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Schools respond to governor's call for tuition freeze

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 12:45 PM PST

Two universities have weighed in on Governor Hutchinson's call to freeze all in-state tuition at four-year institutions next year.

Dr. Chuck Welch, president of Arkansas State University, said in a statement that "We respect, understand and share the governor's concerns about keeping in-state tuition affordable" and the university's leadership "will certainly enter budget planning this spring with every intention of answering this challenge from Governor Hutchinson."

Welch noted that the ASU system has "been engaged in a comprehensive, systemwide efficiency study to help us identify ways to increase revenue, reduce expenses and reallocate resources." Those would include "continued creative thinking and changes in how we operate to meet the short-term and long-term needs of our students"; "new revenue streams through public-private partnerships"; and "innovation activities."

Welch also enumerated funding challenges: "capital improvements, deferred maintenance, health insurance costs, and faculty and staff salaries." (His full statement is below.

University of Central Arkansas President Houston Davis had this to say:

"We respect and understand the governor's recommendation and the legislative budget process. Both tuition and state funds are key components of our budget, and we are consistently evaluating all funding resources available to our institution. We are always mindful of the financial barriers that our students face. We will do what is necessary to ensure that our students continue to get the quality education that UCA offers."

Dr. Welch's full statement is on the jump.

Statement from Dr. Chuck Welch, President of the Arkansas State University System:
"We respect, understand and share the governor's concerns about keeping in-state tuition affordable.  One of the top ASU System strategic planning goals is to use the CPI as the guide for tuition requests from our campuses. Our Board of Trustees and campus administrators believe strongly in producing a high-quality, affordable education, and we will certainly enter budget planning this spring with every intention of answering this challenge from Governor Hutchinson.

"The ASU System has also been engaged in a comprehensive, systemwide efficiency study to help us identify ways to increase revenue, reduce expenses and reallocate resources.  The primary purpose for this study is to reduce reliance on student tuition. Additionally, we continue to pursue new revenue streams through public-private partnerships and innovation activities.

"In the absence of dedicated state funding for capital improvements, deferred maintenance, health insurance costs, and faculty and staff salaries, it's going to take continued creative thinking and changes in how we operate to meet the short-term and long-term needs of our students. This is precisely why the ASU System has been proactive in the past few years in containing costs, seeking new revenue streams and promoting maximum efficiency in our operations."

Albert Yarnell, famous ice cream man, dies at 94

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 11:31 AM PST

Albert Rogers Yarnell, a businessman who helped his father grow Yarnell Ice Cream Co. into a legendary Arkansas brand, died at 94, on Sunday.

Arkansas Business has a full profile, laying out the life of Yarnell: from an Army stint in World War II to civic and business leader in Arkansas.

Yarnell took the helm as president of the Searcy based company in 1974 — 32 years after his father had bought an ice cream maker named Dairlyland. As president, Albert Yarnell expanded the business and for his acumen was inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2007. Yarnell Ice Cream declared bankruptcy in 2011. The Schulze & Burch Biscuit Co. of Chicago later acquired the Searcy plant and revived the brand in 2012.

At the time of the news of the bankruptcy, Max wrote something of a three-sentence ode: "This is terrible news. Angel Food Vanilla was the best ever. The seasonal peppermint was nonpareil."

Here's more information, from Arkansas Business:

Visitation and a celebration of Yarnell's life are planned for 12:30 to 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11, at the family ministry center at First Baptist Church in Searcy, with funeral at 2:15 p.m. in the church sanctuary. Powell Funeral Home of Searcy is handling the arrangements.

City of Jonesboro purchases land for more than $1 million for proposed shooting range

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 10:01 AM PST

KAIT reports that the city of Jonesboro has purchased more than 200 acres of land for $1.276 million for a proposed shooting range:

The shooting range ... will include nine trap/skeet fields, a 200-yard rifle range, a 50-yard pistol range, and 3-D and traditional archery ranges. The main building will also hold up to 100 people for training purposes.

"This is a big step toward making our shooting range a reality," Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin said. "Signing those papers was a relief, because we've been through a lot of ups and downs, and I'm grateful to the landowners for being patient, and Arkansas Game and Fish for its tremendous work in obtaining the grant." ...

Jonesboro Police Chief Rick Elliott has spoken about the need for a new shooting range for years.

