.  According to their site, ‘the event is an annual celebration commemorating Arkansas’s cultural heritage as revealed through the archeology of both prehistoric and historic eras.’


Hempstead County events are part of the program:


The Rick Evans Grandview Prairie Conservation Education Center near Columbus will have a week long range of programs over Spring Break, March 18-25. The area is known for having the nation’s largest contiguous tract of blackland prairie in public ownership. The free event taking place there is called Archeology of the Prairie and participants will learn about the lives of the Caddo Indians and more. More information can be found by calling 870-983-2790.


Also on the lineup is a Historic Archeology Display from March 17-19 at Historic Washington State Park during the 49th annual Jonquil Festival at the park. Visitors can visit the booth of the Arkansas Archeological Survey, where they can view displays on historic archeology. Also from March 20-25, the park will have a program called Gopher Archeology each day starting at 10 a.m.  Participants will explore gopher mounds and learn guided hands-on use of archeological principles to ‘scoop, screen, classify, map, and document historical artifacts to add to the park’s collection’. For more information call 870-983-2684.


(Tuesday, February 14, 2017)

Hope Researchers Part of Potential Major Cattle Impact

For years, Shane Gadberry, an associate professor of ruminant nutrition and animal science for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, has been working to help cattle producers in central Arkansas get the most “bang for their buck” when it comes to feeding their herds through the winter, and ending up with healthy cows in the spring. 


As the emerging data increasingly support the efficacy of their efforts, Gadberry, the Cooperative Extension Service agents of Van Buren County and researchers at the Division of Agriculture’s Southwest Research and Extension Center (SWREC) in Hope can point to a major potential impact on the state’s thousands of beef cattle operations. 


The program engages county agents to recruit cattle producers in their respective counties to submit soil and hay samples to the SWREC for analysis. With the goal of keeping cows at the appropriate weight through the winter months — neither too thin nor too fleshy — the agents make recommendations on what kind, if any, nutritional supplementation producers should give to their cattle. 


“With the hay test, what we find is that some producers realized they were supplementing when they didn’t need to be,” Gadberry said. “In other cases, we often find that producers are using the wrong type of supplement. So we shift the emphasis to the more appropriate type of supplement. 

“In the more severe cases, they might be supplementing protein,” he said. “It doesn’t take much protein to overcome a protein deficiency. But when we look at their hay test, we find that the actual shortage is in energy. So they may spend the same amount of money, but on a more appropriate feed.” 


Leon Wilson, a cattle producer who began managing a cow-calf operation near Dennard, Arkansas when he retired from education about 25 years ago, said he had participated in the winter feeding program multiple times over the past several years. 


“The most important part of the program for me was the soil testing and the advice they gave me on purchasing fertilizer,” Wilson said. He said he had begun mixing in clover with his fescue on a Cooperative Extension Service agent’s advice through the program. 


“My cows stay in pretty good shape, winter-wise, even though I don’t have barns sufficient for cattle inside,” Wilson said. They pretty well stay outside, and they stay in pretty good health.” 

Based on survey data collected over the past two years, Gadberry said about two-thirds of participating producers report adopting agents’ recommendations completely, while the remaining third report adopting the recommendations at least partially. Fifty-one producers in eight north Arkansas counties participated in the program during the 2015-2016 winter. 


Gadberry said growers who adopted his team’s recommendation in recent years saw a median savings of more than $22 per cow per year in feed expenditures, entering the spring with a healthier herd to boot. And in a state with tens of thousands of beef cattle operations, that could translate into a major economic impact. 


“The direct impact to participating farms last winter was about $47,000,” Gadberry said. “Now, if we consider that there’s 23,000 beef cattle operations in Arkansas — not all of them are in this situation, but if you look at our hay tests that come through the diagnostic site at Fayetteville, we do know that about 60-70 percent of the time, the hay samples did not meet cow lactation requirements.” 


Gadberry said that when cows drop below healthy calving weight, the calving cycle becomes increasingly delayed. 


“It’s easy enough to measure savings in reduced feed costs,” Gadberry said. “But the big impact, that’s harder to measure, is on reproduction. We know that cows calving in moderate to thin condition are going to be less likely to breed back in a short time than cows that are calving in moderate to good condition. 


“Reproduction is the most important factor that drives the income, the economy, of beef cattle operation. So if we short cattle on feed, it costs us in reduced reproductive rates. So our first investment is to make sure we’re managing those cows every year, to calves in good body condition, and minimizing body condition loss after calving,” he said. 


To learn more about recommendation programs available to producers through the Division of Agriculture and the Cooperative Extension Service, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service Agent or visit www.uaex.edu.


(Tuesday, February 14, 2017)

Water System Under Boil Order

The Bois d'Arc Water System in Hempstead County remains under a Boil Water Order from the Arkansas Department of Health. The order is due no disinfection due to a broken chlorinator and affects all customers of the system.


(Tuesday, February 14, 2017)

Highway 27 Wreck Kills One

A Montgomery County wreck Monday afternoon has claimed the life of a Hot Springs woman. Cheryl Chewning, 30, died when the 1985 Chevy Blazer she was a passenger in ran off Highway 27 while negotiating a curve, overturning several times. The Blazer was driven by Justin Evans, 28, of Amity. Evans was injured and taken to St. Vincents Hospital in Hot Springs. Trooper Bo Hayes investigated.  


(Tuesday, February 14, 2017)

New State Park Reservation System Being Readied

Arkansas State Parks is introducing a new reservation system they say is packed with a gamut of user friendly improvements. Starting March 2, Active Network will replace the current reservation system. By weaving simplicity and technology together, Active Network has created a reservation system which allows guests to more precisely choose an overnight accommodation that is tailored to their personal needs.

 

“Guests have told us what they wanted in a reservation system and we heard them loud and clear,” said Arkansas State Parks Director Grady Spann. “This new system has features that give our visitors much more information about our campsites, cabins and lodges. Now, they will have the control to select the exact spot they want to stay in at one of our parks.”


The new system is used by dozens of state park systems across the country. Also, it is the main reservation system for federal lands including National Parks, US Forest Service and US Army Corps of Engineers. Some of the features it brings include:

 

• Online maps of campgrounds showing each campsite.
• The ability to book specific campsites.
• Search functions that show all available campsites, cabins and lodge rooms available for a particular time period.
• An extensive list of amenities available in our overnight accommodations.
• Photos of all campsites (this will be available in the near future).
• Faster check-in and check-out.


 Park staff will also be better served by the new reservation system. A call center will free up front desk staff from the phone, allowing them to personally interact more with the guests. Additionally, it provides better reporting of occupancy so staff can be more prepared for variations in guest traffic.


To allow for the integration of the new reservation system, Arkansas State Parks will not be taking reservations from February 20 until March 1. Guests with reservations made before February 20 will not be affected. This is to provide enough time to migrate all of the current reservations(approximately two years of data) to the new system.


(Tuesday, February 14, 2017)

Block Party Theme of Kids College BBB Event

The University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana Foundation will host the 11th Annual Beads, Bags and Bangles Kids’ College Fundraiser on Thursday, February 23, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Hope Municipal Airport.  The theme of this year’s event is a “Block Party,” featuring various authentic and interesting food trucks.


As with any good block party, the BBB Block Party will deliver quality entertainment.  Attendees will be serenaded by the acoustic sounds and feats of street performers and will have the opportunity to participate in friendly neighborhood games.  To make the party even more memorable, guests will witness amazing acts from Arkansas Circus Arts.  The block party streets will be filled with silent auction items that you will not want to leave behind, and raffle tickets will be sold for a opportunity to win a set of “Today, Tomorrow and Forever bracelets” by Charles Krypell, donated by Alexander’s Jewelry.


Proceeds raised at the 11th Annual BBB event will be used for scholarships and supplies to benefit the 2017 Kids’ College Program, Preparatory Academy, and Camp Save-A-Life programs.  Kids’ College is designed for students in first through eighth grade. The 2016 program served over 250 children from Hope and the surrounding communities. 

 

UAHT’s Preparatory Academy and Camp Save-A-Life serves students in ninth through twelfth grades.  The UAHT Preparatory Academy helps prepare students for the ACT college entrance exam.  Camp Save-A-Life introduces students to healthcare professions.  These two programs serve approximately 100 area students each year.


Tickets to the BBB Block Party are $35.  For more information or to buy tickets, call Jill Bobo, UAHT

Foundation Executive Director, at 722-8516 or 501-580-1214.


(Tuesday, February 14, 2017)

UA Hope-Texarkana Sees Enrollment Growth

The University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana welcomed 1,421 students this semester.  This number represents a 6.3% increase over the previous year and the third highest spring enrollment in the history of the institution.  Enrollment at the UofA Texarkana campus increased by 45.8% over last year.


The college recorded increases in students from Hempstead and Miller Counties in Arkansas and Bowie and Cass Counties in Texas.  Miller County students increased by 12.6%.  Hempstead County students rose by 5.3%.  Students from Bowie County grew by 18.4%.  Cass County students represented the largest percentage increase of 66.6%.


Concurrent credit enrollment at the college saw an increase of 14.7% over last year.  Concurrent credit allows any qualified student enrolled in a public or private high school to enroll in regular college level courses as a part-time student.


Chris Thomason, Chancellor of UofA Hope-Texarkana, said, “This continued historical growth at UAHT is exciting and promising for the future of our institution and our entire region.”  Thomason continued saying, “Most important, the fact that our growth is occurring broadly across our entire service area means that UAHT is helping support the educational dreams of students across the Ark-La-Tex.  In turn, this increases student diversity which makes our campuses a more dynamic learning environment.”


(Tuesday, February 14, 2017)

Social Work Degree Offered

The University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana (UAHT) has added a new Associate of Arts degree in Social Work.  The program is designed as a 2+2 partnership program with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) in Texarkana.  Students who complete the 60 credit hour UAHT Associate degree in Social Work will be able to transition seamlessly into the UALR-Texarkana Bachelor of Social Work degree program.  Once students earn a Bachelor of Social Work degree from the UALR-Texarkana campus, they have the option of earning a Master of Social Work degree from UALR online in as little as one year.


“This degree will allow students a seamless transfer into the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree at Texarkana through UALR.  This collaborative effort will enable students in our service area the opportunity to earn a high-quality, high-demand degree in the most efficient manner possible.  As the population in Texarkana continues to grow, so does the need for healthcare and social services jobs,” said Laura Clark, Vice Chancellor for Academics at UAHT.


Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers may also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the 2015 median annual salary for social workers was $45,900.  Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow twelve percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.


Chris Bachers, the UALR-Texarkana Program Coordinator, said, “The local job market in the field of social work is strong.  This new associate’s degree will make it possible for graduating students to move directly into the workforce or continue their education through the Bachelor of Social Work degree available in Texarkana in partnership with UA-Little Rock.  In fact, students graduating with a bachelor’s degree will have the option of earning a master’s degree with only one additional year of online coursework.”


For more information about the new AA Social Work degree option or UALR-Texarkana, call 866-963-5060 or visit www.uacch.edu.


(Tuesday, February 14, 2017)

Donation to Local Trap Shooting Team

Doctor Robert Carter, the owner of Smiles of Arkansas, recently donated $5,000 to the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana Shooting Sports Club.  This donation helps fund travel, practice and entry fee expenses for the UofA Hope-Texarkana Iron Horse competitive trap shooting team.

 

 Each year the team competes in the Arkansas State Championship shoot in Tiller, Arkansas, and the Collegiate National Championship shoot in San Antonio, Texas.


Smiles of Arkansas Dental Center is a full-service general family dental practice, established in 2008 by Dr. Robert Carter. 


For more information or to help support UofA Hope-Texarkana shooting sports, call 870-722-8516.


(Tuesday, February 14, 2017)

Collection Locations Announced

Mineral Springs High School Removed From Academic Distress

 The Arkansas State Board of Education Thursday removed Mineral Springs High School from the Academic Distress designation. The action came during its February meeting. The Arkansas Department of Education Rules Governing the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing, Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP) and the Academic Distress Program states that "the Academic Distress classification is assigned to any public school or public school district in which 49.5 percent or less of its students’ achieve proficient or advanced in math and literacy for the most recent three(3) year period."

In a January 27 letter to Mineral Springs Superintendent Curtis Turner from Assistant Commissioner Annette Barnes, she said the school's combined math and literacy proficiency percentages on the most recent three year period of state mandated assessments exceeded 49.5 percent proficient or advanced. The Department of Education said currently Mineral Springs High School is at 51.969 percent proficient or advanced.

Following the vote placing  Mineral Springs High School on Academic Distress at its August 11, 2016 meeting, the Mineral Springs School District asked the state board to stay the decision. When that was refused, the district filed an Administrative Appeal in Pulaski County Circuit Court. The docket shows a number of filings but no rulings on that appeal.

The district currently has a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Hempstead County, the Arkansas State Board of Education, the Arkansas Department of Education and Education Commissioner Johnny Key. The lawsuit alleges state officials "encouraged white students and black athletes to transfer from Mineral Springs to the Nashville School District."

Mineral Springs is alleging revenue was diverted the past several years from SWEPCO's John Turk Power Plant near McNab, which is located within the boundaries of the old Saratoga School District. Parts of the power plant are also in the Hope School District.

The 2013 Fiscal Distress finding and the state takeover of the Mineral Springs School District and alleged denied benefits for free and reduced lunches are also contained in the lawsuit. Currently the docket shows a November 2017 date for the suit.


(Thursday, February 9, 2017)

Human Remains Thought to be Young Caddo Indian

 The Hempstead County Sheriff's Office has received information regarding human remains found in 2014 near Fulton, according to Sheriff James Singleton.

On September 8, 2014, a group of hunters found a human cranium on a sand bar on the
Red River near Fulton. The cranium was submitted to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory.
 
The Arkansas State Crime Laboratory shipped the remains to the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas Health Science Center where they Were transferred to the Laboratory of Forensic Anthropology on September 30, 2014.
 
The Hempstead County Sheriff’s Office received the findings of the Forensic Anthropologist today Thursday.
 
The cranium is consistent with a young American Indian male, based on the condition of the bone, the anatomical, and cultural features seen in the crania.
 
Given features on the skull and the recovery location within the historic Caddo and distribution, the lab said it is possible that these are the remains of a Caddo Indian.

(Thursday, February 9, 2017) 

Possible Developments in Recent Hope Armed Robbery

There are possible developments in a recent armed robbery in Hope. The Texarkana, Arkansas Police Department has arrested a 17 year old juvenile male in connection to the January 4th  aggravated robbery that occurred at Pizza Hut in the 3700 Block of North State Line Avenue. The juvenile was arrested by Texarkana, Arkansas police Wednesday from a detention facility in Central Arkansas and charged with Aggravated Robbery. He was in custody prior to TAPD arrest for unrelated robbery charges. Currently the investigation continues and more arrests are expected.


On Wednesday, January 4, at 9:45 pm Texarkana Arkansas Police responded to a 911 call of a robbery at the Pizza Hut. The investigation revealed two unknown suspects entered the business and forced all occupants at gunpoint to the back and inside a walk-in freezer. At that time the suspects ordered an employee to give them money from the register. During the incident, the employee was struck several times by the suspects before fleeing the property with an undisclosed amount of cash.


The victim was transported to St. Michaels hospital for medical attention.


On the same evening at approximately 10:15 pm, Hope Police Department received a call of a robbery at the Sonic located on Hervey Street. Hope Police Detectives advised two suspects with a very similar description as the Texarkana robbery entered the business and demanded money from the employees while armed with weapons.


Both incidents are believed to be related. Please contact Detective Eric Zimmer or Detective Jimmy Courtney at 870-722-2510 if you have information on the Hope robbery.


(Thursday, February 9, 2017)

Traffic Stop in Emmet Leads to Charges

Wednesday, February 8th, while patrolling in the Emmet community Hempstead County Investigator Justin Crane observed a green Ford Explorer turning west onto Highway 67, off of North Walnut Street.  Crane turned around and caught up to the vehicle near Hempstead 103 and activated his emergency lights to initiate a traffic stop on the vehicle.

Upon further investigation Investigator Crane discovered that the driver, 21 year old Dillon Jester of Prescott was allegedly in possession of a substance believed to be Methamphetamine. The passenger, 19 year old Summer Randolph of Prescott, was allegedly found to be in possession of prescription medication not prescribed to her.

Jester was arrested and charged with Possession of Methamphetamine, a felony, and transported to the Hempstead County Jail to await a first appearance. Randolph was arrested for misdemeanor possession of pills (Xanax) and issued a court date in District Court.

(Thursday, February 9, 2017)

Saratoga Area Bird Counters Needed

The 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count will draw bird-watching enthusiasts from all walks of life to take a little extra note of our feathered friends this February 17-20. All it takes to participate is a little extra time and an eye for detail to identify birds you see.

The GBBC is one of the largest and longest-running internet-based, citizen science programs, with more than 160,000 bird watchers in more than 100 countries participating. According to a release from the Audubon Society, last year’s count reported 5,689 species – more than half the known bird species in the world.

The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada and is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

To participate, bird watchers simply count the number and species of birds they see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count. Participants enter their checklists at birdcount.org, and all the data is compiled to give a snapshot of bird species distribution and abundance. Twenty years of data is compared to identify trends in species and their distribution.

"The very first GBBC was an experiment," said the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program. "We wanted to see if people would use the Internet to send us their bird sightings. Clearly the experiment was a success!" eBird collects bird observations globally every day of the year and is the online platform used by the GBBC.

Karen Rowe, nongame migratory bird program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission says the GBBC is an excellent example of how every individual can help make a difference in learning more about how weather and other factors are affecting the birds.

“Many people just assume that it’s just biologists and ornithologists that are out conducting surveys, but by adding all the birders information gathered in counts like this, we can really see things on a large scale,” said Rowe. “Every person involved can make a significant difference.”

Rowe says the timing of the GBBC makes it possible to see how shifting weather patterns can impact species and populations.

“The influx of Snowy Owls during the count in 2014 verified the thoughts that this species was beginning to move further southward,” Rowe said. “And with this winter’s unusually warm weather, it’s really going to be interesting to see what patterns develop.”

Another benefit for birders during the count is the ability to see many different species visiting their feeders. Food is harder to find during late winter, so feeders become much more attractive to birds than is the case during spring or summer counts. Many species also have begun working their way back north for their spring migration, adding to the variety of species found in The Natural State.

“Often shifts in species or populations in birds can be the little red light in your car telling you what’s going on,” Rowe said. “Impacts to birds from weather or other factors may be something that could affect people down the line, so keeping a watch on the birds is important for everyone, not just birders.”

Photographers also are encouraged to participate in the count, as a special photography contest was introduced in 2006. Since then, tens of thousands of stunning images have been submitted. For the 20th anniversary of the GBBC, the public is invited to vote for their favorite top photo from each of the past 11 years in a special album they will find on the GBBC website home page. Voting takes place during the four days of the GBBC.

Learn more about how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count at birdcount.org

(Thursday, February 9, 2017)

Comparisions Being Made to Millwood Lake

If one lake in Arkansas can be called a sleeper for the big bass bite, Lake Columbia is certainly a contender. However, the recent boom in trophy-class catches may let the cat out of the bag soon enough.

“I know one angler in Magnolia who had a huge stringer one day this winter on Columbia,” said Jason Olive assistant chief of fisheries for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “It may not be pushing out a lot of double-digit bass right now, but it is full of really nice fish about to hit that trophy size class.”

That angler, Terry Neal, says Lake Columbia can be tough to figure out, but when it’s on, it is one of the best bass lakes in the South.

“I caught 25 to 30 fish over 4 pounds, with some up to 7.7 lbs. that day,” Neal said. “All on a Duel Hardcore Ninja Glider swimbait and a Quantum Smoke rod and reel. The bass were in 5 to 6 feet of water feeding on bream.”

At 3,000 acres, Lake Columbia has enjoyed a quiet reputation among the state’s bass anglers. While anglers ran from Millwood to Monticello in search of big fish, Lake Columbia steadily produced plenty of large bass approaching the double-digit range and an occasional fish that reached the “Oh my goodness!” section of the measuring scale.

Columbia’s recent surge of sizeable bass actually is the result of unfortunate drought during a scheduled drawdown.

“The lake was drawn down 5 feet in November 2010 to try and control aquatic vegetation,” said Olive. “But a drought hit right in the middle of the drawdown, dropping the lake another 3 feet until spring 2012.”

Although a temporary inconvenience, the extended drawdown and subsequent flooding of shallow-water habitat is very similar to the situation east Texas anglers are enjoying on Toledo Bend, just on a smaller body of water.

“Before the drawdown, the shoreline was pretty much barren except for the upper end, which was choked with vegetation,” Olive said. “But that extended drought allowed all sorts of shoreline terrestrial vegetation to grow, which became ideal spawning and nursery habitat for crappie, bass and bream.”

Andy Yung, AGFC regional fishery supervisor says anglers and predatory fish, namely bass and flathead catfish, took advantage of the low-water year, and then the excellent spawns in 2012 and 2013 created huge year-classes of fish that are now hitting the sizes anglers are after.

“Columbia has very consistent spawns of sport fish,” said Yung. “But missing year classes from 2010 and 2011 allowed the fish spawned in 2012 and 2013 to grow extremely fast. There wasn’t much competition for forage from older fish.”

Biologists hope to prolong this surge in big fish, and in 2014, changed the previous 16 to 18 inch protected slot limit to a standard 10-fish limit with anglers only being able to keep one fish over 20 inches per day.

“The previous slot limit had a lot of fish stacked up in the 16- to 18-inch range, and those are the fish that are showing up now in the 23- and 24-inch range,” Yung said. “Those are some tremendous fish!

“During the most recent electrofishing samples we recorded, we saw 40 percent of the bass population in the lake between 15 and 18 inches as well, so they will be moving into that next size class of trophy fish soon. By limiting the amount of fish taken in that class, we’re hoping to extend these banner year classes as long as we can.”

According to Yung, all of this success is in spite of the inability to fertilize or add organic cover like brush piles to the lake.

“Columbia is a water supply, so we can’t do some of the things that are possible on other AGFC-owned lakes,” Yung said. “It is stocked annually with Florida-strain largemouth bass, and we do massive habitat projects on it using PVC and other approved materials.”

Yung says the lake manager, John-Ed Gunnels, has developed a new way of building PVC structures that makes it much easier to load large quantities on a habitat barge.

“We started by just placing PVC or plastic hoses in standard cinder blocks and filling the holes with concrete, but he’s really developed a new form that lets us make larger structures with a lot of branches to attract fish.”

According to Yung, the AGFC and the lake manager have sunk close to 500 structures in Columbia in the last year, and all coordinates to these fish attractors are available on the AGFC interactive map at agfc.com.

(Thursday, February 9, 2017)

Unclaimed Turkey Permits to be Sold

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will be selling all unclaimed turkey hunt permits online at https://www.ark.org/agfc/permitting/apply.php, beginning at 8 a.m., Feb. 15.

Each year, hunters apply for limited permits available on some of Arkansas’s more popular wildlife management areas. All permits were drawn randomly by a third-party vendor by Jan. 18, and successful applicants were given until Feb. 1 to pay the $10 processing fee for their permit. However, a handful of permits remain for many WMA hunts.

“We want to make sure as many people as possible have the opportunity to enjoy these hunts,” said Brad Carner, AGFC chief of wildlife management. “But the online sale goes very quickly for the small amount of permits left. Anyone wanting one of these unclaimed permits needs to be ready to click start as soon as 8 a.m. hits.”

A finalized list of unclaimed permits are available at http://www.agfc.com/licenses/Pages/PermitsSpecialWMA.aspx so hunters have the opportunity to plan their purchase. Only one permit may be purchased at a time.

(Thursday, February 9, 2017)

Saratoga Area Skunk Spotters Sought

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is beginning a citizen-science project to establish the current range of spotted skunks in Arkansas, and is looking for volunteers to help. You don’t have to worry about coming home with a foul odor, as all the observation will be done via trail camera.

“We’re looking for people who own game cameras to place them specifically to capture images of this uncommon Arkansas animal,” said Blake Sasse, AGFC biologist. “This is a great way to keep using those game cameras outside of deer season and enjoy all the outdoors has to offer.”

Participants will be given directions on how to place the cameras and the best bait to use to attract spotted skunks. The cameras should be out for at least 21 nights with the volunteer checking the site and downloading photos on a weekly basis. Participants will need to have permission of the landowner to place game cameras, own at least one game camera and preferably possess a GPS unit or other method with which the geographic coordinates of the camera sites can be obtained.

Spotted skunks are smaller than their striped cousins, about the size of a large squirrel. They are black with a white patch on their forehead, a white patch in front of each ear and blotches of white on their body. They have long, bushy tails tipped in white. Their most notable feature is the tendency to warn anything it sees as threatening by making a quick series of handstands before spraying its musk.

Spotted skunks never were abundant in Arkansas, but were once found across the state. They now are seen mostly in the Ozarks and Ouachitas. The cause of the decline hasn’t been determined, but possible explanations include loss of farm and fencerow habitat, pesticides and disease.

They live in open fields, prairies, croplands, farmyards, forest edges and woodlands. They prefer rocky outcrops and ledges where natural rock cavities and crevices provide shelter and den sites. They are mainly nocturnal and feed on small mammals, insects, birds, fruits, nuts and small lizards and snakes. They are agile climbers and can run up and down trees like a squirrel. Their main diet of mice shifts to insects and grubs in the summer, making them beneficial creatures to have around.

Visit survey.agfc.com to sign up for the project. Selected respondents will be sent applications and further instructions on how to participate.

Photo credit: Santa Cruz Island NRS

(Thursday, February 9, 2017)

Endanger Species Day Art Contest

Although Endangered Species Day is May 19, the planning and work is well underway. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Arkansas Ecological Services Field Office, along with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, is holding a special art contest for students to learn more about these species in need and why saving them is so important.

The contest will provide students with an opportunity to learn about endangered and threatened species, as well as species that are listed as species of greatest conservation need that may require more help before they become threatened or endangered.

Classes, schools and school districts may enter as many entries as they wish, however only one piece of art is allowed per student. Homeschoolers are also welcome to enter artwork. Visit https://www.fws.gov/arkansas-es/esdaycontest.html to learn more about the contest and how to participate. The entry deadline is March 1, 2017. Contact Alyssa Bangs at 501-513-4472 or Alyssa_Bangs@fws.gov with any questions you may have on participating in this awareness-through-artwork campaign.

(Thursday, February 9, 2017)

Seasonal Advice

Sheriff Sets Vehicle Auction

The Hempstead County Sheriff’s Office and The South Central Drug Task Force will be holding a public auction to sell retired Sheriff’s vehicles and drug seized vehicles.

The auction will be held March 4th at 10:00 am at the Hempstead County Sheriff’s Office in Hope.

The following drug-seized vehicles, 2004 Dodge Ram, 2001 Ford F-250 Pickup, 1999 Ford Pickup and a 2005 Dodge Caravan, will be sold to the highest bidder at that time.

The Following retired Sheriff’s vehicles will be sold to the highest bidder as is, 2007 Crown Victoria and a 2010 Ford F-150 crew cab, 2 Wheel Drive. It is the winning bidder’s responsibility to remove the vehicles from the Sheriff’s Office on the day of purchase.

