John Walker, attorney for black children in the Pulaski school desegregation case, has written a letter asking the state to rescind its takeover last week of the Pulaski County Special School District. Education Director Tom Kimbrell, after consultation with the governor, removed the superintendent and school board and put former superintendent Bobby Lester in charge on an interim basis.
Walker says the takeover “will further confuse an already confused circumstance.”
The most obvious is that the state is a defendant in desegregation actions and now is conflicted in how it manages the district, particularly regards vows to meet early objectives of the desegregation settlement. Walker contends the state appears to side with board members negative to a 2000 desegregation plan the state had agreed to.
Walker asks if the state, now that it runs the district, will defend it against the lawsuit brought by Pulaski administrator June Elliott against ousted superintendent Hopson. She contended he’d managed in racially discriminatory fashion, among other criticisms. Walker suggests Kimbrell might allow Elliott to win to validate his judgment to remove Hopson. Who will pay if Elliott wins, Walker asks.
Walker cites, too, the continuation of Sam Jones as attorney for the district, including to oppose the state’s effort to end desegregation funding. Who does he work for? “On the one hand he is suing the state, on the other hand he is suing the same state agency.”
Walker said the action invites more litigation and leaves hundreds of school district contracts “in limbo.” He said it prevents the parties from reaching a voluntary resolution of matters in dispute.
Walker is right about one thing. It’s a mess. I’ve asked the state for a response.
PS — It’s not part of the letter, but Walker thinks the state acted unfairly by taking over the schools on administrative order, rather than presenting the case first to the state Board of Education. The state took similar action the same day against the Helena-West Helena School District. An Education Department spokesman says state law clearly allows an administrative action such as Kimbrell took.
UPDATE: Other key parties punt. State Education Department defers to attorney general (who, according to Walker, had said Beebe and Kimbrell dealt this mess); attorney general says it got ethical guidance from a retired judge on some of the issues Walker raised, as if that answered ALL his questions. Which it didn’t. More court to come.