"We will have training classes for shooting sports and archery – things like hunter education, safety, how to shoot trap, etc.," Jonesboro Chief of Police Rick Elliott said.
The $10 million project will be partly funded by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which recently obtained a $2 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the project. AGFC is expected to eventually pay for 75 percent of the project's costs. The city is also hoping to find corporate donors.

City officials argue that the range will bring in tourism revenues to Jonesboro. "Our police department can share it with the public, and we can host a lot of events that will bring in tourism revenue," Chief Financial Officer Bill Reznicek told KAIT.

John Chavis named defensive coordinator for Razorbacks football; Joe Craddock named offensive coordinator

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 09:25 AM PST

Former Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis was named the new defensive coordinator the Arkansas Razorbacks this morning, a move that has been the source of speculation in Hogland for weeks. Chavis's units with the Aggies have ranked eighth, tenth, and ninth in the SEC in total defense over the last three years.

"I'm excited to have Coach Chavis as our defensive coordinator, which was a very important hire for our program," said new head coach Chad Morris in a statement in the Razorbacks' announcement. "It's so important to play great defense in the SEC and Coach Chavis brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and success in the league to the table."

In the same announcement, here's the boilerplate from Chavis:

I'm excited for the opportunity to help Coach Morris build the Arkansas program and join the great staff that he is putting together. It's a great time to be at the University of Arkansas and I can't wait to get started on building a defense that our fans can be excited about.
Chavis won the Broyles Award in 2011 as the top assistant coach in college football. He is a longtime SEC veteran: He was the defensive coordinator for 23 years, followed by a six-year stint as defensive coordinator at LSU. He spent the last three years as defensive coordinator at Texas A&M, but was not retained after head coach Kevin Sumlin was fired and replaced by former Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.

Chavis is nicknamed "The Chief," which is a blasphemous affront to the great Robert Parish but whatever.

The Razorbacks also announced that Morris is bringing along a few assistants from his former perch at SMU.

Joe Craddock has been hired as the program's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, the same role he filled under Morris at SMU:
"Joe is one of the bright, young minds in all of college football," Morris said. "He worked underneath us at Clemson and was very instrumental in our success there. I took him with me to SMU and saw him grow both as a person and as a coordinator during the last three years. He has a great mind and feel for the game, and I'm excited to have him on our staff and what we bring to the table in our high-powered offense."
The Razorbacks also announced that Trumain Carroll has been hired as the new head strength and conditioning coach, the same role he filled under Morris at SMU.

More on Chavis from the Razorbacks announcement:
Five Coach Chavis Notes To Know
1. Has a career record of 214-80 (72.8 percent) over his 23 seasons as a defensive coordinator, including a 129-60 mark (68.3 percent) in SEC games.

2. Chavis-led defenses have posted 14 shutouts during his career.

3. He has coached 81 players that have been selected in the NFL Draft over his 37 years as a coach, including 15 first round picks.

4. Chavis-led defenses have held 52 opponents to single-digit points.

5. He has developed 44 players into All-SEC first team selections since 1995.

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack the favorite to be tabbed today to chair House Budget committee

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 09:01 AM PST

Politico spotlights U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, who represents the state's Third Congressional District, and is the favorite to be named House Budget chairman by senior House Republicans, who are voting on the position this evening:
Several top Republican lawmakers and aides predicted Monday that the Arkansas Republican, a senior member of the budget panel, would take charge of the committee that oversees topline government spending numbers. Womack enjoys close relationships with GOP leaders, has raised millions of dollars for the GOP's campaign arm and is gung-ho for reducing mandatory spending — a belief that will win him support with the committee's fiscal hawks.
Current House Budget chair Diane Black is stepping down to run for governor of Tennessee. Rob Woodall of Georgia and Bill Johnson of Ohio are also seeking the position.

Womack admitted to Politico that his "life might be miserable for a while" if he gets the job in what is likely to be a messy year in the GOP House, but "somebody's got to do this work, and I'm willing to do it."

Fayetteville ten-year-old pushes for alligator gar to become state fish

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 08:48 AM PST

Spotting a gar creeping along in shallow water is one of the most beautiful miracles of being alive. So let me applaud Henry Foster, a 10-year-old from Fayetteville who is pushing a campaign to make the alligator gar the state fish. Shamefully, Arkansas is currently one of only four states in the nation without a state fish.