(Tuesday, February 7, 2017)

Pint-sized Classes Offered

Wild Game Event in De Queen

Barefoot in the Park Coming to Perot

Nashville Man's Firearm Rights Restored

Governor Asa Hutchinson has announced his intent to grant six pardons, one restoration of firearms rights only and one commutation. An additional 42 clemency requests were denied and three had no action taken upon them. These include requests from both inmates and non-inmates.

Governor Hutchinson intends to grant restoration of firearms rights only to the following person:

Carl U. Atkins (Nashville): Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver, Marijuana (C Felony).

This notice is issued based on the date of conviction (2002 – Howard County), the fact that all terms of the applicant’s sentence have been completed and there have been no further criminal-law violations. The Sheriff of Howard County has signed the Recommendation of the Chief Law Enforcement Officer as required by law. There are no law enforcement objections to the application.

(Sunday, February 5, 2017)

Tollette Street Repairs Approved for State Aid Project

The Town of Tollette will soon see improvements to 1.4 miles of various city streets. According to Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department officials, the work for improvements was approved by the Arkansas State Highway Commission.

 Resurface work in Tollette will include Oak Street, Pump Station Street, Washington Street, Peach Street, Bradford Loop, Pine Street, Silver Street and Town Hall Drive.

The same bid was also for work in the Sevier County community of Ben Lomond, totaling 1.4 miles, including Wilson Creek Road and North Main Street.

Tri State Asphalt, Inc. of De Queen was awarded the contract at $498,036.15.

Construction is scheduled to begin in two to four weeks, weather permitting. Completion is expected in mid-2017.

(Wednesday, February 1, 2017)

Highway Projects Approved in Southwest Arkansas

The Arkansas State Highway Commission has approved a bid for improvements to roadways in a number of southwest Arkansas counties,  according to Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) officials.

Hempstead County-to resurface 4.1 miles of U.S. Highway 278 between the town of
Washington and State Highway 32. Redstone Construction Group, Inc. of Little Rock was awarded the contract at $885,119.81. Construction is scheduled to begin in two to four weeks, weather permitting. Completion is mid 2017.

Lafayette County-to resurface 5.7 miles of State Highway 29 starting at State
Highway 360 and extending northward. Jet Asphalt & Rock Company, Inc. of El Dorado was awarded the contract at $1,522,717.07. Construction is scheduled to begin in two to four weeks, weather permitting. Completion is expected in mid-2017.

Little River County-to resurface 1.3 miles of various city streets in Foreman, including
10th Avenue and 3rd Street; 1.8 miles of various city streets in Ogden, including Elm St., Pine St., Oak St., Grand St., Fourth St., Third St. and First St.; and 1.1 miles of various city streets in Wilton,
including North St., Douglas Ave., 5th St., Black St., and South St. R. K. Hall, LLC of Paris, TX was awarded the contract at $807, 923.00. Construction is scheduled to begin in two to four weeks, weather permitting. Completion is expected in mid-2017.

Clark-County-to resurface 6.8 miles of U.S. Highway 67 between State Highway 51 and the Hot Spring County Line. Redstone Construction Group, Inc. of Little Rock was awarded the contract at $1,875,450.83. Construction is scheduled to begin in two to four weeks, weather permitting. Completion is expected in mid-2017.

Also in Clark County, resurface 1.9 miles of various city streets in Amity, including Pine St., Texas St., and S. Hill St.; 1.6 miles of various city streets in Gum Springs, including Hillcrest St., Gum St., and Union St.; and 1.4 miles of various city streets in Whelen Springs, including N. Birch St., S. Dogwood St., Jefferson St., Gum St., Cedar St., and E. Main St. C & F Construction Company, Inc. of Smackover was awarded the contract at $731,462.50. Construction is scheduled to begin in two to four weeks, weather permitting. Completion is expected in mid-2017.

Columbia County-to resurface selected sections of 14.9 miles of State Highway 19 starting in the city of Magnolia and extending southward. Jet Asphalt & Rock Company, Inc. of El Dorado was awarded the contract at $2,300,457.30. Construction is scheduled to begin in two to four weeks, weather permitting. Completion is expected mid-2017.


(Wednesday, February 1, 2017)

Grazing Conference Set at Hempstead Hall

New Round of Applicator Classes Announced

Lavenski Smith to be Sworn-in as Chief Judge

A Hope native is set to be sworn in soon as the first black Chief Judge of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.


Judge Lavenski Smith of Little Rock will be sworn-in March 11th for the seven year chief judge's term now held by William Jay Riley of Omaha, Nebraska. This comes about 15 years after being sworn in as the first black Arkansan on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.


The 58-year-old Smith was born and raised in Hope; he is the son of Cayce B (deceased) and Olee M Smith. After graduating from Hope High School in 1977, he enrolled in the University of Arkansas where he received a bachelors degree in 1981. He obtained his law degree from the University of Arkansas Law School in 1987.


After law school, Smith went to work as a staff attorney for Ozark Legal Services, where he specialized in consumer defense and representation of juveniles as a guardian. In 1991, he opened a private practice in Springdale. The Smith Law Office was the first minority-owned law firm in that northwest Arkansas town. His practice focused on civil law areas such as domestic relations, probate, workers compensation, commercial transactions, real estate and civil liberties.


In 1994, he became a full-time assistant professor at John Brown University in Siloam Springs. From 1996 to 1997, he worked as regulatory liaison at the office of Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. In 1997, he was appointed chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, where he served until his appointment to the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1999, completing the term of the retired Justice David Newbern.


Then-U.S. Senator Tim Hutchinson nominated him to fill the 8th Circuit vacancy in the fall of 2001, and he eventually received unanimous approval from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, followed by a 94-3 vote on the Senate floor to confirm his nomination.


His appointment was delayed for several months as opponents cited his minimal legal experience and  questions about his previous work. It included what he called his "limited role" on behalf of plaintiffs in a 1991 lawsuit that unsuccessfully tried to prevent most abortions at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and a two-year stint in the early '90s as the volunteer director of the Arkansas chapter of the conservative legal organization the Rutherford Institute.


Since becoming an 8th Circuit judge, Smith has written more than 600 opinions.

-----
There's a Saratoga connection. Smith was a commencement speaker for graduation at Saratoga High School after being appointed to the federal judiciary. He reminiced on the number of times he accompanied his father C.B. Smith to referee ball games in the old Saratoga Gym with partner Ray Duke, who just recently passed away in Arkadelphia.


(Sunday, January 29, 2017)

Governor Makes Hempstead County Appointment

Governor Asa Hutchinson Thursday announced the following appointments and actions involving southwest Arkansas residents:

Cherry Stewart, Hope, as a Justice of the Peace for the Hempstead County Quorum Court, District 2. Appointment expires December 31, 2018. Replaces Billy Rook.

David Bazzel, Little Rock, to the State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission. Appointment expires January 14, 2023. Replaces Jay Bunyard of De Queen.


(Sunday, January 29, 2017)

Estate Planning Session for Glenwood

Prescott Native Riding Digital Age Wave

Will Brown’s interest in computers began at an early age as he observed his parents operate their business.

“They were fairly tech savvy in the early days, so computers and dial-up were around for my formative years and made a big impression on me,” Brown said. “Ever since, working with computers has scratched a creative and intellectual itch of mine, and I’ve never looked back.”


Today, the Prescott native and second generation Henderson State graduate is self-employed working on lawnly.com, a website serving on-demand lawn care services to the Northwest Arkansas metro area and others around the country.


“I built all of the tech myself over the last year, partly on nights and weekends while holding a full-time day job at atlasdsr.com programming data-wrangling tools for Walmart vendors,” Brown said. “Otherwise, I make websites and apps, write code, deploy servers and databases, work spreadsheets, and do a bit of graphic design.”


The computer science program at Henderson set the stage for Brown’s career success.

“It’s difficult to overstate the importance of what I learned earning my degree at Henderson,” he said. “Though the first couple of years were tedious, each class built on the previous one and left me with a great foundational knowledge of computer science and lots of excitement and momentum to continue learning after graduation, as is required in a field that progresses this quickly.


“The class sizes were small enough that I got to know my professors very well during my time there, and I learned a lot from them that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”


Brown advises current students to apply what they’re learning into extracurricular projects like developing small websites or apps.


“Learn different program languages or hardware, and see what you can do with them and where it takes you,” he said. “Having projects in your resume that are not school-related will, without a doubt, put you at the top of most recruiters’ call lists, not to mention teach you something.”


After graduating from Henderson in 2013, Brown moved to Northwest Arkansas to work at Atlas Technology Group. “Atlas has one of the top software teams in the state and I learned an incredible amount about practical software development in the industry,” he said. “Since parting ways with Atlas this past August, I’ve been working on lawnly.com and learning how to build a business from the ground up.


“In the next few weeks though, I’ll be taking a job at a new, unannounced company and starting the next chapter of my career.”


Brown said he enjoys the endless variety of applications and problems to be solved with what he continues to learn. “I can take the same tools and ideas and apply them to any industry, business, hobby, or art project and make something valuable or interesting,” he said.


Brown said he had considered a double major in math, but business was always his first choice before he discovered computer science. “I think I would have found my way into programming, regardless,” he said.


(Thursday, January 26, 2017)

Southwest Arkansas Congressman Seeks Interns

Congressman Bruce Westerman (AR-04) is seeking spring and summer interns in his Hot Springs and Washington, D.C., offices, he announced Wednesday.


"As a former Congressional intern through a Future Farmers of America fellowship, I know how important internships are in developing engaged citizens and future leaders in America," Westerman said. "I am excited to welcome Fourth District interns to my Hot Springs and Washington offices and look forward to their contributions."


In Washington D.C., interns' responsibilities will vary. The Washington office will host three interns during the Summer I and Summer II sessions. Each will be expected to interact with constituents, research legislation for the Member and legislative staff, attend hearings and briefings, and answer constituent letters on various issues before the House. Interns will also draft press releases, assist with media clips, and other work to support the Fourth District office. As a result, interns will learn about the legislative process and the many other functions of a congressional office.


The Hot Springs office will host two interns per summer session. In this office, interns may be asked to complete a variety of tasks, including day-to-day office work such as interacting with constituents, writing letters, and assisting with media clips. In addition, interns may be assigned to assist in various constituent casework or District-based projects that are of benefit to constituents.

Positions are unpaid, though students will gain invaluable work experience. The hours are flexible to accommodate students’ course schedules, but generally run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT. Interns in both Washington and Hot Springs will be responsible for their own travel, housing and living costs.


While the office will prioritize candidates from the Fourth District and Arkansas, all applications will be accepted and reviewed. Washington internships are open to students who have completed two years of college. Hot Springs internships are open to high school students who have completed their sophomore year, as well as college students.


Summer Session I internships will run from May 22 – July 7, 2017.
Summer Session II internships will run from July 10 – August 18, 2017.


More information on internships, including an application, may be found at https://westerman.house.gov/services/internships. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Questions about potential internships may be directed to Intern Coordinator Jordan Garcia at 202-225-3772.


(Thursday, January 27, 2017)

Kid & Pet Parade at Mardi Gras

Annual Grandview  Pulling for Education Trap Shoot

Hunger's No Game 5K/Fun Run

Center Point VFD Gun Raffle

Senator Boozman Accepting Intern Applications

Summer may be months away, but U.S. Senator John Boozman is encouraging Arkansas’college students interested in interning in his Washington, D.C. or Arkansas offices during the break from coursework to apply now.


“This is an exciting time to be serving our nation and I want to offer college students in Arkansas who are interested in public service a chance to be a part of it. This is a unique opportunity to work alongside my staff to help our fellow Arkansans by interning in my Washington  office or one of my state offices this summer. While doing so, these young Arkansans will get a firsthand look at the inner-workings of Congress, invaluable work experience and earn college credit at the same time,” Boozman said.


Boozman’s summer intern program is split into two sessions to accommodate as many Arkansas students as possible. Session one will run from May 30th – June 30th and session two will run from July 3rd – August 4th.


The deadline to apply for consideration for either session is March 1, 2017.


Internships in Boozman’s Washington, D.C. office emphasize both practical and educational aspects of working on Capitol Hill from a first-hand perspective. Interns in the Washington office learn about the legislative process and support the daily operation of the Senate office by working closely with the legislative, communications and constituent services staff members. In addition, interns will provide constituents with private tours of the U.S. Capitol Building.


Students may also apply to intern in one of Boozman’s seven state offices where each will have the opportunity to learn about how the office provides constituent services, interacts with the community and serves as a liaison to the Washington, D.C. office. Interns in the state offices will work closely with staff to help individual constituents who have problems with federal agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration. Boozman’s seven state offices serve the various regions of Arkansas—Lowell, Fort Smith, Mountain Home, Jonesboro, Little Rock, Stuttgart and El Dorado.


Interns will be able to receive academic credit for their work. School credit is required for internships in the state offices and is available for internships in the Washington, D.C. office depending on each school’s requirements for such credit.


All internships are unpaid and candidates who are chosen to intern in the Washington, D.C. office will be responsible for paying their travel and living expenses.


The summer internship program is open to all Arkansas college students who have completed at least two years of college.


Interested applicants should visit Boozman’s webpage, www.boozman.senate.gov,  and click on the “apply for an internship link.” Questions should be directed to the intern coordinators, Chris Farrar, in the Washington office at chris_farrar@boozman.senate.gov and Stacey Mattingly, in the state at stacey_mattingly@boozman.senate.gov.


(Thursday, January 26, 2017)

Hempstead County Banks Have New Leadership

Farmers Bank & Trust of Magnolia said Tuesday that its board of directors has named Chris Gosnell president and CEO, effective immediately. Gosnell previously worked as president and chief banking officer. Former CEO Bob Burns will remain the bank's board chairman.


Gosnell joined the bank in 2010. He received a bachelor of arts in administrative management from the University of Arkansas in 2003 and a master of science in operations management in 2005. He graduated from the Graduate School of Banking at Colorado and serves on the Arkansas Bankers Association Board of Directors.


Burns joined the bank in 1980. Under his leadership, the bank grew from $31 million in assets to $1.3 billion as of Sept. 30. By assets, Farmers is the seventh largest bank in Arkansas. It reported net income of $19.4 million in 2015 and $16.4 million for the first three quarters of 2016.
 
"The Board is appreciative of all that he has done to grow Farmers into the Bank it is now, and looks forward to many more years of growth under his and Chris Gosnell's leadership," the bank said in a news release.


Farmers Bank & Trust is a 110-year-old community bank owned by privately held Magnolia Banking Corp. With more than 20 locations in Arkansas and Texas, the bank acquired 1st Bank of Texarkana, Texas, in 2015. That acquisition included banking locations in Hope, Blevins and Lewisville in southwest Arkansas.


(Tuesday, January 24, 2017)

Introduction to Excel Class at UA-Hope

The University Of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana Division Of Community Education will host an Introduction to Excel class beginning Tuesday, February 21st on the Hope campus.  The four-week course will be held each Tuesday night from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., ending Tuesday, March 14. The cost for the course is $75.00 per person.


Microsoft Excel is a popular spreadsheet program used in the business community. This course will enable students to proficiently use electronic spreadsheet applications.  The course will include instruction in the terminology, program functions, visual characteristics, formatting features, mathematical functions, and printing.  This course is designed to provide the student with a thorough understanding of the concepts of designing worksheets for numerical reporting, budgeting and forecasting and gain skills to build, format, manage, save and retrieve Excel worksheets.


For more information, contact Anna Lee Powell, Community Education Coordinator, at 870.722.8102 or anna.powell@uacch.edu


(Tuesday, January 24, 2017)

Georgia-Pacific Donates to Hempstead County Sheriff's Office


(Pictured Left to Right – Pam Gibbs, H.R. Director for the Hope Plant, Sheriff James Singleton, Andrea Hale Charitable Contribution Coordinator for G.P. and Investigator Justin Crane with two of the new vests.)


A local industry has made a sizable donation to the Hempstead County Sheriff's Office. Georgia-Pacific, which has a production Facility in the Oakhaven Industrial Area near Hope, has made a $5000 contribution to be used to purchase armor plated vests for Hempstead County Deputies and Reserve Deputies. Andrea Hale, Charitable Contribution Coordinator with Georgia Pacific, and Pam Gibbs, H.R. Director at the Hope Plant, presented Sheriff James Singleton with the check.

 

The vests, which weigh approximately 40 pounds with all the gear attached, are engineered to put rifle resistant armor inside the front and back of each vest. They are designed to wear over the soft body armor each deputy wears to add to their protection against high power rifles.

 

"The 25 vests and 50 armor plates costs approximately $8000 dollars and Georgia Pacific’s generous contribution will help reduce the taxpayers cost to provide our deputies with this vital equipment. Had it not been for Georgia Pacific’s contribution we would not have been able to purchase these vests," said Sheriff Singleton.


(Thursday, January 19, 2017)

Nevada & Clark Counties Post High 2016 Wildfire Total

Annually, the Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC) recaps wildfire activity, cause, and frequency for the previous year based on data collected from AFC officials and compiled through the AFC Dispatch Center. Data is also used to create a wildfire outlook for the year ahead. The agency has released last year's numbers.


Wildfire Statistics:


 Total Acres Burned: 19,045 (compared to 14,653 acres in 2015 and 16,687 acres in 2014)
 Total Wildfires: 1,248 (compared to 1,178 wildfires in 2015 and 1,240 wildfires in 2014)
 Months with the highest wildfire frequency: February, March, and November


Top Two Causes of Arkansas Wildfires: Debris Burning (unintentional wildfire caused by outdoor burning) and Arson (a fire set intentionally, with intent to cause harm or damages.)


How did 2016 compare to previous wildfire history in Arkansas? 2016 was another relatively low year for wildfire frequency in Arkansas, with the most recent high wildfire frequency year still being 2012 when 34,434 acres burned in 2,148 wildfires. The most common months for wildfire frequency in Arkansas are February – April and August – October, due to low humidity, dry vegetation, and gusty winds common for those months. Higher wildfire frequency in December was related to drought conditions across most of Arkansas. The top two causes of Arkansas wildfires have remained the same for over a decade.


Where are the most and/or largest Arkansas wildfires occurring? Some southwest Arkansas counties were among the top counties for wildfire frequency and/or acreage burned in 2016 including: Clark County (23 wildfires, 482 acres) and Nevada County (19 wildfires, 634 acres).


(Thursday, January 19, 2017)

Spring Hill Student Horatio Alger Scholarship Winner

Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization honoring the achievements of outstanding individuals and encouraging youth to pursue their dreams through higher education, has announced 577 students from across the nation will receive its prestigious 2017 Horatio Alger State Scholarships, including two local students:


Sarah Hurt, Spring Hill High School
Alexus Elliott, Lafayette County High School


Since 1984, Horatio Alger Association has administered one of the nation's largest privately funded, need-based scholarship programs, having awarded more than $125 million in undergraduate, graduate and specialized scholarships to students across the United States, including all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Canada. In 2000, 16 years after the establishment of its National Scholarship Program, Horatio Alger Members began funding scholarships concentrated in each state to further its mission of assisting deserving young people to pursue higher education.  Additionally, Association Members fund a series of Specialized Scholarships, which are targeted to students based on specific degree programs or academic institutions. 
   
"My fellow Members and I are inspired by the courage, perseverance and integrity that this year's State Scholars exhibit," said Tony Novelly, chairman, Horatio Alger Association and 2000 Horatio Alger Award recipient.  "These young men and women have triumphed in the face of some of life's most difficult challenges, proving that anything is possible with hard work and dedication. The Association is proud to support this impressive group of students as they pursue success in college and beyond." 

            

Founded in 1947, the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc. is "dedicated to the simple but powerful belief that hard work, honesty and determination can conquer all obstacles." The Association honors the achievements of outstanding leaders who have accomplished remarkable successes in spite of adversity by bestowing upon them the Horatio Alger Award and inducting them as lifetime Members. Horatio Alger Members support promising young people "the resources and confidence needed to overcome adversity in pursuit of their dreams through higher education."


Through the generosity of its Members and friends, the Association awards more than $12 million annually in undergraduate and graduate need-based scholarships across the United States and Canada and provides college support and mentoring services to its Scholars. Since 1984, the Association has awarded more than $125 million in college scholarships to more than 25,000 deserving young people."


(Thursday, January 19, 2017)

Reserve Officer Training Course Offered

The Division of Industry Outreach & Continuing Education and the Hope Police Department are accepting interest applications for individuals who want to become Auxiliary Officers and Part Time I or Part Time II reserve officers.  The classes will take place on the U of A Hope Campus beginning in March, and end in June, for 2 nights per week and some Saturdays. The total number of training hours is 152.


Applicants must be sponsored by a law enforcement agency and have completed the hiring process prior to making application for the course. The cost of the course is $275.00.

Deadline for Registrations is Friday, February 24th.


The first class will begin Tuesday, March 14th, at 6:00 p.m.


For more information and to register, contact the U of A Hope Industry Outreach Department at 870-722-8126, or shaun.clark@uacch.edu.


(Wednesday, January 18, 2017)

Klipsch and Capitol Records Partnership

Klipsch has announced an anniversary partnership with Capitol Records, one of the world’s preeminent record companies and the first label established on the West Coast. Klipsch, established in Hope, is celebrating 70 years and Capitol Records is celebrating 75 years of music luminaries past and present.

“Klipsch and Capitol Records, both celebrating over seven decades, is a natural partnership of two iconic brands and pays tribute to the important role music plays in our lives,” said Paul Jacobs, president and CEO of Klipsch. “Music is timeless and unites people across cultures. Our global brands are committed to the enduring power of music and the emotion it evokes. We look forward to continuing our heritage and legacy around this great art form.”

The partnership includes special edition co-branded Klipsch and Capitol Records Heritage Wireless products which feature mid-century modern design, legendary Klipsch sound and the latest technology. The Capitol One, the Capitol Three and the Capitol Heresy speakers will be available through select retailers in 2017 and include a special edition cobranded anniversary logo and select materials.

Capitol Records year-long 75th anniversary celebration includes extensive projects that pay tribute to Capitol artists spanning the past eight decades and shine a spotlight on their historic contributions to music and popular culture. Part of the celebration includes The Capitol Records 75th Anniversary Collection which features albums, selected based on different eras and musical genres, best sellers, influential works and lesser known gems.

The Capitol One, designed to be a semi-portable tabletop speaker, is a 2.1 stereo system featuring Bluetooth® wireless technology and analog audio input connections.

The Capitol Three, is a slightly larger sized stereo tabletop system. Part of the Klipsch Stream Wireless Multi-Room Audio system, The Three can receive audio input from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth® wireless technology, Analog (3.5 mm miniplug and RCA), phono pre-amp, and USB Type B audio. The Klipsch Stream app, available for iPhone® and Android™, allows consumers to control the system’s operations from their phones. The Three is available in walnut or ebony.

The Capitol Heresy, is handmade in Hope, with custom anniversary finishes. The Heresy, first introduced in 1957, started out as a compact center channel speaker to accompany the Klipschorn® in three-speaker stereo arrays.

Klipsch was established over 70 years ago in Hope by Paul W. Klipsch and maintains manufacturing and shipping facilities in the Oakhaven Industrial Area near Hope.

(Tuesday, January 10, 2017)

2017 Citizen of the Year

Senator Cassady to be Inducted to Ag Hall of Fame

The Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame will induct five individuals whose leadership and service have brought distinction to the state’s largest business sector, including a local man who has left a giant footprint.

The newest class includes former state senator Neely Cassady of Nashville, forester Allen Bedell of Hot Springs, rice farmer Gary Sebree of Stuttgart, poultry company executive Mark Simmons of Siloam Springs, and the late Bobby Wells, a renowned plant breeder who developed many varieties of rice that have positively impacted the state’s farmers.

The group will be honored at the 29th annual induction luncheon, set for 11:30 a.m. on March 3 at Little Rock’s Embassy Suites Hotel.

“What a great cross-section of Arkansas agriculture to be selected for the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame,” said Butch Calhoun of Des Arc, chairman of the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame committee and former Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture. “The collective impact of these five are felt in every part of our state. I have said this before, and it bears repeating; agriculture is one of the great success stories of our state. What a privilege to see these great advocates of agriculture be recognized.”

The new selections will bring to 158 the number of honorees inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame.

Cassady was a driving force for the poultry industry in southwest Arkansas, taking over his father’s hatchery at the age of 18 and expanding it into a vertically integrated poultry company. He built and sold two such companies that continue today as part of Pilgrim’s and Tyson Foods. He was elected to the Arkansas Senate in 1982 and served the people of southwest Arkansas for 14 years, where he was a staunch advocate for agricultural issues. Cassady was president of the Arkansas Poultry Federation (1973-74), on the Tyson Foods board of directors (1974-2001), and a long-time member of the Central Baptist College board of trustees. He was presented the Poultry Pioneer award by the University of Arkansas, given a lifetime achievement award from the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International.

The mission of the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame is to build public awareness of agriculture and to formally recognize and honor individuals whose efforts have led to the prosperity of local communities and the state.

Luncheon tickets are $35 each. Individual tickets and tables of 10 are available by calling (501) 228-1609 or emailing aghalloffame@arfb.com.

(Wednesday, January 4, 2017)

Advocate for Supplemental Instruction

Student leaders in Supplemental Instruction (SI) are valuable to Southern Arkansas University as they pass their experience in “challenging” courses along to those who need help academically.

Rachel Jenkins, SI coordinator, said leaders in the program are hand-picked by faculty for an important job: helping students better understand difficult subjects, in a group setting. “It’s all about retention,” Jenkins said. “Our SI leaders help students deal with not only difficult content but develop good study habits and strategies, give them insider tips, and help them get to know other students in their class. They create a sense of community.”

Ashley Westbrook, a senior majoring in Agriculture Business, of Hope, said she attended SI sessions as a freshman and is now a session leader herself. “My SI leader really helped me get through the class,” she said. “I needed to learn how to explain things in the detail my professor expected. I had to learn how to take notes and key in on topics.”

Westbrook now passes those skills along to students who attend her sessions. SI leaders take problems similar to those found in homework and discuss them in a group setting so that students grasp the concepts, formats and theories of difficult classes. They teach students how to listen, take notes, and evaluate issues. Many freshmen need help studying on a university level. SI leaders are selected by faculty because they have taken and excelled in such courses – often because they took advantage of SI sessions themselves.

SI is a series of weekly review sessions available to students who want to improve their understanding of challenging course material and get better grades. Attendance is voluntary. Jenkins said data shows that students who consistently attend SI earn a higher grade and have a higher GPA upon graduation. The program has been available through Student Support Services for more than 15 years. Faculty members are invited to allow SI leaders to sit in on difficult classes, take notes and develop lesson plans for sessions.

Westbrook said that on the first day of classes, she will stand up and introduce herself to students, letting them know she is a “trusted resource” who has taken the course before and passed it with an A. She also lets them know about SI and how they can participate. In sessions, she conducts discussions or Q&A periods or reviews vocabulary.  Classes are 50 minutes long, and “30 to 40 minutes are usually spent on actual application problems or deep-thinking analysis,” she said. “The last few minutes of the session, I’ll summarize what we’ve discussed or predict test questions, so that they can think about (the professor’s) process.” She leads two sessions per week in the Agriculture building.

