Turrell School District Superintendent Alfred Hogan tried to recruit businesses and lure more people to move to the Crittenden County town over the past year in an effort to save his school district.
Hogan touted the town's location - Interstate 55 to the west, the Mississippi River to the east. Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad tracks cut through the heart of Turrell.
"I was like a Chamber of Commerce person,” Hogan said of his recruitment efforts. "We have a good place to live. We tried hard to get more [people] here.”
To keep the district going, it needed an average of at least 350 students for two consecutive years. But Turrell averaged about 320 students.
Now, the district's fate lies in the hands of the state Board of Education members.
The board will meet on April 12 to decide which of five districts Turrell students will join for the 2010-2011 school year, said Julie Johnson of the Arkansas Department of Education. The districts adjoining Turrell are South Mississippi County, East Poinsett County, Marked Tree, Marion and Earle.
Turrell is required by the state to merge with another school district because its enrollment figures dipped. Act 60 of 2004 requires that districts must maintain at least 350 students.
The district had until March 1 to develop a voluntary plan.
At first, Turrell administrators thought they could save a portion of their district with a voluntary merger.
Officials with the Earle School District met with Hogan and his board and tentatively planned to merge.
The state board met March 8 and planned to discuss the potential merger of Turrell and Earle, with its 760 students. But that plan was pulled from the agenda after Earle School Board members said they opposed it.
"It was not financially a good idea on our part to take Turrell,” said Earle School Board member Eric Cox.
"If the state mandatesit, we'd welcome them in,” Cox said. "But we weren't in agreement with Turrell's plans.”
Turrell school administrators had discussed merging with Earle twice before, said Earle interim Superintendent Rickey Nicks.
"Years ago they discussed it, and we talked about it again last year,” Nicks said. "That time Turrell backed out.”
Hogan said if his school district merged with Earle, he wanted to keep the elementary campus at Turrell.
Earle administrators did not agree.
"It hinged on that elementary school,” Nicks said. "The fact was that it was too much of an overall expense to maintain that school at Turrell. We made some concessions, but we weren't ready for that.”
Hogan said he was surprised by Earle board members voting down the merger, saying he thought they supported it.
"In the past, Earle seemed to be in favor of it,” Hogan said.
Nicks said the board may have been in support of the idea when then-Superintendent Jack Crumbly presented the idea to members.
Crumbly, however, was suspended on Feb. 6 by the board after Arkansas State Police conducted an investigation into allegations that Crumbly exposed himself to a former substitute teacher.
On Friday, Crittenden County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Fairley said he would not prosecute Crumbly.
"Once that happened, [Crumbly's suspension], the board decided to further discuss the merger,” Nicks said. "We proceeded to collect more information and learned that Turrell wanted to leave a campus open at Turrell. We felt we couldn't do that.”
Of the five potential districts Turrell could merge with, Earle is the farthest away at 25 miles. East Poinsett in Lepanto and South Mississippi County in Wilson are both 22 miles from Turrell. Marked Tree and Marion are each 15 miles away.
"I wanted to do anything I could to keep the school in our community,” Hogan said. "But we're going to lose the school. It will be empty next year.”