On his change.org petition, Foster calls the alligator gar "tough and unique" and adds, "Don't be a copy-catfish! Vote for Alligator Gar."

I concur. 

Alligator gar, the largest species in the gar family, date back at least to the Early Cretaceous period, more than one hundred million years ago. They still look the part.

For more on the alligator far, I recommend this riveting 2013 account from a federal Fish and Wildlife biologist who shares Foster's enthusiasm. A sample:

For nearly one-half century, people have given Alligator Gar a bad reputation as a "trash fish." When people ask us "Why are you raising Alligator Gar at Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery?", we try to explain how as the largest, native, freshwater predator in North American these fish are a possible means to control the populations of invasive species such as the Silver and Bighead Carp. We go on to explain how in the 1950's Arkansas was known for the Alligator Gar fishing and people came from all over the country to catch a six to eight foot fish on a rod and reel.  Nowadays, anglers from around the world are flocking to Texas to try their hand at catching an Alligator Gar to brag about. After addressing the biological and economic importance of Alligator Gar, people then ask, "Don't they eat all the Bass, Bream, and Crappie that I'm trying to catch"? Being scientists, we refer to studies that have been done on Alligator Gar diets to answer this question. We tell our visitors that the studies show a higher percentage of the Alligator Gar's diet are made up of Shad, Carp, Buffalo, and Catfish. The final question most folks ask is "Can you eat them?" My standard answer is this is Louisiana; we eat anything that doesn't eat us first.

Governor Hutchinson calls for in-state tuition freeze at Arkansas four-year colleges

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 08:12 AM PST

During today's presentation of his proposed fiscal year 2019 budget before the legislative Joint Budget Committee, Governor Hutchinson announced that he is asking for an in-state tuition freeze at all state four-year institutions next year. He is also asking two-year colleges to limit their in-state tuition increases to the consumer price index (CPI), a measure of inflation which went up around 2.2 percent over the last year.

Hutchinson is making the request in a letter to college and university presidents and chancellors. This is not part of his proposed budget, and tuition is not something that the legislature directly controls. While they allot state funding for the institutions' budgets, determining tuition is up to each institution's board. The governor is simply using the bully pulpit here. "I believe that a request by the governor will increase the leadership that [higher education] leadership has to control the costs and to improve efficiency, and to make college more affordable," he told the committee.

"Over the last ten years, the tuition increases have ranged from a low of 3 percent to a high of 6.2 percent, so it's time to give our students a break," Hutchinson said. "It is time to help make college more affordable."

Hutchinson said that his proposal was not meant to be a criticism of the state's higher education institutions. "Our four-year institutions and all of our higher education have been very good partners with us," he said. "They recognize and have the same goal that we have of affordability for the students."

Hutchinson made the announcement along with noting that his proposed budget includes $10 million to implement the new higher education productivity funding model approved during the 2017 legislative session. The new model, pushed by Hutchinson, transforms the state's method of funding colleges and universities from a formula based largely on student enrollment to one based on student performance metrics (such as completion of degrees).

The ask here to the colleges is based on improving "efficiency," not on significant increases in state funding to keep up with rising costs and help them keep tuition in check (the $12 million increase in funding this year — inclusive of that $10 million to support the new funding model — represents around a 1.6 percent increase from this year's budget, which was flat-funded from the previous year). At least according to the previous funding formula used by the state, higher education has been vastly underfunded by the legislature for years.

Here's the letter Hutchinson sent to higher-education leadership:


Governor set to present his proposed fiscal 2019 state budget

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 06:15 AM PST

You can watch a livestream here. The governor presented a fiscal year 2019 budget with a net reduction in overall projected spending of $64 $100 million compared to the FY 2019 budget the governor projected a year ago. The $5.626 billion budget would represent a $172 million increase over spending in FY 2018, the current fiscal year. Benji Hardy was on hand and will have more shortly.

Governor Hutchinson
will address the legislative Joint Budget Committee this morning and propose his fiscal 2019 state budget. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.

The JBC will be holding pre-fiscal session budget hearings all week. The governor is slated to outline his proposed budget at 9 a.m.