“I map out lesson plans for each session,” Westbrook said. “I am the facilitator. I have things for the students to do, a process for them to follow. I cover both the teaching style and the subject. Trying to mold a student’s understanding of the topic is a challenge. A lot of them come for that purpose – they want clarification of what’s expected.”

She said she has 10-20 students who attend consistently; closer to test time, “more will file in for review.”

Jenkins said SI leaders “expect students to work with other people, to toil with the material, because that’s how you learn it.” She goes to Freshman Seminar classes and lets students know about SI and what it offers. “I tell them to go expecting to work. In most cases, they don’t do homework in sessions – there are few sessions where homework is even allowed. They do similar problems, quizzes, study guides – activities designed to help ensure that students understand the content. We’re helping them help themselves.”

By observing classes, SI leaders “are more aware of what’s going on than the students themselves. They see that most students don’t take notes, aren’t engaged, aren’t present,” Jenkins said. SI leaders notice that many times students don’t even have textbooks. “They encourage them to buy those books and bring them to sessions,” Jenkins said.

Feedback is given by students and faculty and leaders are rated. “Reports are posted and sent up the chain,” Jenkins said. “Most people find SI leaders to be very helpful. I got lots of feedback from students saying, ‘I wouldn’t have passed the class without help.”

Working in groups allows students to “bounce ideas off other people and discover new ways of studying. It’s sometimes helpful to hear content presented in multiple ways. Sometimes another student will say things in ways that resonate differently. Students will share their study tips – ‘this is how I remember this.’ Other students might have information in their notes that you didn’t get.”

Most importantly, Jenkins said, SI allows students to get to know each other, share phone numbers, and study together outside the sessions. “Our goal is to retain students,” she said, “but ultimately, we want students to be autonomous. That’s the dream – you don’t need SI anymore. You know your study skills and you’ve got your cohort. You can do it."

(Wednesday, January 4, 2017)

Little River County Courthouse Update

A local landmark noted for its holiday lights is being spotlighted for its non-Christmas season attributes. Since 1993, Little River County has received 10 grants totaling $415,113 for the Little River County Courthouse in Ashdown

Among the many programs and services of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program is the County Courthouse Restoration Grant Program. Created in 1989, this grant program has helped to extend the lives of courthouses that hold vital links to community pride and local history. These grants are funded through the Real Estate Transfer Tax, administered by the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council. Since the beginning of the program, the AHPP has awarded more than $21.25 million to 73 historic courthouses and courthouse annexes around the state for use in rehabilitating, preserving and protecting these important historic resources..

The featured article ran in the Fall 2016 issue of the quarterly publication of the Association of Arkansas Counties –County Lines.

(Wednesday, January 4, 2017)

Annual Fundraiser Announced
Hempstead & Nevada Counties Part of Program

To help increase and enhance pollinator habitat in Arkansas, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has started a special pollinator initiative in 20 counties.

Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, beetles and other insects.

Landowners in the initiative area can apply through their local USDA field service center for funding consideration to install conservation practices beneficial to pollinators. $230,000 is available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The application deadline is Jan. 30, 2017.

The project area includes Hempstead and Nevada Counties.

Practices available are conservation cover, prescribed fire, forest stand improvement and early successional habitat development and management.

“Some of the most successful pollinator habitat has been created using natural regeneration techniques such as light disking and prescribed burning,” said Mike Sullivan, NRCS state conservationist in Arkansas. “These practices promote native forbs that already exist in the seed bank.”

To sign up for EQIP, visit your local USDA field service center. To locate the local office, visit /wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/contact/local

(Thursday, December 29, 2016)

Bobwhite Plan for Hempstead & Nevada Counties

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is adding dozens of new target species, including the northern bobwhite, to its premier wildlife conservation effort that helps agricultural producers make wildlife-friendly improvements on working lands. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is adding 11 new projects to Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW), the agency’s targeted, science-based effort to help producers restore and protect habitat for declining species on farms, ranches and working forests.

Producers in Arkansas are part of a project that focuses on helping producers enhance early successional habitat to aid in bobwhite quail recovery. The project targets grasslands, where NRCS is working with producers to replace non-native grasses with native grasses, forbs and legumes that benefit bobwhite and other wildlife, while creating alternative healthy grazing options for livestock. Other states included in this project are Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky.

Arkansas producers in 20 counties have until Jan. 30, 2017, to apply for funding consideration to help install conservation practices such as native grass planting, pollinator habitat, forest stand improvement, early successional habitat development and prescribed burning. Approximately $400,000 is available.

The project area in Arkansas includes Hempstead and Nevada Counties. These counties were selected because they have Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Wildlife Management Areas where quail focused practices are being implemented.

 “Agriculture and wildlife both thrive together through landscape conservation,” said Mike Sullivan, NRCS state conservationist in Arkansas. “The northern bobwhite was once a familiar face in rural communities, and we’re working with producers to make bobwhite-friendly improvements on working lands that will help the species and benefit operations.”

When habitat is restored for the bobwhite, many other species benefit, including turkeys, deer, rabbits, gopher tortoises, bog turtles and many different songbirds, including the Bachmann’s sparrow and prairie warbler. NRCS uses the bobwhite and other wildlife as indicators of the health of the ecosystem at-large.

With more than two-thirds of the continental United States under private ownership, wildlife depend heavily on working lands for habitat and food. Projects focus on declining species that have needs compatible with agricultural practices and rural land management and that can benefit from conservation on private lands.

NRCS staff worked with conservation partners to identify new species and landscapes. Considerations included the compatibility of the species and agriculture, the network of available partners and the needs of the species.

So far, WLFW has helped producers restore 6.7 million acres of habitat for seven target species, such as the New England cottontail and greater sage-grouse. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined last year that Endangered Species Act protections were not necessary for these species largely because of the voluntary conservation efforts on working lands.

“The future of wildlife, agriculture and rural ways of life depend on our collective ability to transfer our Working Lands for Wildlife model to more species and working landscapes,” Sullivan said.

Through WLFW, NRCS strategically invests where conservation returns are highest and measures how wildlife respond to management activities to refine conservation efforts.

NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to help producers adopt a variety of conservation practices on their land. NRCS staff help producers with a conservation plan and provide funding to cover part of the costs for adopting the practices. These practices are designed to benefit both the species and the agricultural operation.

To learn more about assistance opportunities, landowners should contact their local USDA service center or visit www.ar.nrcs.usda.gov.

(Thursday, December 29, 2016)

Okay Cement Plant 1929-December 18, 1992

Sunday, December 18, 2016 marks the 24th anniversary of the closing of the Okay Cement Plant near Saratoga in southern Howard County. At the time of its closing, it was operated by a Swiss company named Holnam, which is now known as LaFargeHolcim.

Each year, we take a look-back at the closing of the cement plant at Okay. This year, we asked former Saratoga Schools Superintendent Lewis Diggs, who lives near Bonnerdale, for his thoughts on the domino-effect of the plant closing. Diggs was superintendent from 1989-99. He is President of the Southwest Arkansas Intermodal Authority, a group that is working for growth in the region, and are key players in the Sun Paper project near Arkadelphia and the re-opening of the sawmill at Glenwood. Diggs also advises The Bulldog Partnership, a group working to enhance education, jobs and quality of life within the boundaries of the old Saratoga School District.

"The closing of of Ideal Cement led to a chain reaction of events for Saratoga Schools.  

We had just taken in part of the Washington (Lincoln) schools.  Our school population was 372 students.  When the plant closed, over the next year, we lost 75 students.  From that time forward, we stayed around 300 students.  The loss of students was due to the workers relocating for jobs.

Many of the lost students were upper level students.  This placed the school in academic distress.  Due to the loss of the students adm money (per-pupil funds school district receive) and loss of the plant's yearly tax money, Saratoga School lost about $500,000 dollars.  This was about one third of the total

We needed to do something for academic distress but couldn't afford to.  This lead to the four day week.  The four day week helped save money for the school and allowed special tutoring, on the day off, for low level student's.  After two years, we moved off academic distress. (Editor's note-The 4-day week brought national coverage and articles can still be found on the internet.)

A few years later Act 60 passed requiring a 350 student minimum.  Saratoga School was under 300 students, which led to the merger with Mineral Springs Schools.

I believe the closing of the cement plant lead to the closing of the school.  If Act 60 had not come along, Saratoga School would have remained open.  The power plant at McNab would have made Saratoga one of the most wealthy schools in the state.

I have very fond memories of the school and area.  The people there treated me like royalty.  The were real down to earth country people.  They were very supportive of the school and loved their community.  I would still be there if I had not needed to move back home to the family farm."


The plant, operated for most of its life by the Ideal Cement Company, started production in 1929, with an expansion in 1957. In 1990, Ideal Basic Industries was merged into Holnam.

 Reportedly at the end of the day shift December 18, 1992, workers in the quarry where the limestone was mined were told "that's it." The remaining materials were processed, inventory was shipped out and the plant was dismantled.

In a news release dated March 6, 1992, Holnam said "two key factors drove the direction of the final decision. The first is the over capacity of cement in the Okay market region. The second is an effort to reduce costs within the company." At the time of the announcement, about 80 people were still employed there.

A company town, Okay, was constructed along with the cement plant. Referred to as a village, it contained houses and its own post office. Nearby was a store and a church house, and the elementary school. The school closed in 1965 and the houses were sold and moved out. The church remains and is still active.

Ideal owned the Louisiana-Nevada Transit Company, a natural gas supplier with its office in Hope, and  the Graysonia, Nashville and Ashdown Railroad, based in Nashville. A trucking company, Southern Cement Transport, was located on site. Ideal also had  an interest in a gravel operation, Braswell, located near Wilton.

The gas system was sold to Arkla, which became part of Centerpoint Energy and the railroad was sold to Kansas City Southern, which now leases the line to the Arkansas Southern.

When the plant closed, Holnam opened a cement terminal in Hope, where product is brought  in by rail and loaded into customers trucks. Holnam later changed its name to Holcim, and in 2015 merged with another company and is now known as LaFargeHolcim.The safety monuments recognizing a 1000 days without a lost-time injury is all that remains on the plant site. The office would have been directly behind, with the plant on the left and shipping and storage on the right. Photo taken November 26, 2015 by Dale Gathright, Jr.

 

(Saturday, December 17, 2016)

Mineral Springs Superintendent Resigns

Mineral Springs School Superintendent Curtis Turner, Jr. has resigned his position, effective at this end of the current school year, June 30th, 2017. Southwest Arkansas Radio reports that Turner will serve as an Administrative Consultant for the 2017-18 school year. That action was taken following an executive session at the Mineral Springs School Board's December meeting Monday night.

Turner was appointed superintendent by then Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell in 2013 after the state took over the Mineral Springs district. Kimbrell also ordered the closing of Saratoga Elementary School as part of that action. Turner, a resident of Murfreesboro, was serving as superintendent of the Eureka Springs School District.

Earlier this year, Superintendent Turner, the Mineral Springs School District and School Board filed a federal civil right lawsuit against the Arkansas Department of Education, the Arkansas State Board of Education, Commissioner Johnny Key and Hempstead County alleging a number of issues, among other things, diminishing of the quality of education of black students. The lawsuit alleges state officials "encouraged white students and black athletes to transfer from Mineral Springs to the Nashville School District."

Mineral Springs is alleging revenue was diverted the past several years from SWEPCO's John Turk Power Plant near McNab, which is located within the boundaries of the old Saratoga School District. Parts of the power plant are also in the Hope School District.

The 2013 Fiscal Distress finding and the state takeover of the Mineral Springs School District and alleged denied benefits for free and reduced lunches are also contained in the lawsuit.

Turner, the district and school board have also filed an appeal in Pulaski County Circuit Court of the designation of Academic Distress for Mineral Springs High School handed down in August by the State Board of Education.

Mineral Springs School District continues the planning process of building of a new $19.5 million K-12 facility in Mineral Springs. The plan to rework current bond issues already in place was approved by voters 191-32 in September. It will not increase the current millage rate.

(Tuesday, December 13, 2016)

Walk Through History Coming to Hope

The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program’s “Walks Through History” and “Sandwiching in History” tours will visit historic properties across the state during 2017, AHPP Director Frances McSwain has announced. This includes a stop in Hope.

In the “Walks Through History” program, which is co-sponsored by the Arkansas Humanities Council, AHPP historians each month provide free guided walking tours of historic structures and districts across Arkansas. Most tours begin at 11 a.m. on Saturdays. The 2017 schedule includes:

* May 13, Downtown Hope Commercial District, co-sponsored by the Hope-Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce

The American Institute of Architects offers two HSW continuing education learning unit credits for members who attend a “Walks Through History” tour.

(Monday, December 5, 2016)

Bike Adventure Coming to Southwest Arkansas

Looking to ride? The Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure, now in its 10th year, puts on group fundraising rides throughout the year, including taking on several cross-country road bike routes in the summer.

Among those trips is a 3,600 mile cross-country ride from San Francisco, CA to Savannah, GA taking place June 2-August 6. Trip leader Henry Downes said they are currently recruiting riders specifically for their 1-week segment from Lawton, OK to Shreveport, LA, which takes place July 9-15.  “We would love to attract some Arkansans to ride with us that week,” he said. Registration for the 2017 summer ride is now open with registration fees increasing on January 1.

“I will be leading a cross-country trip this summer, and our group will be passing through southwestern Arkansas and spending a night in Texarkana,” said Downes.  He said their summer-long journeys, which are fully supported, offer an opportunity to see a broad swath of the country. Riders can choose to join for the whole adventure or for one or more of the week-long segments. As part of the venture, participants help build homes as they travel.  The group is slated to ride through Arkansas on July 13. More details can be found at fullercenterbikeadventure.org/summer.

In other biking news, also to keep on the radar next year are the 2017 and 2018 USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships, which will be in Arkadelphia. The championships, which as of now are scheduled to take place in the spring, will be on a single-track course around DeGray Lake on the Iron Mountain Trail System. The races are being put on by local racing event company DLT Events, which is run by Fred Phillips, who lives in Arkadelphia. Along with mountain biking events, the company puts on road cycling races, triathlons and other events. For more information on biking in Arkansas check out
arkansas.com/bicycling/.

(Monday, December 5, 2016)
Millwood Dam & Reservoir 50th Anniversary

"Millwood is my bridge to home and always will be!" Part of the essay presentation by Ashdown High School senior Christie Sain. Colonel Robert G. Dixon lowers the time capsule into the vault, while Millwood Tri-Lakes Operations Project Manager Steve Spicer, left, and Kevin McDaniels, Chief, Operations Division, look on.

The past, present and future of Millwood Lake all touched on Thursday morning at the 50th Anniversary observance of Millwood Dam and Reservoir . The event was held on Highway 32 west of Saratoga at the Overlook and original 1966 dedication site.

Danny Gray, President, Board of Directors of the Southwest Arkansas Water District gave a timeline that led to Millwood, all the way back to devastating floods in 1945 affecting the Sulphur, Little and Red Rivers. Finding a solution started with the Flood Control Act of 1946 and modified in 1958. Gray said the first plans had Millwood as a "dry" lake, only holding water during floods, but in March 1956 the groundwork for the Southwest Arkansas Water District was formed by four men, including George Peck of Hope. Construction started in 1961 and the Millwood Dam and Reservoir was officially dedicated by the Honorable (Arkansas Senator) John L. McClellan on December 8, 1966. It was designed and built by the Tulsa District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and transferred in 1980 to the Little Rock District. Gray said the water district is, quote, "preparing forever." He says he doesn't see water needs diminishing, so "preparing forever" is the mode the district will stay in.

An essay contest was held for local students. First place and a $1000 dollar scholarship was given to Ashdown senior Christie Sain, daughter of Tommy and Mistie Sain of Saratoga. She described her McJunkins' side of the family and their link back to the 1950s and stories she heard of the good times on the land and river banks now covered by Millwood. She recounted during flooding her family's livestock had to be retrieved from the prone-to-flooding bottom lands. Christie also recounted how the construction for Saratoga residents was historic, with one of the benefits being quick access to Ashdown. Before Millwood, that meant a trip via Ben Lomond.  Sain said the dam still amazes after a half-century because it prevents so much damage. After remembering time with her late great-grandmother around Millwood, she closed with, quote, "Millwood is my bridge to home, and always will be." Gray then presented her the scholarship.

The second place essay winner was Jacob Purifoy, of Ashdown High School. He talked about the impact that Millwood has had on recreation and industrial development in southwest Arkansas, including providing 50-million gallons a water a day via a canal to the Domtar paper mill in Ashdown. He was presented a $500 scholarship to UA/Cossatot by Little River Chamber of Commerce Director Fonda Hawthorne.

Kevin McDaniels, Chief, Operations Division of the Little Rock District, spoke of the impact of the lake, including 180,000 visitors a year, $30 million dollars in flood damage prevention, as well as providing water to 45,000 homes and businesses.

The keynote address was by Colonel Robert G. Dixon, Commander of the Corps' Little Rock District. He said the longest earthen dam in Arkansas protects three states, making the constant flooding of the area before Millwood a thing of the past. He said he was proud to represent the Corps of Engineers at the 50th Anniversary. Following closing remarks by Millwood Tri-Lakes Operations Manager and Master of Ceremonies Steve Spicer, Colonel Dixon dropped a time capsule into a vault overlooking the lake for the 75th Anniversary in 2041.

Also recognized was Lilly Faith Pearson, the Coloring Contest winner from L.F. Henderson Intermediate School in Ashdown. Students from the school presented the American Flag for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem sung by Jonathan Sawrie, Chief, Operations and Civil Works Contracting Branch, Little Rock District. Dr. David Blase, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dierks presented the invocation.

(Thursday, December 1, 2016)

24 Years-The Robert Lomax Disappearance

Robert Lomax (right), pictured with friends Ed and Frank Fontaine on the side of the old Saratoga Store building. Picture from the collection of Barbara Fontaine-Turner.)

As another Thanksgiving rolls around, so does the anniversary of the disappearance of Robert Lomax of Saratoga. Lomax went missing on the night of Thanksgiving 1992, and the case remains open and active at the Howard County Sheriff's Office.

Here's part of the narrative from the Sheriff's Office 1992 report: Witness statements reflect that Lomax had Thanksgiving dinner at the residence of Henry and Peggy Olden (he was a relative), who lived near him (on what is now called Chapel Hill Street) in Saratoga. He reportedly stayed until about 5:00 pm and left to walk the short distance home, saying "he needed the exercise." That was the last time he was seen alive.

An extensive search was conducted by then Sheriff Dick Wakefield and his department utilizing approximately 100 searchers and a helicopter. The search was called off after three days. Sheriff Wakefield believed foul play did exist in the matter and asked the Arkansas State Police to assist in the investigation.

Investigator Jerry Reed, now deceased, of the Arkansas State Police conducted interviews of people in the area and searched the Lomax residence. According to an unsolved case posting on the Howard County Sheriff's website is this statement, "Although there is no evidence of foul play at the residence, the feeling of local residents were that Mr. Lomax was robbed and killed. He was known to carry large amounts of cash on his person at all times."

Yours truly, the editor of Saratoga Arkansas Digest, was involved in the story and here is my account: "I was standing outside talking with Dornell Trotter when we were approached by Stanley Cephonis,(now deceased) who was in for a stay at his wife's family (Walkup) home. He had befriended Robert and told us he had taken a Thanksgiving plate of food by Robert's house Thanksgiving afternoon (when Mr. Lomax was probably at the Olden's) and went back Friday to get the plate, where he found it untouched. Dornell and myself then start up to the house when we meet my cousin, Deputy (retired) Travis Hughes on routine patrol and tell him what's going on. We three then go to Robert's house and get no answer. Our first thought was  he was inside dead. The door was locked, so Dornell was able to climb through a window and let us in. The house was cold. (Robert was very cold-natured.) Saturday morning the search started. Though Robert was 80, his mind was sharp and he walked everywhere, so we also immediately thought something bad had happened..."

An archeological dig in January 2010 near Saratoga and the area where Robert lived unearthed some human bones. Here's what Howard County Sheriff's Investigator David Shelton told Saratoga Arkansas Digest for a news story at the time: "...an archeology team was working around Millwood Lake in Howard County near Saratoga and where Lomax was last seen when they discovered human bones on top of the ground. Investigator Shelton said that was uncommon. Due to the proximity of this location and where Lomax was last seen, the bones were sent to the Arkansas Crime Lab, who forwarded the remains to the Center for Human Identification in Dallas, Texas. A DNA sample was obtained from a known relative of Lomax. Shelton said the DNA was not a match, with the Dallas lab saying the bones were relatively old and were the remains of a Native American."

The disappearance is considered a homicide. Anyone having information about the disappearance of Robert Lomax is asked to contact the Criminal Investigation Division of the Howard County Sheriff's Department at 870-845-2626.

(Tuesday, November 22, 2016)

Okay-Saratoga Connections at Veterans Day Program

Saratoga-Okay connections at the Howard County Veterans Day program on the courthouse lawn in Nashville. Left to right is Pete Gathright, Morris Greathouse, Buddy Fontaine, Travis Hughes and Sheriff Bryan McJunkins. Photo by Jonathan Canady.

(Friday, November 11, 2016)

Columbus Volunteer Fire Department on the Rebound

Stepping-up for his community has led to a positive change for the Columbus Volunteer Fire Department. Fire Chief Stan Webb was recognized by his brother Richard Saturday night at a chili supper fundraiser for his single-minded effort to restore Act 833 funding to the Columbus Department. Act 833 provides substantial funding to Arkansas fire departments for equipment and vehicles through insurance assessments that are returned to Arkansas counties for disbursement. There's paperwork and requirements to participate, and access to the funding was reactivated with the signature of Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse at the end of the fundraiser.

Chief Webb said he has worked with Hempstead County Fire Service Coordinator Steve Smith and Arkansas Department of Emergency Management Southwest Regional Coordinator Teresa Smith for guidance in restoring the funding.  Webb said the previous fire chief had resigned and things started to not being done, including participating in the Act 833 program. He said as things went along, he "decided it was crazy to lose funds, and something had to be done." The department was without the funding since 2007.

Richard Webb told the crowd his brother stepped up and began the sometimes tedious process of getting everything back in its proper place. Chief Webb said six firemen had to agree to take a 16 hour course through the Arkansas Fire Academy, the department had to show receipts and describe how previous funding was spent and the department had to prove it was accountable to again participate.

Stan Webb said with this hurdle behind his department, attention now turns to fire suits, breathing and fire fighting equipment. (Fire Chief Stan Webb, above, and Judge Haskell Morse top. Photos by Dale Gathright, Jr.)

(Sunday, October 23, 2016)

Stepping-up for his community has led to a positive change for the Columbus Volunteer Fire Department. Fire Chief Stan Webb was recognized by his brother Richard Saturday night at a chili supper fundraiser for his single-minded effort to restore Act 833 funding to the Columbus Department. Act 833 provides substantial funding to fire departments for equipment and vehicles through insurance assessments that are returned to Arkansas counties for disbursement. There's paperwork and requirements to participate, and access to the funding was reactivitated with the signature of Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse at the end of the fundraiser.

Chief Webb said he has worked with Hempstead County Fire Service Coordinator Steve Smith and Arkansas Department of Emergency Management Regional Coordinator Teresa Smith for guidance in restoring the funding.  Webb said the previous fire chief had resigned and things started to being done, including participating in the Act 833 program. He said as things went along, he "decided it was crazy to lose funds, and something had to be done."

Richard Webb told the crowd his brother stepped up and began the sometimes tedious process of getting everything back in its proper place. Chief Webb said six firemen had to agree to take a 16 hour course through the Arkansas Fire Academy, the department had to show receipts and describe how previous funding was spent and the department had to prove it was accountable to again participate.

Stan Webb said with this hurdle behind his department, attention now turns fire suits, breathing and fire fighting equipment.
Mineral Springs School Millage Approved

Voters in the Mineral Springs School District took the next step Tuesday in the building of a new $19.5 million K-12 facility in Mineral Springs. The plan to rework current bond issues already in place was approved by voters 191-32. It will not increase the current millage rate. This was the next step in providing financing.

The district is continuing to proceed on the building front while dealing with several other issues. An Academic Distress team from the Arkansas Department of Education will soon visit following the Mineral Springs High School being designated in Academic Distress at the August state board meeting. Mineral Springs has filed to have the designation stayed in Pulaski County Circuit Court, a process that is currently underway.

Earlier this year, the district filed a federal civil right lawsuit against the Arkansas Department of Education, the Arkansas State Board of Education, Commissioner Johnny Key and Hempstead County alleging a number of issues, among other things, diminishing of the quality of education of black students. The lawsuit alleges state officials "encouraged white students and black athletes to transfer from Mineral Springs to the Nashville School District."

Mineral Springs is alleging revenue was diverted the past several years from SWEPCO's John Turk Power Plant near McNab, which is located within the boundaries of the old Saratoga School District. Parts of the power plant are also in the Hope School District.

The 2013 Fiscal Distress finding and the state takeover of the Mineral Springs School District and alleged denied benefits for free and reduced lunches are also contained in the lawsuit.

(Wednesday, September 21, 2016)

Sparse Crowd at Saratoga Public Meeting

There was only one patron in attendance Tuesday night at Saratoga Schools to hear Mineral Springs School Superintendent Curtis Turner explain the proposed bond restructuring to allow the construction of a new K-12 facility at Mineral Springs.(There was total of seven people present counting the patron, a reporter, a school board member and 4 school personnel.)  The proposal would not increase the millage, but is necessary to finance the $19 million construction project.

Superintendent Turner said the restructuring would allow the district to borrow funds to build. He said the district has gained state approval for the bond issue and from the facilities section of the Arkansas Department of Education. Regardless of passing or failing, the district millage rate would be unchanged, but a no vote would hinder plans for the new facility.

When asked about the recent action to place Mineral Springs High School on Academic Distress by the State Board of Education and the three years to show test score improvements to get off, versus the 32 year life of the bond issue, Superintendent Turner says he worries a lot about the worst case scenario of a state takeover and total shutdown. But he said "things are in place, and he is convinced, there will be a turnaround."Turner said things are already getting better. He said the district's legal counsel  "has advised them to proceed with construction plans."

The superintendent said another great worry is student numbers, with the hope that new facilities would cause students to return to the district. He said the "greatest overriding concern is the 350 student minimum and dropping below that student count would cause trouble quicker than anything." Turner said, quote, "We have a lot of kids that have gone to Nashville, and efforts are constant to curb it and protect our district." Unquote.

When asked about only one polling place open election day in Mineral Springs, Turner said the district would do its best to add other precincts in the future, and said having just one polling place "was not by design." He said he has fielded a number of inquiries about that issue. He said the district sent 20 letters to area churches to try and get the word out about the public information meetings.

At the end of the meeting, Superintendent Turner said he would love for the Saratoga campus to become a vocational center to be used by area schools to teach various trades. He said that's a market that we can address, even starting on a small scale. Part of the key to that plan is finding the needs of industry. He added that would be a good way to utilize the facilities at Saratoga.

Election day is September 20 with all district residents, regardless of their county of residence, voting at the Mineral Springs Town Hall. Early voting will be September 13-19 at the Howard County Clerk's Office in the courthouse in Nashville.

