Marvell-Elaine school system stripped of state ‘fiscal distress’ label

The tiny Marvell-Elaine school district in Phillips County has dropped its state-enforced tax distress tag.

The Arkansas School Board voted Thursday to remove the 319-student district from classification based on the recommendation of Education Secretary Johnny Key and his staff.

“It’s been a tough journey,” district business manager Ashley Granberry told the Board of Education. “We are delighted to be here.”

Granberry addressed the council in the absence of Marvell-Elaine Superintendent Henry Anderson, who had covid-19 and was unable to attend the state council meeting. She told the council that Anderson, a former longtime educator in the Pulaski County area school systems and entering his third year as chief at Marvell, had been working around the clock to straighten out the finances of this district.

The district was able to build its reserves from about $250,000 to $2 million, she said.

Strategies to improve district finances included reducing the number of staff positions two years ago to save about $500,000 and using federal funding for authorized expenses that were previously paid for with state revenues. and local, she said. Additionally, the district has gone so far as to source from surplus from other districts or at yard sales, and to use coupons, Granberry said.

The Arkansas School Board voted in April 2019 to classify the Marvell-Elaine District as financially distressed. As a result, district expenditures were monitored by the state, and the district was obligated to implement a plan to correct its financial problems.

Greg Rogers, the assistant commissioner of state tax and administrative services, said in 2019 that the district had dipped into its year-end reserves of $1.6 million since 2016. He said the distress tag budget was driven by this and other issues, including the theft of some $470,000 from the district by a former business leader over four years.

Granberry told the Board of Education that the Marvell-Elaine School District is working to increase student enrollment by adding program offerings and using social media to highlight the system.

Jeremy S. McLain