OUSTED: Charles Hopson

  • OUSTED: Charles Hopson

The shoe dropped.

State Education Director Tom Kimbrell has decided to remove the superintendent and board of the Pulaski County School District. The news came in as I was writing the previous item about more unsettling allegations about district managment.

Retired Superintendent Bobby Lester will be brought in to run things for the time being.

Kimbrell said the lack of basic financial accountability demanded the change. Read the full release on the jump. Gov. Mike Beebe is quoted as supporting the action, the second takeover of the day.

I still have pending my question for the state on what influence they plan to exert, if any, on the School Board’s previous decision to fight an end to state desegregation aid. Lester has a solid reputation as a straight shooter. I look forward to his assessment of district operations if it is shorn abruptly of that aid, with teacher contracts in hand. He retired in 1999. You might be interested in what he had to say about the district in an interview with the Arkansas Leader a few months ago. He didn’t think much, by the way, (neither did we) about what the attorney general had to say about the way the district had used state desegregation money.

BACK TO WORK: Bobby Lester

  • BACK TO WORK: Bobby Lester

The state is now running a school district with which it has an adversary position in court (practically speaking, if not technically.) Does it have the power now to drop the district’s appeal of desegregation aid? Will it continue to oppose arguments that the state’s actions — such as in charter school creation — are contributing to segregation in Pulaski County? It’s an uncomfortable position.

Matt DeCample, spokesman for Mike Beebe, said of discussions between the governor and Kimbrell leading up to this decision: “This action is strictly about the operations of the district. It is not in any way an attempt to alter the ongoing legal actions in the deseg case.” He referred questions about the state balancing a dual legal role in the desegregation litigation to Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. I’ve inquired.

The district had insisted it was making strides on financial accountability. Auditors didn’t think so. And it has increasingly become a political sideshow. There was Board member Tim Clark’s involvement in a scheme to discredit Board member Gwen Williams. The involvement of Mills High Principal Michael Nellums led to his suspension and recent abrupt resignation. The tension prompted Board member Sandra Sawyer’s resignation last week. The district’s relationship with the teachers union has ranged from difficult to nuclear war. Many people in Jacksonville want out of the district, which encircles Little Rock and North Little Rock. It has endured a declining enrollment as a suburban exodus has continued in Pulaski. What’s good to report? I’ll have to get back to you on that.