(Tuesday, September 6, 2016) EXCLUSIVE-ATTRIBUTION MANDATORY

Mineral Springs Files Circuit Court Appeal

The Mineral Springs School District Thursday filed an Administrative Appeal in Pulaski County Circuit Court of a decision made by the Arkansas State Board of Education placing Mineral Springs High School on Academic Distress.

The district's legal counsel had indicated the district would take that step at the August 11th State Board meeting following the rejecting of the Appeal of Academic Distress designation and a subsequent vote to place the Mineral Springs High School on Academic Distress. A request to the State Board to then "Stay" their decision was not acted on, which allowed the designation to go into effect. The action was filed in Pulaski County as that is where the State Board was meeting when its decision was rendered.

(Thursday, August 18, 2016)

Parts of Saratoga School Campus In Use

The start of the school year Monday saw students on the Saratoga campus for the first time since 2013. As part of an approximately $19 million dollar building plan for a new K-12th grade building at Mineral Springs, the district has temporarily relocated the offices, Early Childhood/ABC programs and transportation department to Saratoga. Their previous locations on the Mineral Springs campus is part of the "footprint" of the planned new facility.

The last time students were at Saratoga was in 2013 following the ordered closing of Saratoga Elementary by then Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell in May of that year.

(Monday, August 15, 2016)

Mineral Springs High Placed on Academic Distress

The Arkansas State Board of Education has voted to place Mineral Springs High School on Academic Distress. That action came Thursday at the Board's August meeting in Little Rock. The State Board also rejected an appeal of the Academic Distress designation by Mineral Springs. The appeal has been delayed due to several special sessions of the Arkansas Legislature. District lead legal counsel John Walker is also a state legislator and state law allows for there to be a 30 day period between the General Assembly adjourning sine die and the matter to come before the board.

After an hour and 45 minutes of discussion by legal counsel for both the Arkansas Department of Education and Mineral Springs School District, as well as an appeal from Superintendent Curtis Turner, the State Board voted unanimously to place Mineral Springs High School in Academic Distress and reject their appeal of the designation. A request by Mineral Springs Legal Counsel (Omavi Kushukuru) to stay the decision was rendered moot when the board took no action on the request. The district's lawyer said a stay would be requested in circuit court.

According to rules governing Academic Distress, a school may be identified/classified as being in Academic Distress if 49.5% or less of its students achieve proficient or advanced in math and literacy on the state-mandated criterion referenced assessments administered for the most recent three (3) year period.  If the school district's appeal is denied, the State Board must further consider classifying the Mineral Springs High School as a school in Academic Distress. That was the sequence of action taken by the State Board.  

The Mineral Springs School District, its Superintendent Curtis Turner and its school board filed a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. Federal District Court February 29 against the state board, the Arkansas Department of Education, Education Commissioner Johnny Key and Hempstead County with multiple allegations, including money being diverted to other school districts with territory in Hempstead County and state officials recruiting white students and black athletes to the Nashville School District. Preliminary filings in that case are currently underway in federal court.

(Thursday, August 11, 2016)

Mineral Springs Lawsuit Dismissal Denied

The federal judge overseeing a civil rights lawsuit by the Mineral Springs School District and Superintendent Curtis Turner filed against Hempstead County, Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the State Board of Education and the Arkansas Department of Education has apparently rejected a motion by the State Defendants. A Motion to Dismiss was denied by Judge D.P. Marshall, Jr. according to the latest docket filing. The State Defendants in a previous filing said the lawsuit failed to state a claim. A similar motion by Hempstead County has not been ruled upon.

The judge also allowed the lawsuit to be amended to include new State Board of Education members Fitz Hill and Ouida Newton, who were recently appointed by  Governor Asa Hutchinson to replace Toyce Newton and Vicki Saviers.

Superintendent Turner and the Mineral Springs School District and Board filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas February 29. That filing contained a number of allegations including white students and black athletes being encouraged to enroll in the Nashville School District and tax revenue from the John Turk Power Plant near McNab in the former Saratoga School District being diverted to other school districts within Hempstead County.

(Sunday, July 24, 2016)

Steps Taken to Curb Illegal Dumping in Saratoga

Illegal trash dumpsites in the Saratoga Landing area were recently cleaned up by employees of the Hempstead County Judge's Office. One of the sites, pictured above, was next to the railroad tracks on Highway 234 on the road that leads to the closed cement plant sand pit. Crews cleaned up the litter and placed a warning sign. They also cleaned up several bags dumped on the same highway near the junction of Highway 32.

Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse says fighting the problem costs his office over $150,000 dollars a year in time, fuel, supplies and landfill fees plus the cost for the Sheriff's Office.

Judge Morse said his employees respond to reports, which just a bag could tie-up one to three hours because of the size of the county. He said numerous tickets for illegal dumping have been written and several are in the court system at present.

The Judge cited a recent large clean up on County Road 35N in the Camp Springs community near Columbus. He said that cleanup was between $1200 and $1500 dollars. That was a longtime dumping area predating containers and home pickup that continued to be used.

Tickets are being issued for offenses. Persons can report illegal dumping to the Hempstead County Sheriff's Office at 870-777-6727.

(Sunday, July 17, 2016)

Finis...

Pat's Burger Plus in Saratoga has closed. The business was built and operated for years by Bessie "Pat" Johnson of Saratoga,who says in the above photograph she has retired. The business is for sale. Photo by Dale Gathright, Jr.

(Thursday, June 30, 2016)

Plaintiff Attorney Fees Near $143,000 Dollars

Mineral Springs School District litigation attorney John W. Walker has reportedly billed the district $142,947 dollars for work on a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Hempstead County, Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the Arkansas Department of Education and Arkansas State Board of Education. Nashville media outlet Southwest Arkansas Radio is reporting that figure as given by Superintendent Curtis Turner in answer to board members questions at their June meeting Monday night. Turner is quoted as saying that should be the bulk of the expense.

Superintendent Turner and the Mineral Springs School District and Board filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas February 29. That filing contained a number of allegations including white students and black athletes being encouraged to enroll in the Nashville School District and tax revenue from the John Turk Power Plant near McNab in the former Saratoga School District being diverted to other school districts in Hempstead County.

Attorneys for Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the Arkansas Department of Education and the Arkansas State Board of Education filed a Motion to Dismiss and a Brief in Support of that request last week. That joins a recent response by Hempstead County, whose attorneys have also asked the suit be dismissed. The motions to dismiss says Mineral Springs failed to state a claim.

On April 6, the lawsuit was amended to include the Nashville School District, the Nashville School Board and Superintendent Doug Graham as defendants. When that information became public, both Superintendent Turner and Graham denied Nashville was part of the suit, with Turner telling local media outlets Nashville and Graham will be removed. A check of a summary of filings shows the Nashville district and its officials being removed in May.

There has been at least one other major expense in the lawsuit. In the minutes of the March 14, 2016 Mineral Springs School Board meeting, its recorded that Superintendent Turner reported the district has spent $24,000 dollars for consultation fees to Dr. Karen DeJarnette.

(Tuesday, June 14, 2016)

State Education Officials File for Dismissal of Suit

Attorneys for Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the Arkansas Department of Education and the Arkansas State Board of Education have filed a Motion to Dismiss and a Brief in Support of that request in United States Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. That's in response to a civil rights lawsuit filed recently by the Mineral Springs School District, its school board and Superintendent Curtis Turner. This joins a recent response by another defendant, Hempstead County, whose attorneys have also asked the suit be dismissed. The motion to dismiss says Mineral Springs failed to state a claim.

This is the most recent development in the federal civil rights suit filed February 29, alleging, among other things, diminishing of the quality of education of black students. The lawsuit alleges state officials "encouraged white students and black athletes to transfer from Mineral Springs to the Nashville School District." Unquote.

On April 6, the lawsuit was amended to include the Nashville School District, the Nashville School Board and Superintendent Doug Graham as defendants. When that information became public, both Superintendent Turner and Graham denied Nashville was part of the suit, with Turner telling local media Nashville and Graham will be removed. A check of a summary of filings shows the Nashville district and its officials being removed in May.

Mineral Springs is also alleging tax revenue was diverted the past several years from SWEPCO's John Turk Power Plant near McNab, which is located within the boundaries of the old Saratoga School District. 

The suit was filed by Curtis Turner individually and as superintendent, and the Mineral Springs School Board individually and in their official capacity. The suit includes the names of all seven board members, including Mike Erwin, William Dixon, Jamie Jackson, Dorthy Vaughn, Shelia Jackson, Ray Hawkins, and Zemera Newton.

(Wednesday, June 8, 2016)

Hempstead County Responds to M.S. Lawsuit
Hempstead County is asking that the federal civil rights lawsuit recently filed naming them and several other entities as defendants by the Mineral Springs School District be dismissed. The request was part of the response to the lawsuit filed February 29 in U.S. Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas against the county along with Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the Department of Education and the Arkansas State Board of Education alleging, among other things, diminishing of the quality of education of black students. The lawsuit alleges state officials "encouraged white students and black athletes to transfer from Mineral Springs to the Nashville School District." Unquote. Mineral Springs is alleging tax revenue was diverted the past several years from SWEPCO's John Turk Power Plant near McNab, which is located within the boundaries of the old Saratoga School District.  That suit was filed by Curtis Turner individually and as superintendent, and the Mineral Springs School Board individually and in their official capacity. The suit includes the names of all seven board members, including Mike Erwin, William Dixon, Jamie Jackson, Dorthy Vaughn, Shelia Jackson, Ray Hawkins, and Zemera Newton.

The Hempstead County response pertains only to the county and was filed by attorneys C. Burt Newell, and Ralph C. Ohm. The response was filed April 25th, and states among other things, damages suffered by Mineral Springs are "a direct and proximate result of the Plaintiff's own conduct", and fails to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted. The response is also asserting Sovereign Immunity.

An amended filing April 6 appears to add the Nashville School District, Nashville School Board and Nashville School Superintendent Doug Graham individually and as superintendent. Both Superintendent Turner and Graham deny Nashville is part of the suit, with Tuner telling local media Nashville and Graham will be removed. A check of a summary site of filings of lawsuit information does not yet show the removal of Nashville and its officials.

(Sunday, May 1, 2016)
Nashville No Longer Part of Mineral Springs Suit

Nashville School District, its school board and superintendent are apparently not a part of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed recently by the Mineral Springs School District. Nashville was not part of the original filing February 29 in U.S. Federal Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. That suit listed Mineral Springs School District, its Board of Education and its members and Superintendent Curtis Turner as plaintiffs versus Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the Arkansas Department of Education, the Arkansas State Board of Education and its members and Hempstead County as defendants. A 313 page Amended Complaint of the suit served to some of the defendants listed the Nashville School District, Nashville School Board and Superintendent Doug Graham individually and as superintendent as defendants. The amended papers show a date stamp of April 06, 2016 as when it was filed in "U.S. District Court-Eastern District Arkansas" and signed by a deputy clerk. It was this copy that was served to Hempstead County.

Turner told Nashville broadcast outlet Southwest Arkansas Radio Wednesday afternoon he has directed the district's litigation attorney, John Walker, to not include Nashville and its officials as defendants, saying he and Superintendent Graham "are friends." He said "his concern is with the Arkansas Department of Education."

The initial filing listed as Defendants Hempstead County, Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the Arkansas Department of Education, The Arkansas State Board of Education and its members Toyce Newton, Jay Barth, Joe Black, Charisse Dean, Mireya Reith, Vicki Saviers, R. Brett Williamson, and Diane Zook, individually.  Listed as Plaintiffs were the Mineral Springs School District, Curtis Turner, individually as Superintendent of the Mineral Springs School District, and The Board of Education of the Mineral Springs School District and William Dixon, Mike Erwin, Jamie Jackson, Shelia Jackson, Ray Hawkins, Zemera Newton and Dorthy Vaughn, individually and in their official capacities as members of the Board of Education of the Mineral Springs School District.

The initial filing February 29th contained several allegations against the defendants alleging, among other things, diminishing of the quality of education of black students. The lawsuit alleges state officials "encouraged white students and black athletes to transfer from Mineral Springs to the Nashville School District." Unquote.

Mineral Springs is alleging tax revenue was diverted the past several years from SWEPCO's John Turk Power Plant near McNab, which is located within the boundaries of the old Saratoga School District. Parts of the power plant are also in the Hope School District.

The 2013 Fiscal Distress finding and the state takeover of the Mineral Springs School District and alleged denied benefits for free and reduced lunches are also contained in the lawsuit.

Turner was appointed superintendent in 2013 by then Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell after the state took over the district and dissolved the school board. His contract has subsequently been extended by the school board. Kimbrell ordered the closing of Saratoga Elementary School when he took control of the Mineral Springs district.

Hempstead County was served with the lawsuit last week.

Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse issued this statement Saturday via email, "We were served this past week and I have read parts of it. It is 313 pages long. I have contacted our lawyers in Little Rock and Hot Springs, and made copies available to them and they can handle it." Unquote.

Hempstead County Clerk Sandra Rodgers, when asked Friday, said, "I haven't read it." Unquote.

(Wednesday, April 20, 2016)

Hempstead County Served With School Lawsuit

Hempstead County officials have been served with the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Attorney John Walker on behalf of Mineral Springs School District Superintendent Curtis Turner, Jr. and Board of Education members Mike Erwin, William Dixon, Dorthy Vaughn, Shelia Jackson, Ray Hawkins, Jamie Jackson and Zemera Newton. The document was filed with the office of Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse.

Judge Morse issued this statement Saturday via email, "We were served this past week and I have read parts of it. It is 313 pages long. I have contacted our lawyers in Little Rock and Hot Springs, and made copies available to them and they can handle it." Unquote.

Hempstead County Clerk Sandra Rodgers, when asked Friday, said, "I haven't read it." Unquote.

The lawsuit also includes as defendants Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the Arkansas Department of Education, and the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education. (Saratoga Arkansas Digest is currently working on confirming the possibility of another individual and entity being added to an amended filing.)

The suit contains several allegations against the defendants alleging, among other things, diminishing of the quality of education of black students. The lawsuit alleges state officials "encouraged white students and black athletes to transfer from Mineral Springs to the Nashville School District."

Mineral Springs is alleging revenue was diverted the past several years from SWEPCO's John Turk Power Plant near McNab, which is located within the boundaries of the old Saratoga School District. Parts of the power plant are also in the Hope School District.

The 2013 Fiscal Distress finding and the state takeover of the Mineral Springs School District and alleged denied benefits for free and reduced lunches are also contained in the lawsuit.

Turner was appointed superintendent by then Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell after the state took over the district and dissolved the school board. His contract has subsequently been extended by the school board. Kimbrell ordered the closing of the Saratoga Elementary School as part of the state takeover.

(Sunday, April 17, 2016)

Mineral Springs Central Office Moves to Saratoga
A small sign on the front door of the Saratoga School main building says the Mineral Springs School District offices have been relocated to the shuttered campus. This is in anticipation of a multi-million dollar building program on the Mineral Springs campus to construct a new high school complex on space where the offices, bus facilities and Early Childhood/ABC programs are currently located. The Saratoga campus will be used to house these departments during the course of construction.

The new construction is mentioned in the federal civil rights lawsuit the Mineral Springs School Board and Superintendent Curtis Turner have filed against Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the Department of Education, the State School Board and Hempstead County. Attorney John Walker, the district's litigation attorney, filed the action February 29. Statements in the first filing indicate Mineral Springs allegedly believes state officials are planning to halt the project.

(Sunday April 17, 2016)
MSHS Appeal Pulled Due to Special Session
A state law apparently delayed the Mineral Springs School District from having to appear before the Arkansas State Board of Education last Thursday in an appeal of the Academic Distress designation. The district's attorney, John Walker, (pictured) is a state representative. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Friday that Walker, who represents a part of the Little Rock area, requested a hearing delay, which is covered by Arkansas Code Annotated 25-15-103. Hearings before state agencies can be postponed for 30 days after the General Assembly adjourns. The legislature is currently in special session discussing the financing of the so-called Medicaid expansion.

The school district had filed a six page appeal of the proposed Academic Distress designation. The district's appeal was on the agenda as well as an items designating several school districts or schools within districts be placed on Academic Distress. Hope's appeal was unanimously rejected by the state board Thursday concerning Hope High School.

(Sunday, April 17, 2016)
Mineral Springs School Appeal Set for April 14

The Arkansas State Board of Education will consider a notice of appeal from the Mineral Springs School District over the "Focus" school designation for the elementary and high school and the designation of Academic Distress for Mineral Springs High School at its April 14th meeting in Little Rock. The appeal from Mineral Springs and several other schools were moved at the March meeting to this month.

In a six page response from Mineral Springs Superintendent Curtis Turner, Jr., several reasons for the appeal are stated. Turner alleges the Focus designation was never in writing and was "impose by (the) Arkansas Department of Education contrary to law, arguably without a time limit for appeal." Among the reasons set forth my Mineral Springs:

Turner says in August 2015 ADE Deputy Commissioner Mark Gotcher verbally advised him that the two Mineral Springs schools were being placed on Focus status. Turner says this does not conform to rules that require notice by certified mail with a return receipt to him or then Board President Mike Erwin. Turner in his appeal letter said he met with Education Commissioner Johnny Key on September 1, 2015 regarding the verbal notice, other school district matters, an investigation by the Arkansas State Police, and to request a hearing before the state board if Key kept the Focus status in place. The letter alleges Key "explicitly rejected Superintendent Turner's request for an appeal of his decision," with a rule sited in the letter.

 On January 27, 2016, the appeal letter states the Commissioner's office mailed to Superintendent Turner and Board President William Dixon a letter informing them that Mineral Springs High School was being placed in Academic Distress, with the reason being "49.5 percent or less of its students achieved proficient or advanced in math and literacy on the state mandated criterion referenced assessments administered for its most recent three year period."

The appeal cites a rule that provides a different timeline for designating schools in Academic Distress that requires notification by certified letter. The appeal says a rule requires ADE notify a district of the test data that it relied on. Mineral Springs is alleging is was not provided all the data, and "still has not been provided" all data required by the provision.

It's alleged in the appeal that in January of this year, Commissioner Key told Mineral Springs and other districts "there would be no new designations based upon 2014-15 PARCC data and the new data will begin with ACT ASPIRE data up to three years. The letter alleges Key repeated these statements to legislators and school superintendents thereafter.

The letter alleges in July 2015 ADE Assistant Commissioner Annette Barnes "informed school districts and legislators there would be no new schools placed in Academic Distress" due to the changes in testing. The appeal says she, and other ADE officials, including School Improvement Coordinator Elbert Harvey and Federal Program Director Bobby Lester, Jr. made that commitment in a July 2015 meeting.  The letter states ADE counsel Kendra Clay and school district counsel John W. Walker were present.

In a Conclusion section, Turner says because of these commitments, and ADE not complying with it's own rules and not providing needed information to the district, the Mineral Springs School District was prejudiced. It's asking the State Board to deny the Academic Distress designation and lift the Focus designation, require the ADE to provide on-site assistance to the students in both Mineral Springs schools, require the ADE to comply with the written rules of the agency and "provide required assistance as necessary so that it may better acquit (sic) its responsibilities to the students of the district.

(The full letter can be viewed on the Arkansas Department of Education website by clicking on agenda in the state board section.)

(Monday, April 4, 2016)

Departments to Relocate to Saratoga Campus

Mineral Springs School District intends to relocate their administration offices to the Saratoga School campus sometime after Spring Break as plans continue to build a new high school where these offices and facilities are now located. District maintenance crews have been working on the Saratoga campus for the past several weeks in anticipation of the move. Students will be bused between the two campuses. The planned high school at Mineral Springs draws mention in a recent lawsuit the district filed.

On February 29, the District's Attorney, John W. Walker, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Mineral Springs School District Superintendent Curtis Turner and the district's Board of Education against Commissioner Johnny Key, the Arkansas State Board of Education, the Arkansas Department of Education and Hempstead County that contains several allegations against the defendants alleging, among other things, diminishing of the quality of education of black students. Hempstead County Clerk Sandra Rodgers said Tuesday morning (3/22) to her knowledge,the county has not been served with the suit.

Mineral Springs is alleging revenue was diverted the past several years from SWEPCO's John Turk Power Plant near McNab, which is located within the boundaries of the old Saratoga School District. Parts of the power plant property are also in the Hope School District.

The 2013 Fiscal Distress finding and the state takeover of the Mineral Springs School District and alleged denied benefits for free and reduced lunches are also contained in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is also seeking to enjoin the defendants from "retaliating against the district and limiting the use of district resources...through new school facilities." In an affidavit by Superintendent Turner in the lawsuit, he said "the ADE (Arkansas Department of Education) is likely to disprove new construction because the district is majority African-American." He cited new facilities, educational opportunities and a more secure staff as ways to retain the district's current white students and attract new white students.

Turner was appointed superintendent by then Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell after the state took over the district and dissolved the school board in 2013. His contract has subsequently been extended by the school board. Kimbrell ordered the closing of the Saratoga Elementary School as part of the state takeover.

(Tuesday, March 22, 2016)

Action Delayed on Mineral Springs & Hope High Schools Academic Distress Designations

Items regarding Academic Distress designations for Hope High School and Mineral Springs High School were pulled from the agenda Thursday of the March meeting of the Arkansas State Board of Education in Little Rock. Annette Barnes, Assistant Commissioner-Division of Public School Accountability said the items were pulled due timeline issues regarding notification and responses to certified letters that were sent January 27. They are scheduled for the April meeting. Consideration of schools identified as meeting the criteria for Academic Distress in accordance with the Arkansas Department of Education’s Rule Governing the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing, Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP) and the Academic Distress Program, the ADE has identified 30 schools as meeting the criteria for Academic Distress. This identification is based on having 49.5 percent or less of their students achieving proficient or advanced in math and literacy for the most recent three (3) year period. Hope High School shows a proficient number of 47.36 percent and Mineral Springs High School showed a proficient rate of 48.13 percent for the period.

Of the two southwest Arkansas schools presented to the board for designation, both Mineral Springs and Hope School Districts filed a Notice of Appeal to the designation.

In a 6-page, response, the district took exception with several issues. The district said ADE Deputy Commissioner Mark Gotcher verbally advised Superintendent Curtis Turner that the two Mineral Springs schools were being placed on "Focus" status. The district alleges the verbal notice did not conform to the "certified mail, return receipt requested" requirements to the superintendent or then board president Mike Erwin. In the response, Turner said he met with Commissioner Johnny Key September 1 regarding the verbal notice, other school matters, an investigation by the state police, and to request a hearing before the ADE Board if Commissioner Key kept the district's "Focus" status in place. The response states, "Commissioner Key explicitly rejected Superintendent Turner's request for an appeal of his decision," and the response directs the Board's attention to the last sentence of Exhibit 1 which says, "We now consider this matter closed."

The district is taking exception to a January 27, 2016 letter on the "Academic Distress" designation sent to Superintendent Turner and Board President William Dixon regarding the timeline used, and alleging the Department of Education did not make available to Mineral Springs "all the data upon which the preliminary classification of was based." The response added that "to this date, the ADE has not made available all data required" by the provision in question.

The district has raised several additional issues to the "Fiscal Distress" and "Focus" school designations in its response. In a conclusion to its response, the district said the State Board should deny the Academic Distress label and the Focus designation should be lifted and held for naught. The Mineral Springs School District is requesting the ADE Board to: a)required the ADE to provide on-site assistance to the students in both Mineral Springs schools; b)to deny the Academic Distress label to the Mineral Springs High School; c)require ADE to comply with the written rules of the agency; and d) provide required assistance as necessary so that it may better acquit (sic) its responsibilities to the students of the district.

On February 29, the District's Attorney, John W. Walker, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Mineral Springs School District Superintendent Curtis Turner and the district's Board of Education against Commissioner Johnny Key, the Arkansas State Board of Education, the Arkansas Department of Education and Hempstead County that contains several allegations against the defendants alleging, among other things, diminishing of the quality of education of black students. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is reporting the lawsuit alleges state officials "encouraged white students and black athletes to transfer from Mineral Springs to the Nashville School District."

Mineral Springs is alleging revenue was diverted the past several years from SWEPCO's John Turk Power Plant near McNab, which is located within the boundaries of the old Saratoga School District. Parts of the power plant are also in the Hope School District. The 2013 Fiscal Distress finding and the state takeover of the Mineral Springs School District and alleged denied benefits for free and reduced lunches are also contained in the lawsuit.

DISCLOSURE-The writer of this article was a member of the school board at the time of the state takeover.

(Thursday, March 10, 2016)

Mineral Springs on State Board Agenda Thursday

The appeal by the Mineral Springs School District of its high school being placed on Academic Distress is scheduled to go before the Arkansas State Board of Education Thursday in Little Rock. The district was notified January 27 in a letter from M. Annette Barnes, Assistant Commissioner-Division Of Public School Accountability that said 48.130 percent of the high school is showing proficient or advanced. Schools can be designated in academic distress if less than 49.5 percent are proficient or advanced in math and literacy over the most recent three year testing period.

In a 6-page, response, the district took exception with several issues. The district said ADE Deputy Commissioner Mark Gotcher verbally advised Superintendent Curtis Turner that the two Mineral Springs schools were being placed on "Focus" status. The district alleges the verbal notice did not conform to the "certified mail, return receipt requested" requirements to the superintendent or then board president Mike Erwin. In the response, Turner said he met with Commissioner Johnny Key September 1 regarding the verbal notice, other school matters, an investigation by the state police, and to request a hearing before the ADE Board if Commissioner Key kept the district's "Focus" status in place. The response states, "Commissioner Key explicitly rejected Superintendent Turner's request for an appeal of his decision," and the response directs the Board's attention to the last sentence of Exhibit 1 which says, "We now consider this matter closed."

The district is taking exception to a January 27, 2016 letter on the "Academic Distress" designation sent to Superintendent Turner and Board President William Dixon regarding the timeline used, and alleging the Department of Education did not make available to Mineral Springs "all the data upon which the preliminary classification of was based." The response added that "to this date, the ADE has not made available all data required" by the provision in question.

The district has raised several additional issues to the "Fiscal Distress" and Focus" school designations in its response. In a conclusion to its response, the district said the State Board should deny the Academic Distress label and the Focus designation should be lifted and held for naught. The Mineral Springs School District is requesting the ADE Board to: a)required the ADE to provide on-site assistance to the students in both Mineral Springs schools; b)to deny the Academic Distress label to the Mineral Springs High School; c)require ADE to comply with the written rules of the agency; and d) provide required assistance as necessary so that it may better acquit (sic) its responsibilities to the students of the district.

On February 29, the District's Attorney, John W. Walker, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Mineral Springs School District Superintendent Curtis Turner and the district's Board of Education against Commissioner Johnny Key, the Arkansas State Board of Education, the Arkansas Department of Education and Hempstead County that contains several allegations against the defendants alleging, among other things, diminishing of the quality of education of black students. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is reporting the lawsuit alleges state officials "encouraged white students and black athletes to transfer from Mineral Springs to the Nashville School District."

Mineral Springs is alleging revenue was diverted the past several years from SWEPCO's John Turk Power Plant near McNab, which is located within the boundaries of the old Saratoga School District. Parts of the power plant are also in the Hope School District. The 2013 Fiscal Distress finding and the state takeover of the Mineral Springs School District and alleged denied benefits for free and reduced lunches are also contained in the lawsuit.

