STAYED: Judge Brian Miller

  • STAYED: Judge Brian Miller

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today granted a stay of federal Judge Brian Miller’s ruling summarily halting most state desegregation financing for the three public school districts in Pulaski County.

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A brief one-paragraph order granted the stay, refused an expedited appeal schedule and said the case would stick to a previously granted appeal schedule. The order also allowed an extended appeal brief. An expedited appeal isn’t necessary with the stay, as a practical matter. The longer the appeal takes the better from affected school districts’ points of view. First briefs are due July 5.

This presumably means that the roughly $3.5 million in monthly payments held up by the state this week now will resume flowing to the districts. This should offer the promise that school will begin in August as planned with the range of magnet schools and transfer plans and staffing at other schools previously expected. Hundreds of jobs likely otherwise would have had to have been cut.

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Little Rock School Board President Melanie Fox said the district, though it welcomed the breathing room, had “a lot of work to do” including the planning for eventual loss of the money. Little Rock was the biggest loser under Miller’s order — $38 million — with the Pulaski and North Little Rock districts losing lesser amounts. The state overall provides about $70 million annually in desegregation money to cure years of state-encouraged discrimination in Pulaski County. Not all that money had been halted.

He might not admit it, but state Education Director Tom Kimbrell could be forgiven a sigh of relief himself for this stay. The state just took over the Pulaski district for financial shortcomings. In the short run, the state could use the $10 million or more lost under Miller’s order to operate the district. Miller’s order was unexpected and not argued during the course of his hearings on whether the North Little Rock and Pulaski districts had achieved desegregated status, as the Little Rock district had. He’s currently considering responses to his show-cause order why the districts should not be deprived also of money that pays for interdistrict transfers to promote desegregated schools. Even if he is inclined to take that money away, too, this 8th Circuit stay should provide some guidance on whether he should jerk the money without a considered legal process.

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In short: Situation normal, but many court arguments lie ahead. Judge Miller’s ruling, without foundation in court arguments or in his own weird reasoning that the state money must be a disincentive because racial gaps haven’t closed and desegregation goals in the Pulaski County District haven’t been met (they were met in Little Rock), seemed certain to be stayed. But given the increasingly Republican courts’ push to rid itself of civil rights cases, you just never knew.

The state’s headlong push to grab the unexpected windfall and pocket the cash — led by the opportunistic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel — has been stymied for the time being. The districts now have fair warning to cut a deal. An interesting question is whether McDaniel and Gov. Mike Beebe and Tom Kimbrell are willing to deal or if they’d prefer to go for broke. Both sides — in terms of money, legal effort and expenditures and sheer angst — now have ample reason to sit down, accept the status quo for this year and see if that can be the true beginning of a quickly achieved end.

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PS — You gotta appreciate poor Aaron Sadler, thrown to the press wolves to defend McDaniel’s B.S. arguments in this case. There are still “legal issues to be resolved.” Yup.

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