I would expect the governor to again trumpet this year's ten-percent reduction in the Medicaid rolls, announced last week, which Hutchinson attributes to an improving economy as well as efforts to crack down on eligibility verification. Because of the reduction, as well as other structural changes, the Medicaid program will now require $47 million less than expected in state general revenue for fiscal 2019. Meanwhile, the governor has said that ongoing efforts to implement the state's Health Reform Task Force recommendations are on track to save more than $800 million in the traditional Medicaid program over five years.

The fiscal session is ostensibly exclusively about budget matters and approving the budget allocations for the following year. In practice, substantive policy matters have bled in. The last two fiscal sessions have been dominated by fights over re-authorizing the state's Medicaid expansion program. Because appropriations require 75-percent supermajority approval in both houses, rump groups of opponents have threatened to defund the entire Medicaid program unless the majority of Medicaid expansion supporters bent to their will and kicked 300,000 people off the program. The program, now known as Arkansas Works, will once again face tight margins to be re-authorized this year, particularly since two senate seats are currently vacant until special elections in May (vacancies are equivalent to a No — approval still requires 27 senators in the 35-seat senate).

Hutchinson has promised additional cost reductions to the program via proposed changes to the Medicaid expansion program. Because he has not yet received the federal approval required for these alterations, they will not be included in his proposed budget. These changes — including a reduction in eligibility that would remove at least 60,000 Arkansans from the program — could be implemented in the coming months, however. The Hutchinson administration has expressed confidence that federal approval is coming; once it does, state officials will need 60 days to implement the changes.

Kelly Scott Unger announces Democratic run for House District 87

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 05:26 AM PST

Lawyer Kelly Scott Unger of Siloam Springs announced last night that she will run for House District 87 in northwest Arkansas as a Democrat, a seat currently held by Republican Rep. Robin Lundstrum of Elm Springs, who is seeking re-election.

"As a mom and member of a growing part of Northwest Arkansas, I want to be a
positive voice for the people of District 87 in the state legislature," Scott Unger stated in a press release. "I'm confident I can truly listen to people and carry their voice to Little Rock. I want to work with all members of the legislature, regardless of party, to serve District 87."

Scott Unger, a 35-year-old political newcomer, is a an attorney for Simmons Pet Food focusing on government and trade affairs. She previously served as a deputy prosecuting attorney in Washington County. Originally from Smackover, she received her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. 

District 87, which includes parts of Benton and Washington counties, is considered a GOP stronghold. This will be the first time since it was created in redistricting that a Democrat has run.

In her press release, Scott Unger said, "I want to be a common-sense advocate for access to healthcare, stronger public schools, and a criminal justice system that serves the public."

Teen fatally shot by police in North Little Rock

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 03:24 PM PST

Sunday night, a little after 1 a.m., Charles Smith Jr., a 17 year-old high school senior, was fatally shot by North Little Rock Police, according to the police and follow-up reporting by KARK.

The violent incident began with a traffic stop. Smith, and a few friends, were driving down Camp Robinson. Reporting from Charmaine Nero picks up the narrative from there for KARK:

 "We were headed to a party and such like that and we were driving down Camp Robinson Road," says Juwaun Jordan. 

21-year-old Jordan says he was in the car with Smith and another man  - when their car was pulled over by NLR police during a traffic stop.

"I don't know where they came from, they just came out of nowhere, they said it was over a light or something, but the lights were working," says Jordan.

Then, according to the police press release, the officers patted down Smith and " a gun was observed on the suspect."

"A struggle then ensued between officers and the suspect," reads the release. "During the struggle, the suspect fired at least one shot at the officers, which resulted in the officers firing shots at the suspect."

There's a vigil taking place this afternoon for Smith. Mitch McCoy has been posting footage.

As we wrote about in this week's cover story in relation to the LRPD (not the NLRPD), it is a common tactic for police forces to use broken taillights or other petty traffic crimes to stop those they deem suspicious and then search their vehicles. These stops, often call pretextual or investigative stops, have been compared to stop-and-frisk. Critics throughout our piece warned that increasing the use of such stops could lead to a violent incident in Little Rock or other cities during a traffic stop. Nationally, many famous incidents of police violence (notably the deaths of Philando Castile and Sandra Bland) began as stops for petty traffic crimes.

UPDATE (Jan. 9, 10: 58 a.m.)

Here's State Representative Charles Blake, on Twitter, calling for independent investigations into "police homicides."