DISCLOSURE-The writer of this article was a member of the school board at the time of the state takeover.

(Wednesday, March 9, 2016)

Hempstead County Not Served With Lawsuit Yet
Hempstead County Clerk Sandra Rodgers and Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse said Tuesday morning their offices had not been served with papers naming Hempstead County as one of several defendants in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Attorney John Walker on behalf of Mineral Springs School District Superintendent Curtis Turner and the Mineral Springs School Board of Directors.

The suit was filed February 29 in United States Federal Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas naming as defendants Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the Arkansas State Board of Education, the Arkansas Department of Education and Hempstead County.

The suit contains several allegations against the defendants alleging, among other things, diminishing of the quality of education of black students. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is reporting the lawsuit alleges state officials "encouraged white students and black athletes to transfer from Mineral Springs to the Nashville School District."

Mineral Springs is alleging revenue was diverted the past several years from SWEPCO's John Turk Power Plant near McNab, which is located within the boundaries of the old Saratoga School District. Parts of the power plant are also in the Hope School District.

The 2013 Fiscal Distress finding and the state takeover of the Mineral Springs School District and alleged denied benefits for free and reduced lunches are also contained in the lawsuit.

Turner was appointed superintendent by then Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell after the state took over the district and dissolved the school board. His contract has subsequently been extended by the school board. Kimbrell ordered the closing of the Saratoga Elementary School as part of the state takeover.

(Tuesday, March 8, 2016) Attribution Required!


DISCLOSURE-The writer of this article was a member of the Mineral Springs School Board from the time of the annexation with Mineral Springs until the state takeover.
Hempstead County One of Defendants in Federal Lawsuit Filed by Mineral Springs School District

Hempstead County has been named as one of several defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by the Mineral Springs School District. The suit was filed February 29 in United States Federal Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas by Mineral Springs School Superintendent Curtis Turner and the Mineral Springs School Board composed of William Dixon, Mike Erwin, Jamie Jackson, Shelia Jackson, Ray Hawkins, Zemera Newton and Dorthy Vaughn. Named as defendants are Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the Arkansas State Board of Education, the Arkansas Department of Education and Hempstead County. The federal lawsuit was filed by Little Rock Attorney (and Hempstead County native) John Walker and assigned to Judge D.P. Marshall.

The suit contains several allegations against the defendants alleging, among other things, diminishing of the quality of education of black students. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is reporting the lawsuit alleges state officials "encouraged white students and black athletes to transfer from Mineral Springs to the Nashville School District."

Saratoga draws a major mention in the filing as Mineral Springs is alleging revenue was diverted the past several years from SWEPCO's John Turk Power Plant near McNab which is located within the boundaries of the old Saratoga School District. Parts of the power plant are also in the Hope School District.

The 2013 Fiscal Distress finding and the state takeover of the Mineral Springs School District and alleged denied benefits for free and reduced lunches are also contained in the lawsuit.

Turner was appointed superintendent by then Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell after the state took over the district and dissolved the school board. His contract has subsequently been extended by the school board. Kimbrell ordered the closing of the Saratoga Elementary School as part of the state takeover.

(Monday, March 7, 2016) Attribution Required!

DISCLOSURE-The writer of this article was a member of the Mineral Springs School Board from the time of the annexation with Mineral Springs until the state takeover.

Saratoga Native Part of Farmers Market Effort

Saratoga native and graduate James McJunkins, on the left, with Arkansas Agriculture Commissioner Wes Ward and other Farm Credit officials, pose for the announcement. McJunkins and President and Chief Executive Officer with Farm Credit Mid-South in Jonesboro.)

The growing Farmers Market movement in Arkansas has gotten a boost, and there's a Saratoga connection. James McJunkins, a graduate of Saratoga High School and President and Chief Executive Officer of Farm Credit Mid-South in Jonesboro represented his agency with the Arkansas Agriculture Department in making the announcement.

Farmers Market Promotion grants are made available by Farm Credit of Arkansas. Any farmers market across Arkansas that meets the following criteria is eligible to apply: 1) The farmers market location must be a place where a farmer may offer for sale the produce of his/her farm at least weekly during the months of May, June, July, and August; and 2) The farmers market must be governed by an organized body in freely obtainable bylaws or market guidelines; and 3) On any given market day, the farmers market must have at least 50% farmer-vendors.

Farmers Market Promotion Grants may fund the following promotional items to build community and regional awareness for any specific farmers market: signage listing names, seasons, times of operation, and location details; local advertising including print, radio, and television media projects; and even social media campaigns.

Official Rules, Application & Expenditure Forms
(click to download versions of each):


(Monday, February 22, 2016)

Saratoga at Intermodal Authority Meeting

The Southwest Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority met Tuesday in Gurdon. Here, Authority President and former Saratoga School Superintendent Lewis Diggs (left) talks with Brown Hardman, Executive Board Treasurer. Dale Gathright, Jr. with The Bulldog Partnership in Saratoga attended the meeting to, in his words, "look at methods to grow and improve the Saratoga area."

(Thursday, February 4, 2016)

Former Saratoga Educator Honored

Judith A. Crouch has been recognized by Continental Who's Who as a Pinnacle Professional in the field of Government as a result of her role as Human Resources Manager with the Office of the Arkansas Secretary of State. Early in her career, she was a teacher at Saratoga Schools in the late 70s-early 80s.

The Human Resources office coordinates the areas of staffing, recruitment, training, compensation, payroll, benefits and personnel management for the Secretary of State's office. As Manager, Judith specializes in employee and legislative relations, policy analysis, program development, training coordination, community outreach, community development and more.

Judith maintains affiliation with the Society of Human Resources Management, the National Association of Professional Women, First Baptist Church and is charitable towards the global ministry, Samaritan's Purse, Arkansas Food Bank, and the Wounded Warrior Project. A testament to Judith's dedication to her career, she was recognized by the National Association of Professional Women as their VIP Woman of The Year for 2014. She also received an annual leadership award for her efforts in promoting personal growth through training for the employees of the Arkansas Secretary of State. In addition, she sits on the Board of Directors with the Universal Empowerment Association.

Outside of work, she enjoys reading, traveling, and doing word puzzles in her spare time. Furthermore, Judith would like to dedicate this recognition in loving memory of her parents, Raymond and Martha Crouch for their love and support.

Throughout the course of her educational career, she earned a Bachelor's degree in Education and Library Science from Ouachita Baptist University.

(Sunday, January 4, 2016)

Another Page Turns at Okay...

December 18, 2015 marks the 23nd anniversary of the closing of the Okay Cement Plant near Saratoga in southern Howard County. At the time of its closing, it was operated by a Swiss company named Holnam, which is now known as LaFargeHolcim.

The plant, operated for most of its life by the Ideal Cement Company, started production in 1929, with an expansion in 1957. In 1990, Ideal Basic Industries was merged into Holnam. Reportedly at the end of the day shift December 18, 1992, workers in the quarry where the limestone was mined were told "that's it." The remaining materials were processed, inventory was shipped out and the plant was dismantled.

In a news release dated March 6, 1992, Holnam said "two key factors drove the direction of the final decision. The first is the over capacity of cement in the Okay market region. The second is an effort to reduce costs within the company." At the time of the announcement, about 80 people were still employed there.

A company town, Okay, was constructed along with the cement plant. Referred to as a village, it contained houses and its own post office. Nearby was a store and a church house, and the elementary school. The school closed in 1965 and the houses were sold and moved out.

Ideal owned the Louisiana-Nevada Transit Company, a natural gas supplier with its office in Hope, and  the Graysonia, Nashville and Ashdown Railroad, based in Nashville. A trucking company, Southern Cement Transport, was located on site. Ideal also had  an interest in a gravel operation, Braswell, located near Wilton.

The gas system was sold to Arkla, which became part of Centerpoint Energy and the railroad was sold to Kansas City Southern, which now leases the line to the Arkansas Southern. 

When the plant closed, Holnam opened a cement terminal in Hope, where product is brought  in by rail and loaded into customers trucks. This year (2015) Holcim, the company still owns the property, merged with another company and is now known as LaFargeHolcim.

(Thursday, December 17, 2015)

23 Years Later, Still no Answers

Robert Lomax (right), pictured with friends Ed and Frank Fontaine on the side of the old Saratoga Store building. Picture from the collection of Barbara Fontaine-Turner.)

As another Thanksgiving rolls around, so does the anniversary of the disappearance of Robert Lomax of Saratoga. Lomax went missing on the night of Thanksgiving 1992, and the case remains open and active at the Howard County Sheriff's Office.

Here's part of the narrative from the Sheriff's Office 1992 report: Witness statements reflect that Lomax had Thanksgiving dinner at the residence of Henry and Peggy Olden (he was a relative), who lived near him (on what is now called Chapel Hill Street) in Saratoga. He reportedly stayed until about 5:00 pm and left to walk the short distance home, saying "he needed the exercise." That was the last time he was seen alive.

An extensive search was conducted by then Sheriff Dick Wakefield and his department utilizing approximately 100 searchers and a helicopter. The search was called off after three days. Sheriff Wakefield believed foul play did exist in the matter and asked the Arkansas State Police to assist in the investigation.

Investigator Jerry Reed, now deceased, of the Arkansas State Police conducted interviews of people in the area and searched the Lomax residence. According to an unsolved case posting on the Howard County Sheriff's website is this statement, "Although there is no evidence of foul play at the residence, the feeling of local residents were that Mr. Lomax was robbed and killed. He was known to carry large amounts of cash on his person at all times."

Yours truly, the editor of Saratoga Arkansas Digest, was involved in the story and here is my account: "I was standing outside talking with Dornell Trotter when we were approached by Stanley Cephonis, who was in for a stay at his wife's family (Walkup) home. He had befriended Robert and told us he had taken a Thanksgiving plate of food by Robert's house Thanksgiving afternoon (when Mr. Lomax was probably at the Olden's) and went back Friday to get the plate, where he found it untouched. Dornell and myself start up to the house when we meet my cousin, Deputy (retired) Travis Hughes on routine patrol and tell him what's going on. We three then go to Robert's house and get no answer. Our first thought was  he was inside dead. The door was locked, so Dornell was able to climb through a window and let us in. The house was cold. (Robert was very cold-natured.) Saturday morning the search started. Though Robert was 80, his mind was sharp and he walked everywhere, so we also immediately thought something bad had happened..."

An archeological dig in January 2010 near Saratoga and the area where Robert lived unearthed some human bones. Here's what Howard County Sheriff's Investigator told Saratoga Arkansas Digest for a news story at the time: "...an archeology team was working around Millwood Lake in Howard County near Saratoga and where Lomax was last seen when they discovered human bones on top of the ground. Investigator Shelton said that was uncommon. Due to the proximity of this location and where Lomax was last seen, the bones were sent to the Arkansas Crime Lab, who forwarded the remains to the Center for Human Identification in Dallas, Texas. A DNA sample was obtained from a known relative of Lomax. Shelton said the DNA was not a match, with the Dallas lab saying the bones were relatively old and were the remains of a Native American.

The disappearance is considered a homicide. Anyone having information about the disappearance of Robert Lomax is asked to contact the Criminal Investigation Division of the Howard County Sheriff's Department at 870-845-2626.

(Tuesday, November 25, 2013)

(Sunday, November 23, 2014) 

(Wednesday, November 25, 2015)

County To Lease Saratoga Landing During Winter

Effective November 1, Hempstead County has entered into a lease agreement with the US Army Corp of Engineers to lease the boat ramp at Saratoga Landing form November 1, 2015 until February 29, 2016. Hempstead County Judge Haskell Morse said the county is doing this in order to give the residents of Hempstead County and Southwest Arkansas year round access to Millwood Lake on the Hempstead County side. In the past several years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has closed Saratoga Landing during the winter months.

(Friday, October 30, 2015)

Not the News They Wanted to Hear

Members of Columbus Baptist Church have received bad news concerning the future of their historic building. Two separate engineers have told the small congregation the 128 year old structure cannot be repaired, and the church should "tear down and start over."

Longtime member Bernard Webb says their are two large problems. Storms that did major damage in southwest Arkansas this spring and felled dozens of trees around Columbus left the building leaning about 10 degrees eastward and the inside "shook and tore (sic) up," according to Webb. He said the other issue was major termite damage that was detected after the wind damage. Webb said the installation of vinyl siding several years ago may have "camouflaged lots of stuff" until substantial damage had been inflicted out of sight.

Webb says the church plans to pull the building down soon and has hopes of getting a concrete slab poured before winter to start the rebuilding process.

Currently the Columbus congregation is meeting in an adjacent fellowship hall built several years ago. Webb did say the new building will have inside restrooms. The current restroom facilities have "modern conveniences" located separately outside.

A few years ago, another century-plus old church building across the street was destroyed when a tree fell and crushed it.

(Sunday, October 25, 2015)Embargoed until 7:01 am 10/26/15  Photo by Linda Wheatley

Plans Underway for McNab Fire House

The town of McNab is working towards building a firehouse to have a fire department presence in their community. McNab Mayor James Conway says his town will house Fulton Volunteer Fire Department Station 2. Mayor Conway says Fulton is assisting with accreditation and other requirements to establish the station and help train and provide manpower for a McNab fire crew.

McNab recently applied for a General Improvement Fund grant, which Mayor Conway says he hopes will at least lead to the pouring of a building foundation on a lot the town owns across from the old Scooter's Store building on Highway 355. He said the total estimated cost of a completed building will be $38,000.

Plans are to base one pumper truck in McNab. There are currently volunteer firemen training, from both inside and outside the town limits, including 4-to-5 from around McNab. Fulton firemen would also have access to and respond from the McNab firehouse.

Mayor Conway said by working with the Fulton department, it should speed the effort of McNab to have fire protection based in the town, while also lowering insurance premiums. Currently other local volunteer departments, including Saratoga, Columbus and Fulton, provide coverage in the McNab area.

(Tuesday, October 6, 2015) EMBARGOED until 7:01 am 10/7/15 

Millwood Flood Damage Price-tag

Damage from the late spring and early summer flooding on Millwood Lake has been tallied at $2 million dollars, not including Millwood State Park. Brooke Kervin, Natural Resources Specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Millwood Lake, said the record flood came within two feet of topping the gates at the dam, making this the most extensive flood since the lake was impounded in 1966. She said Corps officials were very pleased with the dam's performance considering the enormous pressure and weight of the water on both sides and its age.

Kervin said cleanup work continues, with the most extensive damage being at Cottonshed Park, where the weight of mats of alligator weed "broke everything," including power lines, when the flood waters receded, leaving the weed mats to topple structures. She said there was extensive damage to water lines, restrooms and camping facilities as well as the access roads.

With other Corps districts, including Tulsa, incurring major damage, Kervin said cleanup funds have been spread thin and the work is being prioritized to the parks that have the most use.

Kervin said Saratoga and Paraloma Parks are towards the bottom of the list, based on the lack of visitors to the areas. Currently at Saratoga Landing, the boat ramp and one parking lot is open, as well as the fishing pier. She said a large section of Saratoga Landing will probably remain closed permanently, due in part to its isolated nature and illegal drug activity. Kervin said negotiations are currently underway with an unnamed entity to possibly reopen the primitive camping and pavilion near the boat ramp in the main part of the park.

(Monday, October 5, 2015) Embargoed until 7:00 am 10/6/15

Reddin Guest Speaker at Okay Anniversary

Brother George Reddin of Greenwood, Arkansas was the guest speaker for the annual anniversary service September 13 at Okay Community Baptist Church near Saratoga. His father, Abner Reddin, began the Okay work in the village, culminating with the organizing of the church on September 8, 1946. Reddin is currently pastor of Denver Street Baptist Church in Greenwood. (Photo by Wayne Francis.)

(Thursday, September 17, 2015)

McNab Again Urges Reopening of Saratoga Schools

The McNab City Council has adopted a second resolution urging the reopening of Saratoga Schools. The most recent action was in a special called meeting January 29th. Previously, a similar resolution was adopted urging the Arkansas Department of Education to order the elementary school reopened.

The resolution states, in part, "it is critical to ensure meaningful engagement of communities with their public schools...and ensure our students are competitive in a global economic environment." It stated further, "we must be committed to provide the resources necessary to provide our students with a world-class education...and be dedicated to being responsive to students' individual needs."

The resolution closes by asking members of the state legislature to consider the impact that occurs in surrounding communities in the closing of the Saratoga School campus.

McNab Mayor James Conway is urging Act 60, the law setting the 350 student minimum, be repealed, and former school districts be allowed to re-form within their old boundary lines. The legislature is expected to take up several education reforms as the current session continues.

(Monday, February 2, 2015) 

Former Saratoga Superintendent Passes Away-Updated

Former (Mineral Springs) Saratoga School Superintendent Max Adcock, 61, died Wednesday following a brief illness. Mr. Adcock was a retired coach and school administrator.

After graduating as salutatorian of the Horatio High School Class of 1971, Max received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Education with a Major in Physical Education, followed by his Masters of Education with a Major in Education and Administration, and his Administrator's Certificate.

Max was all AIC Defensive Tackle in 1974, with honorable mentions in 1972 and 1973.

He was named an Outstanding College Athlete of America in 1975, Who's Who in American College and University in 1975, and during his coaching career District 1-AAA football runner-up in 1984 and 1987, and football champions in 1982 and 1985.

With the passage of Act 60 requiring schools have a minimum of 350 students to remain independent, Mr. Adcock became superintendent of Saratoga. Former school board member Dale Gathright, Jr. recalls Mr. Adcock saying if "he spent a dollar at Mineral Springs, he would spend a dollar at Saratoga. Gathright said Superintendent Adcock told him many times Saratoga would remain open as long as he was superintendent.

In 2011, he was named the Hempstead County Educator of the Year in recognition of his work at Saratoga Schools.Mr. Adcock was a vocal supporter of the John Turk Power Plant, and testified at several hearings in favor of construction. He was a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.

(The complete obituary is at www.nashvillefh.com, then click on his name.)

The family will receive friends from 4:00 to 5:30 pm  Sunday afternoon at the Horatio Lions Football field. Graveside services are at 10:00 am Monday at Clear Creek Cemetery near Horatio with Coach Billy Dawson officiating.

We've checked the Saratoga Arkansas Digest Archive for these photos:The top photograph is after theHope-Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce recognized Mr. Adcock as Educator of the Year in 2011. He is pictured with 2010 winner Willie Buck. The second photo was the AdvanceEd  district accreditation plaque, which included the Saratoga campus. The bottom photograph is at the Multi-Purpose Building under construction at Saratoga, the last building built on the campus.

(Friday, December 19, 2014)

Years Turn to Decades...(Our Annual Look Back at a Defining Moment)

December 18, 2014 marks the 22nd anniversary of the closing of the Okay Cement Plant near Saratoga in southern Howard County. At the time of its closing, it was operated by a Swiss company named Holnam, which is now known as Holcim.

The plant, operated for most of its life by the Ideal Cement Company, started production in 1929, with an expansion in 1957. In 1990, Ideal Basic Industries was merged into Holnam. Reportedly at the end of the day shift December 18, 1992, workers in the quarry where the limestone was mined were told "that's it." The remaining materials were processed, inventory was shipped out and the plant was dismantled.

In a news release dated March 6, 1992, Holnam said "two key factors drove the direction of the final decision. The first is the over capacity of cement in the Okay market region. The second is an effort to reduce costs within the company." At the time of the announcement, about 80 people were still employed there.

A company town, Okay, was constructed along with the cement plant. Referred to as a village, it contained houses and its own post office. Nearby was a store and a church house, and the elementary school. The school closed in 1965 and the houses were sold and moved out.

Ideal owned the Louisiana-Nevada Transit Company, a natural gas supplier with its office in Hope,and  the Graysonia, Nashville and Ashdown Railroad, based in Nashville. A trucking company, Southern Cement Transport, was located on site. Ideal also had  an interest in a gravel operation, Braswell, located near Wilton.

The gas system was sold to Arkla, which became part of Centerpoint Energy and the railroad was Sold to Kansas City Southern, which now leases the line to the Arkansas Southern. 

When the plant closed, Holnam opened a cement terminal in Hope, where product is brought  in by rail and loaded into customers trucks. Now Holcim, the company still owns the property.


(Tuesday, December 11, 2012

(Wednesday, December 17, 2014)

State Board Removes Mineral Springs From List

The Arkansas State Board of Education Thursday voted to remove the Mineral Springs School District from the Fiscal Distress Classification and State Control effective October 1, 2014. The Arkansas Department of Education made the recommendation at a state board meeting Thursday, May 8 in Little Rock.

The Mineral Springs School District was classified in Fiscal Distress for the 2012-13 school year. The Department of Education says the district has currently corrected all criteria to be removed from Fiscal Distress and state control (reconstitution) effective October 1, after a school board is elected and receives training. 

The Department will certify in writing the district has corrected all criteria and has complied with all the Department recommendations and requirements for removal from Fiscal Distress. Subsequent to a district receiving this notice of compliance, the district may petition the State Board for removal from Fiscal Distress. The State Board agenda says the district petitioned for removal.

The Mineral Springs School District was taken over by the state and the local board removed in May of 2013 by Commissioner Tom Kimbrell.  At the time, Kimbrell's office in a press release said, "Our number one concern is the education of the students in this community. For the future of the district, students and staff, state action had to be taken now." Unquote.

In the same press release, it states, quote, "The action was taken to immediately move toward stabilizing the finances and management of the troubled district in Howard County. The district is facing a severe budget deficit and does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year." Unquote.

The district had an ending balance of over $920,000 dollars. Part of Kimbrell's order was the closing of Saratoga Elementary School.

(Thursday, May 8, 2014) 

Breaking-Tom Kimbrell Named Bryant Superintendent

Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell has been named the superintendent of the Bryant, Arkansas School District. That action was taken at a school board meeting Thursday night. Kimbrell will assume the position July 1.

Kimbrell has 30 years in education, being named by Governor Mike Beebe as Education Commissioner in 2009. He's previously been superintendent of the Paragould and North Little Rock school districts. He's currently a resident of Cabot.

Bryant School District has 11 schools with nearly 8800 students.

It was action by Kimbrell in May 2013 to take-over the Mineral Springs School District, and  dissolve the local school board. Included was an order to close the Saratoga Elementary School. In a news release from the Arkansas Department of Education in May 2013,  ADE said..."the district is facing a severe budget deficit and does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year." The district ended the 2012-13 fiscal year with a positive balance of over $900,000.

(Thursday, April 24, 2014)

No Saratoga Tournament This Year

For 82 years, the final preparations would normally be underway for the annual Southwest Arkansas Invitational Basketball Tournament in the M.H. Peebles Auditorium at Saratoga, which usually tipped off after school resumes from the Christmas break. But not this year. The Mineral Springs School District, operating under the control of the Arkansas Department of Education, did not schedule the tournament this year.

Upon assuming control of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District in May 2013, Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell ordered the closing of the Saratoga Elementary School. Saratoga High School had been closed earlier in the year. In assuming control of the school district, the Department of Education alleged the district, in a news release concerning Kimbrell's action, "...does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year." Unquote. A small group of ABC Early Childhood students began the school year at Saratoga pending a building renovation on the Mineral Springs campus. The Saratoga facilities have since been padlocked.

The Saratoga tournament has been touted as being the oldest high school based tournament in the state tracing its lineage back to the 1930s, with suspension for World War II and when the old Saratoga gym and school burned in 1980. (The Two State Tournament in Junction City also lays claim to being the oldest, also at 82 years.) So for now, the Spring Hill Lady Bears and the Bradley Bears will remain the defending champions of the Southwest Arkansas Invitational Tournament.

(Sunday, January 5, 2014)

Saratoga School Buildings Padlocked

Buildings on the Saratoga Schools campus have had their doors chained and padlocked in the past few days. Saratoga Arkansas Digest observed the chains and locks on the Main Building (Elementary & Offices) and the M.H. Peebles Auditorium.

October 24 was the final day any students were on the campus as pre-school students were present until facilities on the Mineral Springs campus were readied.

Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell ordered the closing of Saratoga Elementary School May 16 when his agency assumed control of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District, dissolved the local board and appointed Curtis Turner Superintendent.

(Sunday, November 17, 2013) 

Sine Die...Saratoga School Curtain Call

At least for the time being, Thursday, October 24 will be the last day children will use the Saratoga School facilities. Pre-school students that have been on campus since the start of the school year will move to the Mineral Springs campus, effective Tuesday, October 29. Friday, October 25 and Monday, October 28 will be used to move equipment and materials. The children were at Saratoga pending construction work on a building at Mineral Springs.

Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell ordered the closing of Saratoga Elementary School May 16th when his agency assumed control of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District, dissolved the local board and appointed Curtis Turner Superintendent. 

(Wednesday, October 23, 2013)

McNab Pushes to Re-open Saratoga School

The Town of McNab and Mayor James Conway have gone on record urging the Arkansas Department of Education to re-open Saratoga School. In a called meeting September 3, the McNab Board of Directors adopted a resolution setting forth a number of reasons in support of a re-opening.

The resolution says "it is critical to ensure meaningful engagement of communities with the public schools...with the goal of every school district in Arkansas is to provide an exemplary educational experience for all students...to ensure our students are competitive in a global economic environment."

The resolution further states, "We must be committed to provide the resources necessary to provide our students with a world-class education...and make learning more rigorous, more relevant and more real...and be more dedicated to being responsive to student's individual needs."

The resolution said the citizens of the community have voiced their concerns in regards to the Saratoga school campus. The document asks that the state board of education reevaluate the changes.

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School District was placed on Fiscal Distress in late 2012 by the Arkansas State Board of Education. In May of 2013, Arkansas Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell dissolved the local school board and took control of the district. With that came an order to close the Saratoga Elementary School at the end of the school year. A news release the day of the takeover from ADE said, ...the district is facing a severe budget deficit and does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year." The district apparently ended the fiscal with a closing balance of over $920,000.

The McNab resolution is part of a community effort to have Saratoga Elementary School reopened.

(Tuesday, September 10, 2013) 

Caddo Valley Railroad Saga Continues

 The Caddo Valley Railroad in Pike and Clark Counties continues to hang on, albeit without rail and ties. The latest twist came as a Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU) that was granted February 27, 2013 to the West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District was about to expire on August 26, 2013. According to James E. Smith, Jr., Attorney for the Caddo Valley Railroad Company, that organization elected not to pursue negotiations for interim trail use.

However, Smith said another group interested in pursuing negotiations for interim trail use has emerged, "though they are not yet ready to seek a NITU." In the meantime, Smith says the railroad has agreed not to consummate the abandonment before February 1, 2014. He said either a request for a new NITU will be timely filed (sic) with the Surface Transportation Board before the deadline for consummating the abandonment exemption or the railroad will timely (sic) request an extension of the consummation deadline. The new group has not been identified.

(Saratoga Arkansas Digest has written extensively (and sometimes exclusively) on the troubled railroad. Scroll down near the end for a number of related stories from the past couple of years.)

(Tuesday, September 10, 2013)

URGENT......MSSD Ends Fiscal Year with Large Balance

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School District ended the 2012-13 fiscal year with a legal balance reportedly over $920,000. The district's fiscal year ended June 30. The ending balance is contrary to a statement made by Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell May 16 when he dissolved the school board and assumed control of the district.

