Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Keet said Tuesday that an Arkansas law requiring small school districts to consolidate should probably be changed, a move that Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe said would invite new lawsuits.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Keet said Tuesday that an Arkansas law requiring small school districts to consolidate should probably be changed, a move that Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe said would invite new lawsuits.

Keet joined families and supporters of the Weiner School District at a news conference as they called on Beebe to halt its consolidation with a neighboring district in northeast Arkansas. The 313-student district fell below the state minimum of 350 students and will be merged with the Harrisburg School District on July 1.

Keet didn't offer many specific suggestions for changing the law passed in 2004 as part of the state's response to a school funding lawsuit that ended in 2009. But he told reporters the 350 minimum should "probably" be repealed.

"I would rather have a school district that has 342 students and is doing an excellent job than one that has 400 students in it that is doing a poor job of educating our children," Keet said. "I think it's all based on performance."

Arkansas law also allows the state Board of Education to consolidate school districts that aren't meeting certain fiscal or academic standards.

Beebe later told reporters at the state Capitol that repealing the 350-student minimum would invite a lawsuit by districts that have already been annexed because of the law.

"It would be a lawsuit in a hurry," Beebe told reporters at the state Capitol. "All of those schools that have already complied with the 350 number ... Do I think they'd be back in a hurry in front of the Supreme Court? You bet."

Weiner School District supporters did not say how they hoped Beebe would stop its annexation. There will still be an elementary and high school campus in Weiner after the merger. The two districts are both in Poinsett County and are about 16 miles apart.

"There's no steps I can take unless I want to violate the law," Beebe said.

A state lawmaker at Tuesday's news conference also said he'll try again with a proposal to change the way enrollment is calculated. Under current law, a district can be consolidated if its enrollment falls below 350 students two years in a row, but a district's fourth-quarter numbers aren't counted. Rep. Buddy Lovell, D-Marked Tree, said if he's re-elected this fall he'll again propose a measure to count all four quarters — potentially giving at-risk schools more time to boost their enrollment.

Lovell's proposal was approved by the House last year but failed before a Senate committee.