"This action was necessary to keep Mineral Springs public schools operating and serving students despite the district's extreme financial difficulties," Dr. Kimbrell said in May. " Our number one concern is the education of the students in this community. For the future of the district, students and staff, state action had to be taken now."

In the same press release from the Department of Education, it states, quote, "The action was taken to immediately move toward stabilizing the finances and management of the troubled district in Howard County. The district is facing a severe budget deficit and does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year." Unquote.

In a statement June 30, outgoing Interim Superintendent  Bill Blackwood told Saratoga Arkansas Digest the ending balance would be at least $400,000 and possibly more. Blackwood was named Interim Superintendent November 1, 2012, replacing Acting Superintendent Jeanie Gorham. The district was placed on Fiscal Distress in December 2012.  Blackwood initiated a number of personnel moves and cost-cutting measures to stabilize the financial situation.

In taking over the district May 16, Dr Kimbrell said Blackwood would stay on until he (Kimbrell) appointed a new superintendent. That occurred the next day, May 17, when Kimbrell appointed Curtis Turner, Jr. as superintendent. Turner tendered his resignation the night before, May 16, as superintendent of the Eureka Springs School District. Turner is a native of Murfreesboro. He assumed his role at Mineral Springs July 1.

Blackwood told Saratoga Arkansas Digest Saturday night he felt comfortable the district would be in good financial shape when the final numbers came in. He declined further comment at this time.

When the Arkansas Department of Education assumed control, it ordered the closing of Saratoga Elementary School for this year. There are reportedly efforts underway to have the school reopened.

(Sunday, August 25, 2013)

Mineral Springs Saratoga Ends Year "In the Black"

The outgoing interim superintendent of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District is estimating the school district ended its fiscal year Sunday night (June 30) with "at least a $400,000 balance." Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood said the final actual figure should be available in a few days, but he feels comfortable with the +$400,000 number. 

The ending balance is in contrast with the stated reason by Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell for taking over the school district. In a news release from May 16, 2013, it states, quote, "The action was taken to immediately move toward stabilizing the finances and management of the troubled district in Howard County. The district is facing a severe budget deficit and does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year (June 30)." Unquote.

The Arkansas State Board of Education placed the district on Fiscal Distress in December 2012 because of declining financial balances. Blackwood had been named interim superintendent November 1, 2012.

"This action was necessary to keep Mineral Springs public schools operating and serving students despite the district's extreme financial difficulties," Dr. Kimbrell said in May. "Our number one concern is the education of the students in this community. For the future of the district, students and the staff, state action had to be taken now." Unquote.

That action included the dissolving of the local school board and the ordering of the closing of Saratoga Elementary School.  The next day, May 17, Kimbrell announced that Curtis Turner had been appointed MSSD Superintendent. Turner, a Murfreesboro native, resigned as Eureka Springs Superintendent the night before, and assumed the position July 1.

Blackwood said the amount saved from personnel who resigned and salary adjustments will amount to at least $850,000. He said it's possible the district could have a balance of $1,250,000 at the end of next fiscal year and possibly as much as $3,350,000 in two years. He emphasized these numbers are estimates of where he thinks the district will be. In a letter to former school board members, Blackwood said he enjoyed his tenure, and is convinced Mineral Springs Saratoga will again be a strong school district.

(Sunday, June 30, 2013)

Turner Slot Filled at Eureka Springs

The superintendent of the Cossatot River School District in western Arkansas has been verbally offered the same position at the Eureka Springs School District. According to the Lovely County Citizen Newspaper, David Kellogg was named to the position, with the board scheduled to review conditions of the contract before a final vote June 26. Kellogg was one of four finalists for the vacancy at Eureka Springs after Curtis Turner, Jr. was appointed superintendent of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District by Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell. ADE assumed control of Mineral Springs Saratoga School District on May 17 and dissolved the local school board before naming Turner superintendent the next day. Turner, a Murfreesboro native, had earlier interviewed for the MSSD position. He will take over from interim superintendent Bill Blackwood July 1.

Cossatot River School District is the name of the recently consolidated Van-Cove and Wickes School Districts. Kellogg had been there for two years. According to the Lovely County Citizen, Hartford Superintendent Teresa Ragsdale had also applied. She had earlier applied at Mineral Springs Saratoga, with previous stints at Yerger Middle School in Hope, Prescott, Nevada and Stamps School Districts, Southern Arkansas University and Arkansas Department of Education.

(Saturday, June 22, 2013)

Quick Turnaround for Superintendent Turner

Newly announced Mineral Springs Saratoga School District Superintendent Curtis Turner, Jr. was appointed to the position hours after resigning as superintendent of the Eureka Springs School District. Turner was appointed superintendent by Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell after the ADE dissolved the local school board and assumed control of the district.

Kimbrell notified MSSD Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood Thursday morning, May 16 of the takeover, which included the closing of Saratoga Elementary School. That night, Turner resigned as Eureka Springs Superintendent at that district's board meeting. Friday, May 17, the Arkansas Department of Education issued a news release announcing Turner's appointment, effective July 1, 2013. 

Turner had been interviewed in April by the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board for the superintendent's position. Because the district was placed in fiscal distress in December 2012, any hiring would have to be approved by the ADE. After the round of interviews, the board never publicly announced who they wished to employee.

According to the Carroll County News, Turner was named Eureka Springs interim superintendent in the middle of the 2011-12 school year, and retained for the 2012-13 school year after the board hired an executive search firm to seek candidates for the vacancy.

Curtis Turner is former superintendent at Delight, Center Point, Murfreesboro and Clinton. He's quoted by the Carroll County News as saying, "...his personal circumstances had changed over the last few days and he made his decision suddenly."

(Monday, May 27, 2013)

MSSD Asking Saratoga Students to Stay

Mineral Springs Saratoga School District Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood and Elementary Principal Chuck Hanson have sent letters to parents of students currently attending Saratoga Elementary School discussing the takeover of the district by the Arkansas Department of Education.  In the takeover action, the ADE ordered the closing of the Saratoga Elementary School at the end of this school year. In the letter, the administrators said, "We did not anticipate this happening."

The letter said the district wants to make the transition as easy as possible, with buses running as they always have, "with the exception being they will end up at Mineral Springs Elementary." The administrators said, "We realize this will be a real adjustment for everyone. We hope that you will continue to work with us and help provide the quality of education you want for your children."

(Monday, May 27, 2013)

Bulletin: State Appoints Curtis Turner MSSD Superintendent

Murfreesboro native Curtis Turner, superintendent of the Eureka Springs School District, has been appointed by Department of Education Commission Dr. Tom Kimbrell as superintendent of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District. The action was announced Friday, May 17. The ADE had assumed control of the district (scroll down for that article↓) Thursday, May 16, and dissolved the district's school board of directors.

Turner was interviewed March 25 by the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board for the superintendent's position. The MSSD board had also interviewed several other candidates, but could not make a hire due to being in fiscal distress, which requires ADE approval before anyone is employed.

Turner has served as superintendent at South Pike County School District, Delight School District, Clinton School District and Centerpoint School District.

Turner has a master of education degree from Henderson State University and received a state superintendent certification from the University of Central Arkansas.

Commission of Education Kimbrell said, "Mr. Turner has experience in assisting fiscally distressed school districts develop and work through recovery and improvement plans. I believe he's the right person to look at the big picture and know what the priorities are."

Turner said his goals are to foster clearer communication, listening, learning from the past and moving on together. "We have to set a new strategic direction in Mineral Springs to put the district on sound financial footing and have schools that are student centered and focused on academic achievement."

Turner will replace Bill Blackwood who came out of retirement to temporarily lead the district. Kimbrell expressed appreciation for Blackwood's leadership in managing the district during the transition. Turner will assume the position July 1, 2013.

(Friday, May 17, 2013)

FLASH-State Takes Over MSSD-Saratoga School to Close

The Arkansas Department of Education has dissolved the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board and taken over the school district.  Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell took the action Thursday, May 16. Kimbrell's action reportedly includes the closing of the Saratoga Elementary School.

The Department of Education said it took the action to stabilize the finances and management, saying the district is facing a severe budget deficit and "does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district's fiscal year."

"This action was necessary to keep Mineral Springs public schools operating and serving students despite the district's extreme financial difficulties," Dr. Kimbrell said. "Our number one concern is the education of the students in this community. For the future of the district, students and staff, state action had to be taken now."

Dr. Kimbrell and other ADE staff arrived in Mineral Springs Thursday morning to inform interim superintendent Bill Blackwood of the changes in district governance. Blackwood has agreed to stay until Kimbrell appoints a new superintendent.

The ADE said steps have been taken to secure school records and to ensure district operations continue uninterrupted.

The State Board placed the district in fiscal distress in December, 2012. Under the Omnibus Quality Education Act of 2003, the education commissioner has authority to exercise a state takeover of districts in fiscal distress that "don't adequately address their problems."

(Thursday, May 17, 2013) 

MSSD May Meeting

Accepting 11 resignations was the only item of business at the May meeting Monday night (5/13/13) of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board. Following a 50 minute executive session, the board voted to accept the following resignations; Pam Wendell-Title I Parent Coordinator...music teacher Bill Hathcote...science teacher and coach Andrew Schroeder...Saratoga secretary Denise Juniel...science teacher Emma Loop...math teacher Beverly Tallman...high school principal Davy Jones...school improvement specialist Crystal Evans...elementary teacher Tabitha Jones...high school English teacher Angela Barfield and middle school English teacher Kim Dunham.

(Monday, May 13, 2013)

MSSD Amends Budget, Acknowledges Audit

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met in a special called meeting Wednesday, April 24 to amend their 2012-13 budget. The adjustment was at the request of the Fiscal Distress Unit of the Arkansas Department of Education. The board also granted authority to allow the Fiscal Distress Unit to make additional adjustments as necessary.

The 2011-12 district audit was acknowledged.  A complete copy can be found at www.arklegaudit.gov and scrolling to "Mineral Springs School District."

The board met in executive session for nearly 90 minutes, but adjourned after returning to open session.

(Wednesday, April 24, 2013) 

Over 125 Years Worth of Basketball Betwixt the Four...

Four Saratoga School staff members were presented commemorative blankets before the April meeting of the Mineral Springs Saratoga Board for their work through the years at Saratoga basketball games and tournaments.

(Left to right)Dale Gathright, Jr. (Class of 1979) clock keeper and public address announcer... Christine Green (Class of 1979) official scorer as well as coaching both girls and boys basketball teams and organizing hospitality for the Southwest Arkansas Invitational Tournament and state tournaments...Inez Gentry, (Class of 1980) official scorer, and Kenneth Green, who coached girls and sometimes the boys teams, clock keeper, and does much of the behind the scenes planning and work for the Southwest Arkansas Invitational Tournament. He began his teaching career in 1978 at Saratoga High School.

 Gathright credits the four's involvement to the late High School Principal James A. Stewart. "When the M.H. Peebles Auditorium opened in 1982, he recruited us and a few others to run the clock and be the scorer and set the example of running the tournaments and being hospitable. The scorer's table is the best seat in the house, and after 31 years, I still love it," Gathright said.

(Wednesday, April 10, 2013) Photo courtesy Terrica Hendrix-Nashville News Editor

MSSD Called Meeting Tuesday

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met in a special called meeting Tuesday, April 9 to interview a candidate for the position of superintendent. The board met in executive session with Lendell Martin, who is retiring as superintendent of the Battiest, Oklhoma School District. No action was taken.

(Tuesday, April 9, 2013) pronouncer: Battiest- Buh-Tee-st

MSSD April Meeting

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met Monday, April 8 for its regular monthly meeting. The main discussion at the meeting was the refinancing of several bond issues. Jason Holsclaw of Stephens, Inc. told the board by refinancing now at better interest rates, the district could realize over a quarter of a million dollars in savings. The board approved three resolutions regarding the refinancing.

The 2013-14 School Calendar was approved by the board. The first day of school will be August 19. The board gave approval for two trips. Band students will go to Grambling University April 17, and Gifted and Talented students in grades 3-8 will be going to the Mid-America Museum in Hot Springs in May.

The board approved the 2013-14 Salary Schedule. The schedule was retroactive to January 1, 2013 for five staff members whose duties were changed in January. 

 (Tuesday, April 9, 2013)

MSSD Called Meeting Friday

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met in a called meeting Friday evening, April 5. The board immediately went into executive session to discuss personnel. No action was taken. There were no candidates interviewed for the superintendent's position.

(Tuesday, April 9, 2013)

Airsman Found Guilty in Saratoga Murder

Don Airsman, Jr. was convicted Thursday (3/28/13) of First Degree Murder in the death of his step-father Bill Jones. Airsman was sentenced to life in prison. The verdict came down late Thursday in Hempstead County Circuit Court. Airsman, 31, was also convicted for using a firearm in the crime. That 15 year sentence will be served consecutively with the life sentence.

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Bowie County authorities on April 27, 2012 asked Hempstead County to go to Saratoga resident after they found a car burning in their county. At that time, a body had not been located in the car. A deputy could not find any one at the residence that night. Hempstead County deputies were sent back to the residence the next morning after family members of Jones reported they had had no contact since the previous afternoon. While meeting with the family, Deputy Justin Crane said he noticed "what appeared to be blood on the front porch and blood clotted on the driveway". The residence and property were declared a crime scene and sheriff's deputies, along with the Arkansas State Polic,e began an investigation.  Bowie County deputies were asked to take another look at the burned car and a body was discovered.

Airsman was taken into custody in Kennett, Missouri. A so-far unnamed "third party" was ALLEGEDLY present in Saratoga on April 27 when the shooting reportedly occurred, was allegedly present when the car was burned, allegedly brought Airsman back to Saratoga after the fire and allegedly followed Airsman to Missouri.

Airsman was reportedly living at the Saratoga residence, while Jones was staying elsewhere.

After waiving extradition April 30, Airsman was taken to the Hempstead County Detention Facility, where bond was set at one million dollars.

(Scroll down for 2012 stories that contain a timeline and more details...)

(Friday, March 29, 2013) (Verdict info. provided by Mark Keith)

Second Round of MSSD Interviews

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met in another called board meeting Tuesday night. The board interviewed three candidates for the superintendent's position. Two other interviews were conducted Monday night (see story below).

Interviewed Tuesday night was Teresa Ragsdale, currently superintendent at Hardford School District. Her career includes stints at Prescott Schools, Nevada Schools, Stamps Schools, Arkansas Department of Education, Southern Arkansas University and Yerger Middle School in Hope.

The second interview was Holly Cothren, currently High School Principal in Dierks. She has also worked in Murfreesboro and Little Rock.

The third candidate interviewed was Charles Hanson. Hanson, who lives in Hope, started the year as Saratoga Building Principal, and was later named as Elementary Principal for both the Saratoga and Mineral Springs campuses. He has also worked at Cossatot River Schools,  Weiner Schools, Armorel Schools, Western Yell County Schools, Gosnell Schools, Crawfordsville Schools and several private schools.

There was no action taken at the meeting.

(Tuesday, March 26, 2013)

MSSD Interviews Applicants

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met Monday evening in a called meeting. Two applicants for the superintendent's position were interviewed. After the meeting was called to order, the board went into executive session, first with Curtis Turner, Jr.  Turner, a Murfreesboro native, is currently superintendent at the Eureka Springs School District. In past years, Turner has been superintendent at Delight, Murfreesboro and Glenwood/Centerpoint School Districts. The second person, Tim Erwin, is a graduate of Mineral Springs High School and previously worked in the district. He is currently Assistant High School Principal and Athletic Director at Ashdown High School.

Following the executive session, the board adjourned. A second called meeting is set for 4:00 p.m. Tuesday (March 26).

(Monday, March 25, 2013)

Called MSSD Meeting

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met in a special called meeting Thursday afternoon (March 14, 2013) to adopt a budget for the current school year. The board voted to resubmit a revised budget after the previous budget was rejected by the Arkansas Department of Education. That budget showed the district ending in the red by $131,000. The new budget shows a net gain of $173,000, with the district projected to end with a balance of $46,663. The budget was the only item of business considered.

(Thursday, March 14, 2013)

MSSD March Meeting

Doyle Green was appointed to the vacancy in Zone 1 of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District at the board's March meeting Monday night (March 11, 2013). He replaces Henry Brown, who resigned last month citing health reasons. Green lives near Saratoga, is a graduate and former teacher at Saratoga High School, and currently teaches at Nashville High School.

The routine rehiring of school principals at the February meeting got the attention of Fiscal Distress section head Hazel Burnett. Burnett told Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood that all hiring goes through her office as long as the district is on Fiscal Distress. The board discussed the matter because the minutes showed the action. Board Secretary Dale Gathright, Jr. said the minutes "were a record of what took place, and we did approve doing it." The board approved adopting the minutes and followed up by adopting a statement agreeing to abide by Burnett's request.

In other business, the resignation of cafeteria worker Sarah Williams was accepted, the district's ACSIP (Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Plan) plan and Statement of Assurance was approved, use of the Saratoga Gym for a summer league high school girls practice and for a church tournament were approved and a plan to adjust the payroll dates for the remainder of the school year was approved.

Saratoga Elementary School Improvement Specialist Sandra Rhone presented the board with information on targeted plans for students. She said the goal is to close the achievement gap between the high performers and low performers. Rhone said at least five learning centers have been established in each class room.

(Monday, March 11, 2013)  

Caddo Valley Railroad Proceedings Reopened

The Surface Transportation Board has reopened proceedings involving the Caddo Valley Railroad to allow the defunct railroad and the West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District to negotiate an agreement for converting the railroad right-of-way into a recreational trail and rail banking the corridor for possible future reactivation. The line extends from near Gurdon to north of Glenwood in Pike and Clark Counties.

On February 8, 2013, the West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District "late filed" a request for the issuance of a notice of interim trail use or abandonment to allow for negotiation with railroad for acquisition of the right-of-way for use as a trail under the National Trail Systems Act. Included in that notice was a letter dated two days earlier indicating the railroad had not yet consummated the abandonment of any part of the line and was willing to negotiate with the District for interim trail use/rail banking.

On February 12, 2013, Betty Pennington, a landowner along the right-of-way, filed a comment in opposition, seeking to assert her reversionary rights to the land under the right-of-way, opposing the trail request and alleging the District is not a government entity that qualifies for a fee waiver.

On February 27, 2013, the Surface Transportation Board granted 180 days for the parties to negotiate a possible conversion of the right-of-way, or until August 26, 2013. If an agreement is reached, one of the stipulations is the right-of-way is subject to possible future reconstruction and reactivation for rail service.

(Monday, March 4, 2013) 

Another Twist in Caddo Valley Railroad Saga

 There's been some movement lately in the long running saga involving the Caddo Valley Railroad and its unused line in Pike, Clark and Montgomery Counties. It's the only rail line left in Pike County, running from near Gurdon to north of Glenwood.

The Surface Transportation Board has extended the time to exercise abandonment authority and file a notice of consummation until Thursday, February 28. On February 8, 2013, the West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District (WCAPDD) late filed a request with the STB for the issuance of a Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU) to allow it to negotiate with Caddo Valley Railroad for the acquisition of its right-of-way for use as a trail under the National Trails System Act.  In its filing, the Development District included a letter from the railroad, dated February 6, 2013, that indicated the consummation of the abandonment had not started and it was willing to negotiate for interim trail use/rail banking with the Development District.

On February 12, 2013, Betty Pennington, a land owner along the right-of-way, filed a protest in opposition, seeking to assert her reversionary rights to the land underlying the right-of-way and opposing the trails filing. She alleges that West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District misrepresented itself as a "state entity."

The Surface Transportation Board granted the time extension to consider West Central's request and Pennington's protest.

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SARATOGA ARKANSAS DIGEST (http://www.saratogaarkdigest.webs.com/) has several exclusive stories tracking the saga for several years. They can be found by scrolling down its news page.

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(Monday, February 25, 2013)

MSSD February Meeting

It was a split vote at the February meeting of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board regarding paying former Acting Superintendent Jeanie Gorham for the time she spent in the position. Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood asked the board for permission to pay Gorham for the time she served as acting superintendent as well as Mineral Springs Elementary Principal.  A motion to pay the amount by board member William Dixon passed 4-2, with Dixon, Mike Erwin, Linda Ross and JoAnn Walker voting yes, and Dornell Trotter and Dale Gathright, Jr. voting no.

In other personnel matters, board member Henry Brown submitted his resignation, citing health reasons. The board will appoint a replacement until September. Chuck Hanson was reemployed as elementary principal for Mineral Springs and Saratoga Elementary Schools, Davey Jones was reemployed as Mineral Springs High School Principal for 2013-14, Jeanie Gorham was employed as Federal Coordinator/School Improvement for 2013-14, Frankie Darr was reemployed as District Treasurer and Marla Williams was reemployed as District Bookkeeper. The board approved payment for two staff members for college courses in their teaching areas.

A resolution adopted by the board to refund outstanding bonds in order to produce debt service savings should result in the district saving approximately $283,000. The board approved School Board/Employee Legal Liability Insurance through the Arkansas School Boards Association.

Interim Superintendent Blackwood said he had been contacted by Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton about considering the placing of a deputy on the Saratoga Schools campus next school year. The district's cost would be about $25,500.

(Monday, February 11, 2013) 

MSSD January Meeting

There's been another administrative change in the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District. At the January board meeting Tuesday night (1/22/13) Mineral Springs Elementary Principal Jeanie Gorham was designated  Federal Programs Coordinator.  Her principal duties will be assumed by current Saratoga Elementary Principal Charles Hanson, who will oversee both elementary programs for the remainder of the current school year. This and several other personnel moves were made following a near hour-long executive session. In the other personnel moves, the board accepted the resignation of Business Manager Sammy Jackson and Lemerl (sic) Crosslin. Jackson is retiring after 46 years with the district and Crosslin has taken a technology position with the Hope School District. Frankie Darr was named Business Manager and Marla Williams was named District Bookkeeper. Liz Ann Bell was made a full time employee in the technology department.

In other business, the board approved a Fixed Assets-Purged Items list for 2011-12, and voted to place a trip bus up for sale.  Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood said a fiscal distress workshop for board members is being planned. He said a company named Vista Health is now offering counseling services for all the district's campuses. 

Before the meeting, retiring Business Manager Sammy Jackson was presented a plaque by the board honoring his 46 years with the district. A retirement reception for Jackson has been set for Thursday afternoon  at 3:30 in the Mineral Springs Cafetorium.

(Tuesday, January 22, 2013)

MSSD Adopts Fiscal Distress Plan

In a special called meeting Tuesday afternoon (December 18, 2012), the Mineral Springs Saratoga Board adopted a Fiscal Distress Financial Improvement Plan for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years. This comes after the Arkansas State Board of Education placed the district on Fiscal Distress December 10 due to "declining fund balances." Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood said the district's finances should be stabilized without having to have any layoffs.

There were five improvement plan objectives Blackwood discussed with the board;

(1). Reduction in personnel for the current school year by not filling vacancies with a projected net savings of $144,407.

(2). Changing funding sources where allowable from the district's general operating fund to federal sources for the current school year, with a projected savings of $109,081.

(3). Reducing extended contract days for 2013-14, with projected savings of $49,002.

(4). Removing Superintendent Max Adcock's salary when his contract expires June 30, 2013, a projected savings of $100,028.

(5). Aline salaries with salary schedules, a projected savings of $52,979.

This would make a total net savings of $455,497. Blackwood said the district will continue to look for savings in other areas. Fiscal Distress does not mean a school district is broke, but that its fund balances are showing declines that could impact future operation of a district.

(Tuesday, December 18, 2012)

State Board Places MSSD on Fiscal Distress

The Arkansas State Board of Education has placed the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District on its Fiscal Distress list. That action was taken Monday, December 10 at the board's December meeting. The district's declining funds balance led to the decision.

MSSD was notified in October by the Arkansas Department of Education's Fiscal Distress and Accountability Unit of their recommendation of fiscal distress to the state board. "A declining balance determined to jeopardize the fiscal integrity of the school district. The Department has discovered that this fiscal condition negatively impacts the continuation of educational services by the school district." Unquote.

Fiscal Distress regulations states "that no school district (in fiscal distress) may incur any debt without prior written approval from the department. "Any debt" includes any employment contract, vendor contract, lease, loan, purchase, or any other obligation that will increase the district's financial obligations, accounts payable, or its liabilities."

(Monday, December 10, 2012)

MSSD December Meeting

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board accepted the resignation of Band Director James Spurlin at its December meeting Monday night (12/10/12).  The resignation is effective immediately. In other business, the board named Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood as Ex Officio Financial Officer, shortened a suspension for a patron to the end of the school year, purchased a Renaissance Learning testing program to track students and their knowledge level in certain areas and voted not to accept a Contract Disclosure Resolution for board member Dale Gathright, Jr. and his employer Harmar Bottling. The company has supplied soft drinks and water in years past to the district, mainly to the Saratoga Gymnasium concession stand. Voting no were board members Mike Erwin, Linda Ross and William Dixon. Voting yes was JoAnn Walker. Absent was Henry Brown and Dornell Trotter. Gathright abstained.

(Monday, December 10, 2012)

MSSD November Meeting

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board accepted four resignations at their November meeting Monday night (11/12/12). This listed included Saratoga Elementary teachers Dorthy Davis and Megan Sullivan, nurse Stephanie Monden and bookkeeper Donna Ellen.

The board heard from parents Larry and Linda Trotter concerning issues with their child and staff regarding a suspension. They asked the suspension be removed from their child's record and he be allowed to make up the week's schoolwork. The board also heard from Mrs. John Lindsey regarding her husband being banned for a year following an incident at a football game with the band instructor. She asked the board to consider reducing the ban to allow him to be a part of his child's senior year activities. Board President Mike Erwin said the board would take both issues under advisement.

The board voted to grant a board-to-board transfer for an elementary student, tabled action on updates to the board policy handbook and discussed required board training hours. 

The meeting was the first for Interim Superintendent Bill Blackwood.

(Monday, November 12, 2012)

New Saratoga Post Office Hours Altered Before Implemented

The U.S. Postal Service has released an updated list of new hours for the Saratoga Post Office. Effective November 17, the weekday hours of service will be from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Following a recent public meeting in Saratoga, it was announced the window hours would be from 8:00 a.m. to noon, with Saturday hours as 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.  In a posting to Saratoga customers inside the post office, Tanya Boyles, POSTPLAN Coordinator, did not say why the new hours were changed.

(Sunday, November 4, 2012)

BULLETIN: Blackwood Named MSSD Interim Superintendent

Bill Blackwood has been named interim superintendent of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District. That action was taken in a special called board meeting Thursday night, November 1. Effective immediately, Blackwood replaces acting superintendent Jeanie Gorham, who will return to her duties as Mineral Springs Elementary Principal. Gorham was named acting superintendent in May following the suspension of Superintendent Max Adcock. He was suspended on a 4-3 vote, with Gorham named acting superintendent, also on a 4-3 vote. In recent weeks, Saratoga High School was forced to close and the Arkansas Department of Education is recommending the district for its Fiscal Distress designation. 

Following an hour-long executive session, Blackwood was hired for the remainder of the school year on a 7-0 vote. He will be on-campus November 5.

The 75-year-old Blackwood retired this past June after 55-years with the De Queen School District, including the last 30 as superintendent. He said at the meeting he likes a challenge and thinks he can help turn the district around.

(Thursday, November 1, 2012)

BULLETIN: MSSD Faces Fiscal Distress

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School District will be recommended for the Fiscal Distress designation by the Arkansas Department of Education. The Education Department's Fiscal Distress and Accountability Unit, in a letter to school officials, department officials and State Senator Larry Teague and State Representative Nate Steel, said MSSD meets one or more of the criteria necessary to be identified in fiscal distress.

The letter said, "A declining balance determined to jeopardize the fiscal integrity of the school district. The Department has discovered that this fiscal condition negatively impacts the continuation of educational services by the school district."

The ADE will request the designation at the December 10 meeting of the Arkansas State Board of Education.

Fiscal Distress regulations states "that no school district (in fiscal distress) may incur any debt without prior written approval from the department. "Any debt" includes any employment contract, vendor contract, lease, loan, purchase, or any other obligation that will increase the district's financial obligations, accounts payable, or its liabilities.

 (Wednesday, October 24, 2012)

URGENT-New Saratoga Post Office Hours Released

The U.S. Postal Service has announced the new hours for the Saratoga and Ozan Post Offices. Under the POST Plan, new hours effective November 17 will have Saratoga open from 8:00 a.m. to noon and in Ozan from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Notices were posted today (Tuesday, October 16) in the respective offices.  Saturday hours will remain unchanged. At recent public meetings in the towns, Postal Service representatives said the offices will be reevaluated each year for possible adjustments.

Similar public meetings are scheduled in the area, including Wednesday, October 17, at 7:00 p.m. at Mineral Springs Town Hall, and Tuesday, October 30 at 7:00 p.m. at the Columbus Fire House.

(Tuesday, October 16, 2012)

Commissioner Kimbrell Meets With Gorham, Erwin

Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell and Deputy Commissioner Tony Woods were in Mineral Springs Friday, October 12, for a closed-door meeting with acting Mineral Springs Saratoga Schools Superintendent Jeanie Gorham and school board President Mike Erwin. Dr. Kimbrell told Saratoga Arkansas Digest Friday afternoon several things were discussed in the meeting, including accreditation and finances. Kimbrell would not elaborate, saying they needed to return to Little Rock with information from the meeting.

Monday afternoon, October 15, Southwest Arkansas Radio in Nashville carried a news report quoting Phyllis Stewart, State Board/Commissioner's Liaison, as saying the meeting was to inform Gorham and Erwin of the Arkansas Department of Education's expectations from the district and to explore further the circumstances surrounding the closing of Saratoga High School.

The Arkansas Department of Education said in a letter to school officials they had received notice in late August that "no classes at all took place at the Saratoga High School Campus during the 2011-12 school year and that no classes were currently taking place at Saratoga High School campus during the 2012-13 school year." That letter followed an on-campus review by the Standards Assurance Unit of the Department of Education.

Acting Superintendent Gorham on September 14 told the Hope Star, quote, "She was aware there were no classes taking place at the (Saratoga) campus, but she assumed it was cleared because suspended Superintendent Max Adcock was on the Triple A (Arkansas Activities Association) board."

Superintendent Adcock has maintained some classes have been held each year since the 2004 annexation. Adcock was suspended May 17 on a 4-3 vote of the school board. Gorham was named Acting Superintendent at the same meeting, also on a 4-3 vote.

Gorham told the October board session she has a October 18 meeting in Little Rock regarding the district's finances. She told board members she has been assured by Hazel Burnett of the Fiscal Distress Unit of the Arkansas Department of Education, along with Dr. Kimbrell and Tony Woods, that the district is not in danger of being placed in "Fiscal Distress."

(Monday, October 15, 2012)

Saratoga Post Office Meeting

The first in a series of community meetings to inform customers of rural post offices of impending changes were held Tuesday night (10/9) in Saratoga and Ozan.  The sessions were conducted with Harold Bennett, Acting Manager of Post Office Operations and Stan Sowell, Manager of Operation Support from Little Rock.

Bennett told the Saratoga meeting "though Saratoga still has a school, in many rural areas the post office is all the community has left. " He said the current plan is to try and preserve that for the rural communities.

He said Ozan and Saratoga will be evaluated each year with expanding or contracting hours based on business at the office. Saratoga will be going to four hours a day, while Ozan will be reduced to two hours a day.

The offices are scheduled to receive notice by October 16 with the changes expected to be in place by November 17.

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327 surveys were mailed out in Saratoga with 91 returned. 86 percent listed a realignment of hours as their preference in lieu of discontinuing or moving service. The hours most suggested was 8:00 a.m. to noon. Saturday hours would be unchanged.

(Tuesday, October 9, 2012)

MSSD October Meeting

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School District is not in danger of being placed on the state's fiscal distress list, according to acting Superintendent Jeanie Gorham. That statement was in answer to a question by board member Dale Gathright, Jr. at the October meeting of the district Monday night (10/8). The question was asked following the financial report showing a current balance of $399,332. Gorham said "she had assurances from Hazel Burnett of the Arkansas Department of Education's Fiscal Distress Unit, Commissioner Tom Kimbrell and Deputy Commission Tony Woods that the district was not in danger of being placed on the list."

The board named officers for the next year. Mike Erwin was named President and William Dixon Vice President. They were elected on 6-1 votes with Gathright voting no. Gathright was re-elected Board secretary. The board approved the expenditure of $5000 through E-rate Consulting Services for additional bandwidth to accommodate student use of I-pads. The board accepted the resignation of Scott Dunson who did public relations work for the district.

Gathright asked for an executive session of the board only, without acting Superintendent Gorham, to discuss personnel.  No action was taken after the 15 minute executive session.

(Monday, October 8, 2012)

MSSD Approves Budgets

In a five minute special called meeting Tuesday night (September 25), the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board approved budgets for the 2012-13 school year. Approved were the district's operating budget, federal programs budgets and Acsip budget.

(Tuesday, September 25, 2012)

Controlled Grenade Explosion Rocks Saratoga

A loud explosion that rocked the Saratoga area Friday night (September 21) was a controlled detonation of a hand grenade. Hempstead County Deputies, agents from the FBI and a bomb disposal team from El Dorado met to destroy a World War II era hand grenade found by a citizen.

Deputies used a backhoe to dig a hole approximately three feet deep on land owned by Sheriff's Office Captain Frankie McJunkins in Saratoga. FBI agents placed approximately one and a half pounds of plastic explosive on the live grenade and buried it in the hole.

The explosives team detonated the plastic explosive, destroying the grenade in the process. The explosion at approximately 10:25 p.m. was heard from quite a distance around Saratoga.

Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton cautions residents on the extreme hazard of picking up unexploded ordinance. If found, 911 should be called immediately. The exact location of where the device was found has not been released.

(Monday, September 24, 2012)

Second Vote on Saratoga High School

In a one minute special called meeting, the Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board Friday voted a second time on the closure of Saratoga High School. The vote to close was 7-0.

At the regular September meeting September 10, the vote to close was 6-1 with board member Dale Gathright, Jr. casting the no vote.  

Following an on-campus review, the Standards Assurance Unit of the Arkansas Department of Education issued a report stating Saratoga High School was not offering classes on campus and had not offered classes the previous school year. In published interviews, suspended MSSD Superintendent Max Adcock said classes were offered last school year and he's in the process of gathering proof to that affect. The violation is for the current 2012-13 school year.

Gathright offered a motion at the first meeting to appeal the write-up to the state board of education. That motion failed to garner a second and died.  Gathright said the no vote was easy to cast because he believes the requirements for Saratoga  were being met. He said the yes vote Friday was tactical, because there are at least eight different actions the state says they could take. "One of those was requiring a school district to close down or dissolve a particular school or schools within a school district. It's my opinion that puts Saratoga Elementary in danger." Unquote.

He added, "MSSD attorney Paul Blume and Arkansas School Boards Association General Counsel Jay Bequette (Beck-it) both told me that Saratoga High School could be reopened. The battle's been moved to a different front." Unquote.

(Scroll down for additional information from the regular board meeting article.)

(Sunday, September 16, 2012)

Saratoga High School in Danger

Following a recent visit to both campuses of the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District by the Standards Assurance Unit from the Arkansas Department of Education, it appears Saratoga High School may be in danger of being closed. The district's Board of Directors reviewed the report at the September meeting Monday night (9/10/12). The document concerned a "Notice of Probationary Violations of the Standards for Accreditation of Arkansas Public Schools and School Districts." The document states that on August 28th they were notified that "no classes at all took place at the Saratoga High School campus last school year and this current school year.  Acting Superintendent Jeanie Gorham said a unanimous vote was necessary or the state board had a number of options they could exercise, including the removal of the superintendent or school board. Board member Dale Gathright, Jr.'s motion to appeal the violation failed to garner a second. Member Mike Erwin then moved " to accept the letter from the Department of Education."  That motion passed 6-1, with Gathright casting the lone no vote. The matter goes before the state board October 8.

In other business, approval was given to the district's athletic budget and Frankie Darr was hired as a bookkeeper. It was announced that the annual report to the public will be September 25.

(Tuesday, September 11, 2012)

MSSD Called Board Meeting

The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board met in a short called special meeting Tuesday evening (5/22/12). The board named Acting Superintendent Jeanie Gorham Ex-Officio Officer for the purpose of co-signing checks. In other business during the ten minute meeting, the board employed Denzil R. "Denny" Cowling as assistant Mineral Springs football coach, employed Joni Terrell as Saratoga Kindergarten teacher and employed Sara Watson for Saratoga pre-school.

(Tuesday, May 22, 2012)

 MSSD Board Suspends Superintendent With Pay

By a 4-3 vote Thursday night (5/17/12), The Mineral Springs Saratoga School Board voted to "suspend Superintendent Max Adcock with pay so as to pursue a buyout of his contract."  The motion by board member Mike Erwin included the naming of Mineral Springs Elementary Principal Jeanie Gorham as "acting" superintendent during the process.  Voting in favor of the suspension was Erwin, board President Linda Ross, William Dixon and Joann Walker. Voting no were Vice-President Henry Brown, Secretary Dale Gathright, Jr. and Dornell Trotter. The action followed an executive session that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.

Several other personnel actions were also taken. The board accepted resignations from head football coach and athletic director Vince Perrin, coach Jacob Monden, school nurse Stephanie Monden and math teacher Kristin Elam. Nick Evans was hired as head football coach and athletic director with permission to hire an additional assistant coach, and all classified staff were re-employed. Pam Wendell was employed as a Title I assistant.

In other business, the board approved the purchase of new band uniforms at a cost of $14,102, approved the salary schedules for next school year, increased the meal price to $1.25 as required by the federal government, approved an "Acceptable Use" policy for technology,  approved the Facilities Consortium Contract with Aliza Jones and approved the purchase of a warmer for the Mineral Springs cafeteria.

(Thursday, May 17, 2012)

All Local Rural Post Offices Face Reduced Hours

The U.S. Postal Service has announced a new strategy that could keep the smallest post offices open for business by reducing retail window hours. The latest proposal says access to the retail lobby and to PO Boxes would remain unchanged, and the town's ZIP Code and community identity would be retained. The plan would be implemented over a two-year multiphase approach and would not be completed until September 2014. The Postal Service estimates savings of a half billion dollars annually once its completely implemented.

Locally under the proposed plan retail hours would drop from being open 8 hours to 4 hours in Saratoga, Washington, Blevins, Emmet, Fulton, Garland City, Genoa, Gillham, Ogden, Rosston, Wilton, Winthrop, Antoine, New Hope, Okolona and Umpire. 

Columbus hours would be reduced from 6 to 2, as would Curtis, Alleene, Ben Lomond and Willisville.

McCaskill would go from 8 hours to 2 hours as would Ozan. Cale would stay at 2 hours.

Additional community meetings will be planned on the latest proposal.

(Wednesday, May 9, 2012)

New Information in Saratoga Murder-UPDATED

 Bond has been set at $1 million for Don Airsman, Jr., who is charged with First Degree Murder in the death of his step-father Bill Jones. Airsman is currently in the Hempstead County Detention Facility in Hope.

 

                                 

The Hempstead County Sheriff's Office has released additional information regarding the death of a Saratoga man.

*Friday night, April 27, Deputy Michael Braddock was dispatched at 9:42 p.m.  to a residence on Hempstead County Road 1600 in Saratoga at the request of the Bowie County, Texas Sheriff's Office to try and locate anyone at the residence because they were on scene in Bowie County with a 2007 Honda Fit that had been burned and was registered to William Jones of Saratoga. Deputy Braddock reported that he could not find anyone at the residence and no vehicles were present.

*On Saturday, April 28, at about 10:15 a.m. Deputy Justin Crane was dispatched to the Saratoga residence to meet with family members of Jones who they said was missing and had not been heard from since about 3:30 p.m. Friday. Deputy Crane met with family members who said they could not locate Jones. A family member said she had received a call at approximately 7:05 a.m. from Jones' girlfriend asking if "she had heard from Bill." The family member said she had not and the girlfriend began to tell her she had last spoken with him around 3:30 on April 27 when he got off work from the paper mill in Ashdown.  Deputy Crane then called the girlfriend who said that "her and Bill had agreed on having pizza for dinner after Bill finished running errands, and said Bill had planned on going home (Saratoga) to check the mailbox for his new debit card, gather some bills that needed paying and stop by a duplex he owned in Texarkana to collect rent money and then meet up with her at her place." She told Crane she tried calling Jones numerous times, but made no contact and had left voice mails. She said she thought maybe Jones didn't have good cell service and didn't think anything of it until the next morning.

*Deputy Crane then spoke with the family member again and she said that her step brother, Donald Airsman lived in the house with her dad, but her dad "had not been staying there because he was (allegedly) scared of Donald."  She said she had spoken with Donald earlier Saturday morning  who allegedly told her that Bill had left a little before 8:00 p.m.and that he had left after Bill which was a little before 9:00 p.m. Airsman allegedly told her that he was "on his way to Missouri to visit his dad and  and didn't seemed concerned that Bill was missing."

*(Graphic warning) While speaking with family members Deputy Crane said he noticed what appeared to be blood on the front porch and blood clotted all over the driveway. Crane then asked family members to step back off the property due to the fact that it could be a crime scene and immediately contacted Captain Frankie McJunkins, a sheriff's investigator. McJunkins lives in Saratoga. As information was being relayed to McJunkins, Deputy Steven Dunham secured the area with crime scene tape and began a crime scene log.

*McJunkins contact the Arkansas State Police who handled the finding and collecting of evidence. McJunkins  contacted Bowie County and they went back to the burned vehicle and discovered a badly burned body inside.

*At 8:00 p.m. Saturday night, Airsman was in custody in Kennett, Missouri.

*At 9:30 p.m. Saturday night, McJunkins and three Arkansas State Police investigators helicopter to Kennett to interview Airsman.

*Investigators were able to obtain information from a "third party" who allegedly was present in Saratoga on April 27 and ALLEGEDLY was present when Airsman ALLEGEDLY shot Jones, was allegedly present when gasoline was poured in the car and set fire. The third party told investigators "he brought Airsman back to Saratoga". The third party said he followed Airsman to Kennett.

*Two semi-automatic handguns were taken into custody at a residence in Missouri.

*Attempts to interview Airsman ended when he asked for an attorney to be present.

*At about 10:00 p.m. Saturday night, a Warrant for Murder in the First Degree is signed by 8th North Circuit Judge Randall Wright, and a hold was placed on Airsman.

*Although a positive identification has not been made on the burned body, law enforcement officials say they feel certain it was Jones.

_____________

Monday, April 30, Airsman signed extradition waivers and Hempstead County deputies returned him to the County.

---------------------

This later release of information clarifies and fills in the time line of previously released information that's contained, with pictures, in a previous posting...

(Tuesday, May 1, 2012) UPDATED Monday, May 7, 2012

Murder Charge Filed in Saratoga Shooting (TOPS Previous)

A Warrant for Murder in the First Degree has been issued against Don Airsman, Jr., 30, who has a Texarkana, Arkansas address, in connection with the shooting death of 60-year-old William Jones of Saratoga. Saratoga Arkansas Digest has information Airsman has also been living in Saratoga. (←Jones pictured left.)

Hempstead County Sheriff's deputies began their investigation after Bowie County, Texas authorities were dispatched to a burning car Friday night, April 27 on Bowie County Farm to Market Road 2320 northeast of Texarkana. Information at the fire indicated the car belonged to Jones.  At about 9:42 p.m. Friday night Hempstead County Deputy Micheal Braddock was dispatched to a house owned by Jones on Hempstead County Road 1600 in Saratoga, a dead-end lane near the Howard County line off Highway 32. Deputy Braddock discovered evidence of a disturbance at Saratoga. As investigators from Hempstead County and the Arkansas State Police processed the Saratoga house Saturday, they notified Bowie County, who then located parts of a badly burned body in the trunk of the burned-out car.

Authorities then named Airsman as a "Person of Interest" and began a search. Airsman was located in Kennett, Missouri. Hempstead County investigators and Arkansas State Police agents left Hope Municipal Airport by Arkansas State Police helicopter Saturday night for Kennett. (←Airsman)

Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton provided this narrative; "Upon arrival at the Dunklin County Sheriff's Office in Kennett, Missouri, investigators were able to gain information from a third party who was allegedly present at the William Jones residence in Saratoga on April 27 (quoting) and witnessed what involvement Don Airsman (allegedly) had in the disappearance of Jones and his two vehicles, one a 2007 Honda Fit which was found burned in Bowie County and a 2002 White Ford F-150 which Airsman was (apparently) in possession of in Kennett."

"The third party advised (authorities) that he was present when William Jones was ALLEGEDLY shot at his home in Saratoga and put in the trunk of the Honda. The third party also told investigators that he was also present when Airsman allegedly poured gasoline in the car and set fire to it.  The third party advised investigators that he allegedly brought Airsman back to the Saratoga residence and the Ford pickup. The third party stated he followed Airsman all the way and didn't lose sight of Airsman until Airsman was taken into custody by the Missouri authorities."

Authorities say they recovered two semi-automatic handguns from a residence near Kennett and took them into custody.

Sheriff Singleton said investigators attempted to interview Airsman, however Airsman would not speak to them until he had an attorney present. Singleton said the investigators ended the interview at that point.

While investigators were in Missouri, deputies and Prosecuting Attorney Kristi McQueen were able to obtain a probable cause affidavit, and 8th North Circuit Judge Randall Wright signed the Murder Warrant, which was then faxed to Dunklin County, and a hold for Murder in the First Degree was placed on Airsman for extradition back to Hempstead County.

Sheriff Singleton said although a positive identity has not been made of the body found in Bowie County, investigators feel certain that it's William Jones..."due to evidence gathered at the scene in Saratoga and Kennett and the third party statements."  The investigation is continuing by Hempstead County Sheriff's Office, Arkansas state Police and Bowie County, Texas Sheriff's Office.

(Sunday, April 29, 2012)

MSSD Enrollment Increases

Student enrollment is up in the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District, according to Superintendent Max Adcock. He says that reverses a trend in rural Arkansas of declining enrollment in small schools. Superintendent Adcock said he has tracked declining enrollment back at least 14 years, but recently the student count topped 500 students, which is up approximately 18 students over last year, depending on what day is checked.

Superintendent Adcock says he attributes the increase to several factors; major building programs on both campuses, technology and industrial growth in and near the district.

(Wednesday, April 11, 2012)

Saratoga Post Office Part of "Fortunate Few"

As the day approaches for closing of Post Offices in Ozan and Ogden, the remanding of the closing of the Saratoga Post Office so far is one of only a handful nationwide. In a lengthy article at www.savethepostoffice.com entitled "Appeals in vain: The long odds on success at the PRC," the group says of nearly 225 cases considered from January 1, 2011-to-April 6, 2012, the Postal Regulatory Commission affirmed 167 while remanding 13 back to the U.S. Postal Service for additional study. (The remaining were dismissed, withdrawn or are pending.) That's a 93 percent ratio affirming closings.

The article said the 11 remand decisions don't stand out as particularly unique with "many cases remanded for reasons that could just as equally be applied to cases that resulted in affirm decisions." The article cited the Saratoga Post Office and the Evansdale, Iowa Post Office as examples where decisions to remand were made because of the way the Postal Service calculated economic savings. In Evansdale, the Postal Service said it would save the cost of employee salaries, yet it also said that the employees were being transferred and said it would save the rent costs, but the lease runs until January 2016.The article said similar issues were raised in Sherwood, Michigan and Daisy, Georgia, but those decisions were affirmed.

The article said the decision to close the Saratoga Post Office was also remanded partly because of the same lease issue. The Saratoga lease runs until December 31, 2015, at an annual cost of $6,650, but the savings for rent was calculated as an immediate savings. The other remanded issue for Saratoga was customers being told they could transfer their post office boxes to the post office in Columbus. The appeal of the Saratoga closing expressed concern there wasn't enough boxes in Columbus. The PRC said the Postal Service did not consider the cost of moving boxes in the economic analysis.

(Tuesday, April 10, 2012)

MSSD April Meeting

All certified staff in the Mineral Springs Saratoga School District were rehired at the April board meeting Monday night (4/9/12). This includes staff at Saratoga and Mineral Springs. The action followed a 30 minute executive session. The board also approved a part-time cafeteria person for the remainder of the year at Mineral Springs. That person will be used on a high school salad line to see if there's enough interest in the salad offering to make it permanent.

In other business, the district renewed its "Errors and Omissions" policy, and approved the paperwork for a revolving loan for two used school buses. The 2012-13 school calendar was adopted and EFS GeoTechnologies was approved to look at whether the school district will need to be re-zoned based on the latest census.

High school teacher Judy Cassady spoke to the board about Destination ImagiNation. The district's team, with students from both high schools, placed second in state competition and hope to compete with schools from the nation and world in Knoxville, Tennessee. The board approved two thousand dollars with students doing fundraisers to raise the rest of the expected five thousand plus dollars needed.

Superintendent Max Adcock reported on the Mineral Springs power-lifting team winning the 2A State Championship  and placing fourth on overall state. Adcock said the team "went to win" the event. Colton Ortiz and Rashad Williams both set state records in their weight division. Fundraising for state championship rings will begin soon, according to the Superintendent.

(Monday, April 9, 2012)

Ozan & Ogden Post Offices May End Service May 18

Service at the Ozan and Ogden Post Offices could end with the close-of-business Friday, May 18. Saratoga Arkansas Digest has learned that offices slated for closing in Arkansas have received correspondence  saying the shutdown could begin May 19, which apparently is the start of a new pay-period in the Postal Service.

In December 2011, the Postal Service agreed to impose a moratorium on closing offices and processing facilities until May 15. With the correspondence to the offices dated March 19, the 60-day notice of closing is apparently triggered. 

In February of this year, the Postal Regulatory Commission affirmed the Ozan and Ogden closings. The Saratoga Post Office closing was remanded back for additional consideration. 

(Photo attribution: Eric Nicholson-Texarkana Gazette/Write for Arkansas. Pictured is Frank McJunkins of Saratoga at the Saratoga Post Office.)

(Tuesday, March 20, 2012)

Another Twist in Caddo Valley Railroad Saga

There's been another twist in a story that Saratoga Arkansas Digest has been following from the beginning...(For a complete picture, scroll down to see a number of previous articles.)

The Surface Transportation Board has reopened the abandonment proceedings involving the Caddo Valley Railroad to impose two environmental conditions. In a letter dated November 2, 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arkansas Ecological Services Office (USFWS) indicates that eight Federally listed threatened and endangered species are within close range of the proposed abandonment. They include: the Ouachita rock-pocketbook, the Pink mucket, the Red cockaded woodpecker, the winged mapleleaf, the Florida panther, the scaleshell, the Arkansas fatmucket, and the piping plover. USFWS states that any sediment generated during the railroad's salvage process could have direct effects on these species and/or their habitat. The agency is recommending Caddo Valley consult with the STB's Office of Environmental Analysis and USFWS to develop appropriate mitigation measures, if necessary; and refrain from filing its consummation notice or initiating any salvage activities related to abandonment, including the removal of tracks and ties, until the consultation process is complete and the STB has removed this condition.

In a letter dated November 14, 2011, from the State Clearinghouse, the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission's Technical Review Committee  (NRC) says its supports the proposed abandonment if (1) best management practices are used during salvage operations to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any impacts to streams and wetlands, including any demolition or repair work that may be needed at associated crossings, and (2) the necessary permits be obtained for such work. To address the concerns, the OEA is recommending a new condition requiring Caddo Valley contact NRC prior to commencement of any salvage activities on this project concerning removal and salvage methods and any work within the designated floodway, including possible impacts on wetlands, streams and stream banks.

---

On November 28, 2011, Southwest Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority filed a formal expression of intent to to file an offer of financial assistance. The STB on December 13 extended the deadline until February 24, 2012. The effective date of the exemption also was postponed until 10 days after the due date for filing an offer of financial extension, which would be March 5, 2012.

The Caddo Valley is the last rail line in Pike County. The railroad extends from near Gurdon to north of Glenwood.

(Thursday, February 23, 2012)

Saratoga Post Office Closing Remanded /Ozan and Ogden Confirmed

The Postal Regulatory Commission says the Postal Service decision to close the Saratoga, Arkansas Post Office has not adequately considered all requirements needed to close a post office and has remanded the proposed action back for further consideration.

The Postal Service has issued a Final Determination to Close the Saratoga office. On October 18, 2011 that decision was appealed by several residents of Saratoga. 

There are apparently two issues the PRC is recommending further examination regarding the Saratoga appeal. The PRC said, "It appears from the Administrative Record that the Postal Service did not, prior to issuance of the Final Determination, consider Petitioner's expression of concern over the adequacy of the number of post office boxes available to new customers at the Columbus Post Office."

The PRC is also questioning the money savings. The Postal Service is estimating a total annual savings of $51,129. The lease for the Saratoga office does not include a release clause and does not expire until December 15, 2015. The PRC says no savings attributable to the lease will materialize for almost four years. "Despite what appears to be a significant potential delay in the realization of any benefits from the termination of the lease, the Postal Service presents, without explanation, immediate rental savings in its projection of economic savings."

The PRC says the Postal Service also failed to list any cost estimates for moving post office boxes from Saratoga to Columbus.

The Postal Regulatory Commission has also announced it has affirmed the Final Determination to Close for the Ozan and Ogden Post Offices.

This is a developing story. Keep checking back for updates...

(Friday, February 10, 2012)


It's been 20 Years...

 The Saratoga-Okay area is approaching a anniversary that changed a way of life.  It was 20 years ago, on March 6, 1992, that Holnam (now named Holcim) announced that it was closing its cement plant at Okay.  Okay is located one mile off Highway 355 north of Saratoga.  Cement production ceased at the close of the day shift on December 18, 1992. Product in storage was shipped out, usable equipment was sent out to other Holnam operations or sold, and the plant itself was torn down over the next couple of years.

In making the announcement in 1992, the press release from its U.S. headquarters in Dundee, Michigan said...Two key factors drove the direction of the final decision. The first is the over capacity of cement in the Okay market region. The second is an effort to reduce costs within the company.  "It is difficult to make a decision like this,  especially when realizing the disruptive effect it will have on employees," said Mark von Wyss, president and CEO of Holnam. At the time of the announcement, 80 employees worked there.

The plant was originally built in 1929, and was expanded in 1957. For most of its existence, the plant was operated by Ideal Basic Industries, which merged into Holnam in 1990. Through the years Ideal owned the Graysonia, Nashville and Ashdown Railroad (GNA). Holnam sold the short line to Kansas City Southern Railway, which operated it for several years, and currently leases the line to the Arkansas Southern Railroad. It's natural gas company, Louisiana-Nevada Transit, was sold to Arkla Gas. Southern Cement Transport, a trucking company that hauled cement, located next door, no longer exists.

As it became apparent the plant was in trouble, employees and community members worked to help the company get a permit to burn tires as a fuel source. (That brought environmental opposition from a Texarkana-based group, Friends United for a Safe Environment, or FUSE.) In lieu of some of its local tax payments close to the end, the company paved the parking lot at Saratoga Schools. The cement plant was the main local tax source for the Saratoga School District.

The closing of the operation also brought to a close a unique chapter in the Saratoga-Okay area. As the plant was being built, so was the company village of Okay. In its heyday, dozens of houses lined its paved boulevards. There was a post office (parts of Texarkana, Arkansas use the old Zip Code of 71854), apartments, a store, churches and a school. All of this began to be phased out in the 1960s. The school is celebrated with the Okay-Saratoga School reunion each Memorial Day weekend.  All that's left is the Community Baptist Church, organized in 1946, a Southwestern Electric Power Company sub-station and a safety marker. The latter two are not accessible to the public. The substation and the high transmission power lines are being upgraded in association with the construction of the John Turk Power Plant near McNab. The church still holds services each Sunday and Wednesday. The Okay School sat behind the church. The streets of the village, paved with concrete, are still intactg as are sidewalks to the church building and to the long-gone school building. Holcim owns the property and leases the hunting, grazing and hay rights. The company built a cement terminal at Hope with product shipped in from other plants for regional customers after the Okay plant closed.

Below, is a photo by Sue Porter Reed, showing the plant manager's house and the smoke stacks of the plant, after its closing. The manager's house was later burned as a training exercise for the Saratoga Volunteer Fire Department.

(Tuesday, February 7, 2012)

 

Caddo Valley Railroad Request Denied

The Surfon Board has denied a request by Caddo Valley Railroad for reconsideration of the Board's December 13, 2011 decision, which extended the deadline for offers to purchase the line segments sought to be abandoned.  The Board said that the railroad presented "no new evidence, that circumstances have not changed since the December 13 decision, and the Board's prior action did not involve material error."

The line in question is known as the Norman or Bird's Mill Branch and extends from Gurdon to north of Glenwood, about 52 miles. Last year, Arkansas Midland Railroad began emergency service on less than three miles of the line around Gurdon to serve a large wood products plant. Arkansas Midland later exercised its "right of first refusal" to purchase the segment, followed by Caddo Valley's decision to abandon the other 49 miles. (The right of first refusal dates back to Arkansas Midland's previous ownership of the line and its forced sale under the feeder line program that included the provision. A complete summary of the lines recent checkered history can be found by scrolling down this page.) Caddo Valley Railroad is a component of the Bean Family of companies that were part of a bankruptcy and later an auction of some assets. Previous STB filings referenced the tenuous condition of the company. Service was suspended from Antoine to Glenwood in the summer of 2009 due to poor track conditions. Still later, service was suspended from near Gurdon to Antoine, due to money woes and track conditions.

On November 28, 2011, Southwest Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority filed a formal expression of intent to file an Offer of Financial Assistance to purchase the line. On December 2, Caddo Valley provided  certain information in response to the Authority's request, as well as a net liquidation value of the 49 miles of line. It also objected to the Intermodal Authority's request to postpone the financial assistance deadline. On December 8, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe wrote a letter to the Surface Transportation Board on behalf of the Intermodal Authority requesting deadlines be extended to June 16, 2012 to allow time for the pursuit of financial options.  On December 13, the STB extended the deadline to February 24, 2012.

The STB also denied Caddo Valley's request that the Intermodal Authority be required to post a bond that would hold the railroad harmless should the market value of its assets drop below its calculated net liquidation value.

The line is the only railroad that remains in Pike County in southwest Arkansas. Arkansas Midland is a part of the Pinsly family of shortline railroads and operates several lines in Arkansas, including the Prescott and Northwestern in Nevada County.

(Thursday, January 19, 2011)

STB Grants Extension on Caddo Valley Railroad Deadline

The Surface Transporation Board has granted an extension to the deadline for filing offers to purchase the Caddo Valley Railroad after receiving a letter from Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe on behalf of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority.  In the letter, the Governor asked for a six-month delay of the abandonment to allow the Intermodal Authority additional time to pursue financing options to purchase the line. Apparently, the STB has extended the deadline only to February 24, 2012.

Washington, D.C. attorney Richard Streeter, representing the Caddo Valley, in responding to Governor Beebe's letter, alleges the STB violated its own criteria by granting the stay. Streeter says a stay threatens the insolvent railroad company with irreparable harm if the market for scrap steel were to collapse.  Scrap value is estimated at $3.3 million dollars.

Streeter says the Intermodal Authority has not submitted an offer of financial assistance nor offered a bond that would cover potential losses if the scrap market were to collapse before the abandonment becomes effective. He said the railroad does not find solace in the Governor's statement that  "in no way does (his) letter imply any offer of financial assistance by the State of Arkansas."

Streeter said at minimum the Intermodal Authority should be required to post a bond that would hold Caddo Valley Railroad harmless should the market value drop below the net liquidation value, saying "the Intermodal Authority shoud not be given a free ride."

---

Saratoga Arkansas Digest has written extensively about this situation. Scroll down for a number of posts on the Caddo Valley dating to October 2010.

(Thursday, December 15, 2011)

BREAKING: Governor Beebe Weighs in to Save SW Arkansas Railroad

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe has weighed in on the abandonment of a southwest Arkansas rail line. In a letter dated December 8, 2011 addressed to Cynthia Brown, Chief, Section of Administration-Office of Proceedings of the Surface Transportation Board in Washington, D.C.,  the Governor is asking for an extension of the effective abandonment date of the Caddo Valley Railroad  from December 16, 2011 until June 16, 2012. The line in question extends from near Gurdon to north of Glenwood, approximately 49 miles.

Beebe says he is making the request on behalf of the Southwest Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority to allow the Authority to pursue financing options regarding the purchase the Caddo Valley.

In the letter, he says "during the past several weeks, members of my economic staff have met extensively with representatives of the Intermodal Authority, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, and local officials to assess the economic feasibility of purchasing and reopening the Caddo Valley Railroad. Preliminary discussions with prospective businesses and existing employers along the Caddo Valley indicate imminent possibilities to expand employment should rail service be restored. This could create several hundred new direct jobs in an economically distressed region."

The letter continues, "because of the complex legal and financial issues involved in the purchase, rehabilitation and future operation, it's imperative that an extension of at least six months be granted to ensure that a viable offer of financial assistance can be prepared. Such extension will ensure that all optimal financing options, both public and private, are evaluated." The letter said this is not to imply any offer of financial assistance from the state, at this time.

On September 29, 2011 Arkansas Midland Railroad exercised its right of first refusal and re-acquired 2.57 miles of rail line in the Gurdon area to serve a Georgia-Pacific wood products mill. In October, Caddo Valley Railroad filed two petitions to abandon the line; the segment from near Gurdon to Antoine and from Antoine to Bird's Mill, which includes the cities of Amity and Glenwood. The Antoine to Glenwood segment was last operated in 2009, while Gurdon to Antoine was operated as late as 2010.

The entire 52 mile line was acquired in 2000 by Caddo Valley in a forced sale from Arkansas Midland. In abandonment filings, it was stated the company operated successfully for several years until it began to experience operational and financial difficulties attributable to its affiliation to Bean Lumber Company. Bean Lumber was sold in October 2011 for $4 million dollars to primary creditor Caterpillar, with a large equipment auction that followed in November. 

The rail line is Pike County's only railroad.

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Scroll down for background in previous stories on the situation and click on "Photos" for shots of the line at Antoine.

(Sunday, December 11, 2011) Credit line: Dale Gathright, Jr. & Saratoga Arkansas Digest

Caddo Valley Railroad Files for Abandonment
EXCLUSIVE: Arkansas Midland Exercises First Refusal

Arkansas Midland Railroad has submitted a letter to the Surface Transportation Board informing the board it has exercised its statutory right of first refusal to reacquire a portion of a rail line previously owned by the company that it was forced to sell in 2000.

Caddo Valley Railroad Company on September 1, 2000 acquired Arkansas Midland's so-called "Norman Branch" extending 52 miles from Gurdon to Bird's Mill, Arkansas near Glenwood. The line is the only rail line left in Pike County. The line from Antoine to Glenwood has been out-of-service since summer 2009, while only about 2.57 miles around Gurdon has been operated, currently under trackage rights granted by Caddo Valley to Arkansas Midland. 

On September 29, 2011, pursuant to its rights under the feeder line program, Arkansas Midland reacquired the segment of the Norman Branch from milepost 426.88 in Gurdon to milepost 429.45 north of Gurdon (the "Southern Segment.") As part of the same transaction, Arkansas Mildand says it waived its statutory rights with respect to the remainder of the Norman Branch (the "Northern Segment"). The filing states Caddo Valley Railroad is proceeding with abandonment of the Northern Segment in action to be filed shortly with the Surface Transportation Board.

Arkansas Midland previously had obtained local trackage rights on the Southern Segment. The company says those trackage rights merged into Arkansas Midland's ownership of the Southern Segment once it consummated its reacquisition of the line.

Arkansas Midland owns several rail lines in Arkansas, including the Prescott & Northwestern.

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Scroll down for several posts regarding this rail line. Saratoga Arkansas Digest has been the only news outlet that has covered this story since it broke last year. The photo above was taken December 2010 by Scott Dunson at Caddo Valley's rail yard in Antoine. The locomotive is apparently inoperable and is currently "land-locked," because crossings have been paved over on the Okolona Road and some track components are missing near Gurdon. STAY TUNED!

(Thursday, October 13, 2011) 

EXCLUSIVE: Bones Not of Robert Lomax

Bones discovered during an archeological dig in January 2010 near Saratoga are not the remains of missing Saratoga resident Robert Lomax. Results of DNA tests were recently received by the Howard County Sheriff's Office.

Lomax went missing Thanksgiving night, 1992, and authorities suspected foul play from the start. 

Howard County Investigator David Shelton told Saratoga Arkansas Digest news that an archeology team was working around Millwood Lake in Howard County near Saratoga and where Lomax was last seen when they discovered human bones on top of the ground. Investigator Shelton said that was "uncommon." Due to the proximity of this location and where Lomax was last seen, the bones were sent to the Arkansas Crime Lab, who forwarded the remains to the Center for Human Identification in Dallas, Texas. A DNA sample was obtained from a known relative of Lomax. Shelton said the DNA was not a match, with the Dallas lab saying the bones were "relatively old" and were the remains of a Native American.

Investigator Shelton said the case remains open and active.

Witness statements reflect that Lomax had Thanksgiving dinner at the residence of Henry and Peggy Olden, who lived near him on Chapel Hill Street in Saratoga. He reportedly stayed until about 5:00 p.m. and left to walk the short distance home, saying "he needed the exercise."  That was the last time he was seen alive.

*(The editor of this article became involved with this story as it developed and this will be provided as a narrative: A man who was visiting at his wife's home place in Saratoga had befriended Robert. He saw Dornell Trotter and myself at a store and relayed that he had taken a plate of food to Robert's house Thanksgiving and left it on the porch when he did not get an answer at the door. This would be the time Robert was at the Olden's. He said he went back Friday and the plate was still untouched on the front porch. After hearing this information, Mr. Trotter and myself start to Lomax's house. We meet Howard County Sheriff's Deputy Travis Hughes, my first cousin, on patrol in front of the church on Highway 32 and accompany us to the house.. After not getting an answer at the door, Trotter enters the house through a window, then a search is made. Though Robert was 80 years old, he was in good health and walked to and from town and his neighbors regularly.)

An extensive search was conducted by then sheriff Dick Wakefield and his department utilizing approximately 100 searchers and a helicopter. The search was called off after three days. Sheriff Wakefield believed foul play did exist in the matter and asked the Arkansas State Police to assist in the investigation.

Investigator Jerry Reed (deceased) of the Arkansas State Police conducted interviews of people in the area and searched the Lomax residence. According to a unsolved case posting on the Howard County sheriff's webside is this statement, "Although there was no evidence of foul play at the residence, the feelings of local residents were that Mr. Lomax was robbed and killed. He was known to carry large amounts of cash on his person at all times."

The case is considered a homicide. Anyone having information about the disappearance of Robert Lomax is asked to contact the Criminal Investigation Division of the Howard County Sheriff's department at 870-845-2626.

© Thursday, September 29, 2011

BULLETIN: SARATOGA CLOSING NOTICE POSTED

The U.S. Postal Service has issued its final determination to close post offices in Saratoga, Ozan and Ogden. Notices were posted Thursday, September 29. 

The notice posted in the Saratoga Post Office says, "The Postal Service is issuing the final determination to close the Saratoga, AR Post Office and provide delivery and retail services by rural route service under the administrative responsibility of the Columbus Post Office, located six miles away." Ozan customers are directed to the Nashville Post Office and Ogden Post Office customers are directed to the Ashdown Post Office.

Saratoga customers are being directed to the Columbus Post Office that on September 27 posted a proposal to close notice saying the Postal Service is considering closure with its customers being directed to the Mineral Springs Post Office. Unknown at this time what affect this will have on Saratoga customers that have been directed to the Columbus Post Office. No date for the Columbus public meeting has been announced.

Postings at the three affected offices included a list of additional concerns and responses received after public meetings were held. 

The notices will be posted through October 31, 2011. Individuals served by the offices can appeal to the Postal Regulatory Commission within 30 days of the date the final determination is posted.  Copies of all materials used by the Postal Service to make the determinations are available at the affected office and the recommended office.

(Thursday, September 29, 2011)

EXCLUSIVE-Caddo Valley Railroad Being Inspected

 There may be some movement in the long-running saga of the Caddo Valley Railroad in Southwest Arkansas. The line extends from Gurdon to Bird's Mill (north of Glenwood) and is the only rail line left in Pike County. Except for 2.57 miles around Gurdon being operated by the Arkansas Midland Railroad via a trackage-rights agreement to serve a Georgia-Pacific wood products operation, the rest of the nearly 50 miles of railroad remains out of service. 

A private rail contractor has been surveying the line. The poor condition of the line and continuing financial issues  involving Caddo Valley's owners, the Bean family, have been cited in filings for the railroad's inability to get the line back in service.

Arkansas Midland once operated the line. (Scroll down for a number of stories posted earlier covering the drama of previous years.) Arkansas Midland operates several shortline railroads in Arkansas, including the Prescott & Northwestern. The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department recently received a $2,721,435 federal grant to rehabilitate and improve 40 miles along the Arkansas Midland's Warren Branch serving Bradley, Chicot and Drew Counties in Southeast Arkansas. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration, which issued the grant, said planned improvements will remedy poor track conditions caused by inadequate drainage and heavy freight loads that have contributed to washouts, broken rails, derailments and the imposition of slow orders. 

(Tuesday, September 20, 2011)

EXCLUSIVE: Trackage Rights Granted-Pike County Rail Service Remains Shutdown on Caddo Valley RR

There's been a major development regarding a Southwest Arkansas rail line and its continued emergency operation.

 Pursuant to a written trackage rights agreement, Caddo Valley Railroad Company has agreed to grant local trackage rights to Arkansas Midland Railroad Company, over approximately 2.57 miles of Caddo Valley's rail line, known as the Gurdon Segment, extending from a connection with the Union Pacific Railroad at Gurdon to allow service to the Georgia Pacific lumber and woods product mill near Gurdon.

According to the Surface Transportation Board, the earliest this transaction may be consummated is July 7, 2011, "the effective date of the exemption, 30 days after the exemption was filed, unless otherwise ordered by the Board."

The Board said the purpose is to allow Arkansas Midland to continue to provide rail service on the Gurdon Segment "pending transfer of the line to Arkansas Midland."

The current saga began September 10, 2010 when Arkansas Midland filed an unopposed petition for an emergency service order allowing it to provide local rail service on the Gurdon Segment. Similar petitions were granted October 15, 2010 and February 11, 2011.  The emergency service authority cannot be extended beyond Tuesday, June 14, 2011. 

What's not determined is the fate of the remaining 49 miles of the line that reaches through Antoine to Glenwood, and is the only rail line in Pike County. Service on the Antoine to Glenwood segment was suspended in 2009 due to poor track conditions. 

Caddo Valley Railroad is owned by the financially troubled Bean Lumber Company, and was part of a forced-sale from Arkansas Midland after it suspended service in 1993 on the line after floods caused washouts. Arkansas Midland has the right of first refusal on the railroad.

Arkansas Midland owns several lines in Arkansas, including the storied Prescott and Northwestern Railroad.

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Scroll down to more stories of the railroad situation and a more in-depth look at what has led to the current situation. The photo with the story was taken in December 2010 at Antoine looking towards Glenwood, and is part of a photo album documenting several endangered places around Antoine.

(Monday, June 13, 2011)

EXCLUSIVE: Final Emergency Order Issued for Local Rail Line

 The Surface Transportation Board has granted another emergency service order extension allowing the Arkansas Midland Railroad Company to operate 3.1 miles of track near Gurdon owned by the Caddo Valley Railroad. The February 11, 2011 action extends the order until June 14, 2011. This is the final extension that can be granted.

On September 10, 2010, Arkansas Midland filed an unopposed petition for an emergency service order allowing it to provide local rail service for an initial period of 30 days on 3 miles of track near Gurdon. That request was granted September 17, 2010, and Arkansas Midland began service on September 20. On October 8, Arkansas Midland sought an extension of its service authority for 120 days, which was also granted.

In a petition filed February 4, 2011, Arkansas Midland seeks a further 120-day extension, saying that Caddo Valley Railroad has ceased operations, has no serviceable locomotives, and is not in a financial position to obtain a locomotive or to resume service. Arkansas Midland states it has discussed potential disposition of the Gurdon Segment and other assets with Caddo Valley, and has tendered a proposal to Caddo Valley. The railroad says it's aware the emergency service authority cannot be extended beyond June 14, 2011, and "that it remains committed to seeking an arrangement that would allow transfer" to Arkansas Midland by that date. It says the one active shipper, Georgia Pacific, and Caddo Valley Railroad support the extension, and the connecting carrier, Union Pacific, has been informed of the situation.

The Board says the record in this case shows that the transportation emergency continues to exist and the extension is appropriate. The STB said the record also indicates the parties are working toward a long-term solution to the situation, and the extension should provide the parties time to reach a permanent arrangement.

What's not determined is the fate of the remaining 49 miles of the Norman (or Bird's Mill) Branch that serves Antoine, Amity and Glenwood, and is Pike County's only railroad. Service on the segment from Antoine to Glenwood was suspended in 2009 due to poor track conditions.

The line has had a recent checkered history, some of which you can read by scrolling down this page. The above picture shows the overgrown Antoine (PK Junction) rail yard that was the operational headquarters, and what's apparently an inoperable locomotive in the Caddo Valley's open air repair shed. The above photo was taken in December 2010 by Scott Dunson as he and the editor documented some endangered locations around Antoine, some of which I will post later.

(Tuesday, February 15, 2011) 

Emergency Rail Service Extended 120 Days

 The Surface Transportation Board has granted an extension to Arkansas Midland Railroad's authority to provide emergency rail service on 3.1 miles of track owned by the Caddo Valley Railroad near Gurdon, Arkansas. Friday, October 15, 2010, the STB granted the request, extending the authority to February 14, 2011.

On September 10, 2010, Arkansas Midland filed an unopposed petition for an emergency service order allowing it to provide local rail service for an initial period of 30 days, and the emergency service began September 20.

On October 8, Arkansas Midland filed a petition seeking an extension of its service authority for 120 days. Arkansas Midland explained that Caddo Valley has ceased operations, has no serviceable locomotives, and is not in a financial position to obtain a locomotive or resume service.  Arkansas Midland says its meeting with Caddo Valley to discuss the long-term disposition of the Gurdon Segment, and believes the 120-day extension will allow time for the parties to reach an agreement and consummate a transfer of the line.

The remaining 49 miles of line, which has not been operated past Antoine since May 2009, remain in limbo. Arkansas Midland says the line is inoperable at present due to poor track conditions. 

 

 

(Scroll down to a previous story regarding this line which has some history and background on the current situation.)

(Sunday, October 17, 2010)

 

Pike County Without Rail Service; STB Emergency Order Issued

The Surface Transportation Board has issued an emergency order to Arkansas Midland Railroad to allow it to operate 3.1 miles of railroad near Gurdon for 30 days. The segment is part of the 52 mile long Norman Branch owned by Caddo Valley Railroad that extends from Gurdon to north of Glenwood. The three mile segment is currently the only part of the line that's in operation.

On September 10, Arkansas Midland filed an unopposed petition for an emergency service order allowing it to provide local rail service for an initial period of 30 days. Caddo Valley serves two shippers on the segment; Georgia Pacific and Bean Lumber. GP operates the former international Paper wood products mill north of Gurdon, while Bean Lumber has relocated a re-load center from Antoine to Gurdon. Bean Lumber has an interest in the Caddo Valley, and is trucking the wood products from its Amity mill to Gurdon for loading on to rail cars.

In filings with the Surface Transportation Board, Caddo Valley (CVR) states it has experienced serious financial difficulties and does not have enough cash resources to continue service or maintenance of the Gurdon Segment. CVR stated in the filing it had a single, serviceable locomotive, on a short-term lease set to expire September 18, and said it was in no position to extend its lease or to make alternative locomotive arrangements, and that it would suspend its remaining operations on that date or sooner.

The two railroads state that have executed  an "Agreement for Temporary Operation of Rail Line," which will govern Arkansas Midland's occupancy of the Gurdon Segment during the period the emergency service order is in effect. Arkansas Midland has committed to provide rail service to the two shippers with interchange to the Union Pacific railroad at Gurdon.

The Caddo Valley Railroad is Pike County's only railroad. In the STB filing, it's stated the segment from Antoine to Glenwood has not been operated since May 2009, with service ceasing to Antoine this summer following the Bean Lumber re-load opening at Gurdon. The line from Antoine to Glenwood is inoperable due to poor track conditions, and there are no customers besides Georgia Pacific and Bean Lumber from Gurdon to Antoine.

In recent years, this line has been in and out of court. Union Pacific sold the line to Arkansas Midland in 1992. In December 1993, floods washed out parts of the line near Glenwood, and Arkansas Midland embargoed that portion, leaving Glenwood shippers without rail service. In February 1994, it also embargoed service to a gravel operation between Antoine and Delight, keeping the three miles around Gurdon in operation. At that time, the company said it would abandon the northernmost 49 miles. When this happened, the Caddo, Antoine and Little Missouri Railroad petitioned to operate the segment. In 2000, Arkansas Midland was ordered to sell the line under feeder line provisions to Caddo Valley Railroad, while retaining the rights to first refusal if Caddo Valley was to try and sell the line.

There is a small yard at Antoine where Caddo Valley had its base of operations. Due to very poor track conditions, trains were restricted to four miles-an-hour, or 12 hours to traverse the length of the line.

The emergency order does not include the rest of the railroad. Caddo Valley in filings expect its shutdown to be permanent. Thus, the northern 49 miles and Pike County rail service is in limbo.

During the emergency period, Arkansas Midland said it may provide personnel from its Prescott and Northwestern Railroad, which it acquired at the first of the year. Arkansas Midland is part of the Pinsly Railroad Company. It operates a total of 138 miles in Arkansas on seven separate lines, acquired from Union Pacific. The PNW and another Potlatch line, the Warren and Saline River, are operated as sister lines.

(Sunday, October 3, 2010)

Possible Major Development in 1992 Saratoga  Disappearance

There's been a possible major development in the Thanksgiving 1992 disappearance of an elderly Saratoga, Arkansas man. 80 year old Robert Lomax, who lived on what's now known as Chapel Hill Street in the Howard County part of Saratoga, was reported missing to the Howard County Sheriff's Office on November 27, 1992.

Witness statements reflect that Mr. Lomax had Thanksgiving dinner on November 26 at the residence of Henry and Peggy Olden and stayed until around 5 p.m. Mr. Lomax chose to walk home as "he told the Olden's he needed the exercise." The distance from the Olden residence to the Lomax residence is short. When last seen, Mr. Lomax was wearing a brown sweater, blue overalls and a hat.

An extensive search was conducted by then Sheriff Dick Wakefield and his department utilizing approximately 100 searchers and a helicopter. The search was eventually called off after three days without success. Sheriff Wakefield believed that foul play did exist in the matter and asked the Arkansas State Police to assist in the investigation.

Investigator Jerry Reed (now retired) of the Arkansas State Police conducted interviews of people in the area around Saratoga and searched the Lomax residence. Although there was no evidence of foul play at the Lomax residence, the feelings of local residents were that Mr. Lomax was robbed and killed. Mr. Lomax was known to carry large amounts of cash on his person at all times.

The case is considered a homicide.

Authorities say in recent days a bone fragment found by a geology field expedition is being tested to determine if its part of the remains of Mr. Lomax. The find is reportedly within a one mile radius of his residence. The fragment has been sent to the Arkansas Crime Lab for analysis, and DNA samples have reportedly been taken from family members, with additional testing at a Dallas lab.

The writer of this article was involved at the start of the search and provides this narrative: "I was approached by a man on Friday, November 27 who was visiting at his wife's home place in Saratoga and who had befriended Mr. Lomax. He stated he had taken a Thanksgiving plate to the Lomax residence and when he did not get an answer at the door, he left the place on a chair on the front porch. This would have been around the time Mr. Lomax was at the Olden's.  He had gone back Friday and the plate was undisturbed where he had left it. With me was Dornell Trotter. We started up to the Lomax house when we observed Howard County Deputy Travis Hughes on patrol on Highway 32. We made contact and all three of us proceeded to the residence. After failing to get anyone to the door and seeing no activity through the windows, Deputy Hughes gave permission to forcibly enter the house, which Mr. Trotter did through a bedroom window adjacent to the front door. A search of the house and property was then conducted with no sign of Mr. Lomax. An organized search began the next day, with volunteers searching the area and locations around Millwood Lake and Saratoga for several weeks following. Though Mr. Lomax was 80 years old, he was in fairly good health and walked to town and other nearby locations on a regular basis. He did not own a car."

Persons with information on this case should call the Howard County Sheriff's Office at 870-845-2626.

(Tuesday, September 7, 2010)

Reasons for the Digest..............

The Saratoga Arkansas Digest was born on Sunday, March 08, 2009 as a hobby and an outlet to write about things from a Saratoga, Arkansas Region view. I was involved in radio news directly and indirectly from 1978-2001 and have on occasion wrote a newspaper story or two. Because of changes in what used to be local media of radio and newspapers, many things never make it to the public. We want to keep you informed of what's happening around here and parts of Southern and Western Arkansas and things of interest in the state.

The Editor

(Friday, May 8, 2009)